The green economy is creating millions of new jobs and contributing hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy.
WRITTEN BY Calvin Hennick

3.35 million. Keep that number on hand, in case anybody suggests that the aims of sustainability are incompatible with economic growth. It’s the number of U.S. jobs—according to the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) 2015 Green Building Economic Impact Study conducted by Booz Allen Hamilton—that will owe their existence to green building by 2018 (up from just under 200,000 jobs created directly or indirectly by green building in 2005).


If that number slips your mind, mention 15.1 percent. That is the annual projected growth rate for green construction between 2015 and 2018—a number that outpaces the projected growth for general construction, just as green building growth has outpaced conventional construction growth over the past several years. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) residential growth is forecasted even higher, at 31.1 percent annually, due in part to low historical market penetration.


Or, if that is not enough, reach all the way up to $284 billion, the projected total annual impact of green construction on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2018.


Organizations across a number of sectors have steadily come to the conclusion that green practices are good for their bottom lines—lowering energy and water bills, improving employee health and productivity, and building up a reservoir of goodwill among customers and other stakeholders who value sustainability. The Green Building Economic Impact Study shows that sustainable practices are not just good for individual businesses, but for the economy as a whole. This fact stands in sharp contrast with the popular (in some circles) narrative that green initiatives are job killers, achieving environmental gains only at the expense of economic growth. But the numbers do not lie.


Statistics alone, though, do not tell the complete story. To fully understand the impact of green building, you need to speak with some of the millions of men and women—from solar panel sales teams to sustainable construction consultants, from manufacturers of low-VOC paint to green cleaning contractors, from architects and engineers to landscapers and HVAC installers—whose jobs have either been created or forever changed by the new green economy.


Here are three of them.

Spelman College plans a 50 percent reduction in baseline greenhouse gas emissions by 2031 and intends to achieve carbon neutrality by 2056.


Art Frazier. Photo: Stan Kaady


Director of Facilities Management & Services, Spelman College


You will not find “sustainability” anywhere in Art Frazier’s job title. Just in his job.


“A few years ago, the president and chief financial officer took a walk, and at the end of that walk they decided to add responsibility for all noncurricular sustainability initiatives to my job description,” Frazier says.


Frazier has been at Spelman, a historically black women’s college in Atlanta, since the fall of 2007. In addition to his other duties as facilities management director, Frazier manages green construction on campus, handles the school’s environmental reporting, and serves as co-chair of Sustainable Spelman, the college’s sustainability initiative aimed at engaging the community in authentic conversations to increase awareness, knowledge, and action on campus.


The evolution of Frazier’s role is reflective of a shift that has occurred on the campuses of universities and other institutions across the country over the past decade, with many of those organizations adding previously nonexistent sustainability-focused positions, or adding sustainability responsibilities to the portfolios of existing staff members.


“We try to incorporate sustainability into people’s jobs,” Frazier says. “For example, our custodians, they’re doing green cleaning, using nontoxic chemicals, and making sure we maximize recycling. We don’t just have this one person who [is responsible for sustainability.] It becomes everyone’s responsibility.”


Frazier, a licensed architect, oversaw construction of Spelman’s first new building in the 21st century, the Beverly Daniel Tatum Suites, a 303-bed residence hall that opened in 2008 and was certified LEED Silver in 2010. In that same year, the school adopted a policy that all new buildings and substantial renovations must be built to at least LEED Silver specifications. A number of colleges and universities across the country have implemented similar policies, increasing the need for staff that are either solely focused on, or at least significantly experienced with, sustainable development.


In 2012, the school completed renovations to Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Hall, a residence hall originally built in 1918. In 2015, the college opened the new Reed Hall, home to a campus wellness center that includes a gym, activity room, and swimming pool. Both of those projects achieved LEED Gold.


Frazier has had a lengthy career in development, and he’s seen firsthand how the increased emphasis on sustainable building in recent decades has changed the real estate and construction job market. He began his career as a commercial architect, and then moved on to a job at a firm that worked primarily with institutional clients such as research laboratories and colleges. Later, he worked as an owner’s representative, before beginning his time in academia—first at Emory University, and then at Spelman, with a stint as a consultant in between.


