Opinion

Washington company a ‘green-building’ model

On the middle shelf at eye level, it posed, alluring and tantalizing.

I thought of passing by quickly, but I couldn’t. Glancing up, I stood mesmerized while it tempted me to reach for it – the perfect impulse buy.

Finally, I relented and bought the little can of baby peas.

I know you’re thinking, “Oh, she’s that kind of person,” but I am only confessing this story to let you know that sometimes things happen quickly without time to think, question or share and I must be forgiven.

So if I don’t tell you things before they happen, trust that I didn’t mean to keep you out of the loop.

I didn’t mean to not share the news that “Nightline” would be in town filming a story on Delilah and that Port Orchard residents could have had the opportunity to be on national TV if they came to Delilah’s book-signing that Tuesday night in late October.

It all happened so quickly, too quickly to share. I know you might argue that if I had time to bake the film crew an apple crisp, I had time to tell you, but I really didn’t.

Nor did I know until it was too late to share that the “Nightline” episode that featured Delilah and the Bethel Avenue Book Co. would air last Wednesday, showcasing several Port Orchard residents.

It’s just that I am faced with a dilemma. Do I tell you about something ahead of time or after?

I never like to tell you of an event after the fact like this, because you might be unhappy, but occasionally I tell you of something before the event and then live to say, “Oh, this movie/play, etc., is dreadful. Why did I recommend it?”

However, in some cases I can tell you about an upcoming event and the event itself and feel confident doing both. Such is the case of Van Jones’ visit to Seattle.

Educated with a Yale law degree, Jones is an amazing speaker with an impressive resume. He helped found the organization 1Sky and Green for All, but he is not what you would call a “greenie.”

He’s a pragmatist who cares deeply about people and specifically about creating jobs for people. He sees the benefits of creating a green economy, not “green washing,” but legitimate economically and environmentally sound business opportunities.

While I enjoyed his talk immensely, especially his message of hope, “The floor fell out on us recently, but the ceiling also came off, so we can either choose to fall or to fly,” the panel he pulled together was especially inspirational.

One was a young African-American man, who said that he spent his high school years incarcerated. Yet he graduated and found a place at the Seattle Vocational Institute and is in an apprenticeship program, serving as a model and mentor for other youth.

Dr. Jill Wakefield, another panelist, commended him and said, “You are just beginning. We have more for you.”

Recently named the first female chancellor of the Seattle Community Colleges board in the district’s history, Wakefield served as president of South Seattle Community College for many years and created a sustainable construction program, that includes a certificate in energy auditing and more in other aspects of sustainable building.

But it’s not just building that got Jones and the audience excited about the programs. It’s the possibility of retrofitting, of changing homes, businesses and schools to make them more energy efficient that inspired all of us.

I never hesitate to tell people that I avoid heating my home, waiting as long as possible to use the expensive electrical heat.

I can’t tell you how many people share that they aren’t heating either. We talk of the many ways to avoid the high costs by using extra bedding, wearing more sweaters, etc.

One artist even works out of her sleeping bag. Yet the hope is that people won’t take unnecessary risks, using heating methods that are dangerous, high in carcinogens or noxious gases, like one home I pass that sends out plumes of smoke that hang heavy in the air, tainting the quality of breathable air.

So the solution is really to figure out how to make these reductions without compromising health and safety. A company that leads the nation is just across the water.

It was a company mentioned by name in Barack