During the first half of his career, Frazier says, he noticed a marked difference in the way that his commercial clients and his institutional clients approached development. “My commercial clients were interested in money,” he says. “A number of the projects I worked on were spec office buildings. Developers wanted the lobby and the bathrooms to look pretty so they could lease out the building and then sell it. They didn’t care whether it had quality systems. They were building 10- to 20-year buildings. When I started doing projects for institutional clients who were self-operating and self-maintaining these buildings, they were thinking about institutional-quality systems that conserved resources.”


He adds: “The [institutional] buildings that I was designing from 1990 to 1997—if there had been LEED back then, those buildings would have been certified.”


Institutional developers have continued to enhance their sustainable development initiatives as the market expands and costs for efficient systems and green technologies lower. But, like many observers, Frazier has also noticed a shift in the mindset of commercial developers, as those builders have moved on from short-term thinking to begin considering the total cost of ownership of the buildings they develop.


“They’ve been able to sell [sustainability],” Frazier says. “I see articles all the time, where they’re able to lease these spaces faster than other spaces. It’s become a part of what they are selling, along with the aesthetics. In the end, somebody has to pay that operating cost. Clients look at it and say, ‘Do I want to move into this gas guzzler, or do I want to move into this economy car?’”


Working at a college, Frazier has a front-row seat to the ways in which the new green economy has changed career prospects for young people. One of his former students, for example, is persuing a career in environmental law. But, he notes, women of color are still underrepresented in the sustainable development world, as they are in many technical and professional fields.


“It is very helpful for our students to see people like them in this field doing these things,” Frazier says. Last year, students invited three Spelman alumnae working in sustainability-focused careers to come to campus and speak over three nights. “To hear them and see that, to see someone like themselves,” Frazier says, “they felt a little closer to it.”

TD Bank has opened more than 100 LEED Stores and corporate offices and was the first to open a net-zero energy bank location in the United States in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.


Jackie Henke. Photo: Joel Laino


Energy and Sustainability Innovations Director, TD Bank


The story of how Jackie Henke ended up in the job she has begins with the story of the job she does not have.


As a child, Henke left a visit to the zoo in tears, appalled at the conditions in which the animals were forced to live. Several years later, when her class took a field trip to the Bronx Zoo, she begged her mother to call the school and say she was sick to get her out of it. Her mother refused, and Henke made the trip with her classmates. This time, she was not horrified, but instead pleasantly surprised at the changes since her last trip. The zoo felt to Henke less like a prison and more like a faithful replication of the animals’ native habitats.


“It felt like you were a guest in their world,” Henke says. “From that point on, I said, ‘What do I need to be involved here?” She eventually went to graduate school at MIT—first earning a master’s degree in architecture, and then another in civil engineering—with hopes of one day designing zoos and aquariums. But, Henke says, “Life happens and careers evolve.”


She went into construction, hoping to pick up some of the knowledge and skills she would one day need to design world-class artificial habitats for animals. While working for Turner Construction, she noticed that plans called for a project to be built to LEED specifications. Henke read through the plans, which included skylights and environmentally friendly materials. However, she still did not fully understand what LEED was all about, so she asked her boss. “The project manager said, ‘That’s a great question, thanks for asking it. Now go and answer it,’” she recalls. “That’s how I became the green champion of our Boston office.”


Henke began leading “Toolbox Talks” where she would educate workers about LEED generally, or about specific LEED credits, to make sure they knew what they needed to do to keep the project on track for certification. “You might think sealant is sealant, or white paint is white paint, but it’s not,” she says. “You have to make sure subcontractors are selecting the right materials.”


As time passed, Henke found herself more immersed in the world of green construction and real estate development, and her dream of designing zoos and aquariums gradually faded away. In 2010, she began working for TD Bank in a sustainability role. Her job titles and duties have changed as the bank’s real estate and sustainability strategies have matured, and now she leads a team of three people focused on green innovations.


“We’ve cleared out a lot of that low-hanging fruit that people talk about,” Henke says. “We’ve got the base of the portfolio. All the quick wins are done. Now we’re looking at how to dive into that deeper greening, and what are those next steps.”


It is a path Henke could not have predicted for herself back on that day in high school when she visited the zoo, because big banks simply did not employ sustainability directors 25 years ago. While she may never design an aquarium, her career path has given her a way to marry her twin passions of development and sustainability, and she still stays connected to zoos, volunteering as a member of the advisory council for Zoo New England.


“It gave me that ability to make an impact on the environment,” she says. “I was always the kid who would recycle. It was a way to take that way of thinking and apply that to a job, where I know that every day, my actions can leave the environment in a better state than when I started that morning.”


Henke’s own career illustrates how quickly the green economy is evolving. “During my interview, someone asked, ‘Where do you want to be in five years?’” she recalls. “I said, ‘If we do it right, we won’t need this role in five years. We’ll have moved on to something else.’”


The remark proved to be prescient. Although the sustainability team at TD Bank has grown, her old role doesn’t exist any more. It’s been replaced by several others. In another five years, perhaps, each of those will be replaced by several more.


Andreas Tselebidis. Photo: Neil Landino


Director for Sustainable Concrete Technology and Solutions, BASF


Some of the newest and most distinctive additions to New York City’s skyline are held together by Andreas Tselebidis’s contributions.


The 1,776-ft tall One World Trade Center and the nearly 1,400-ft tall 432 Park Avenue residential tower were both built with what Tselebidis calls “the most ecologic concrete ever used in a superstructure.”


For many, the concrete used to construct buildings is largely invisible, something taken for granted. For Tselebidis, it is his life’s work. And while it is easy to show off interior design touches such as recyclable carpet and locally sourced granite countertops, structural concrete is almost always hidden from view. But it can have an enormous environmental impact.


Tselebidis has developed concrete for use in skyscrapers that is both stronger and more elastic than typical structural concrete, and yet also takes up less volume. Additionally, the concrete uses less cement; more than 70 percent of it is made up of supplementary cementitious materials (SCM)— things like glass powder, steel slag, and fly ash (a product of coal combustion).


Thanks to Tselebidis’s work, significantly fewer tons of concrete can be used to construct a skyscraper, helping to conserve resources and reduce the amount of heavy materials that must be shipped to jobs sites. And because the concrete is so largely composed of waste materials, it prevents those items from being landfilled.


“Less of this material needs to be produced, less of this material needs to be delivered, less of this material needs to be installed,” says the Germany native, who moved to the United States in 2008. “The benefit is for planet Earth. We save a tremendous impact on greenhouse gases.”


At the World Trade Center project alone, Tselebidis says, his concrete saved 15,300 tons of carbon dioxide in reduced cement use and delivery, compared to a more traditional structural cement. “It’s 1.77 million gallons of gasoline that we saved, just for one tower,” he says. “You take 1.77 million gallons of gasoline out of our environment. This was huge.”



Through BASF’s Green Sense Concrete mixture optimization service, Eastern Concrete Materials was able to proportion an EF Technology® concrete mixture with 71 percent cement replacement. The mixture replaced Portland cement with the recycled materials, noncementitious fillers, and specialized admixtures to exceed all the performance targets specified by the One World Trade Center project stakeholders.

“At the end of the day, nobody is paying for the ecology of a product,” Tselebidis acknowledges. “Most people try to see, is it economic, and if it is economic and it gives the benefit of being ecological, they love it.”


But increasingly, environmental and economic concerns are one and the same. When a building project can use fewer materials, decrease shipping, or reduce energy and water needs, those changes have an impact on both the planet and a company’s bottom line. Tselebidis predicts that this link will grow even stronger as climate change becomes a more pressing concern, leading politicians to enact cap-and-trade systems that will economically reward companies that reduce carbon emissions.


“Sustainability, in the future, will be more and more important for every project, in every industry,” Tselebidis says. “This is becoming more of a focus worldwide. You have politicians coming more and more to an agreement that we have to do something. Otherwise, we will not be able to survive. If you look at China, you cannot walk outside without a mask. We have to stop this on a global basis.”


Environmental advocates have been ringing this sort of alarm bell for years, but the economics may finally be catching up to the ethics. In Europe, Tselebidis notes, appliances that receive “A” ratings for efficiency sell well, while “C” appliances have disappeared from the market completely. Companies are increasingly using sustainability as a way to brand themselves and set themselves apart from competitors. And even in oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia, Tselebidis says, clients are saying they want to build sustainably.


In short, the new green economy is being driven by the gradual realization by companies that environmentally irresponsible behaviors jeopardize not only ecosystems and endangered species, but also businesses themselves.


“Companies that are not addressing sustainability will not have the proper products in the market to serve the needs of customers and industries,” Tselebidis says. “They will either vanish due to pressure from politicians, or form a society that is focusing more and more on sustainable products. If it’s a car or it’s concrete or it’s the way we construct—if a business is not sustainable, if they cannot prove they are not wasting resources, I doubt they will survive.”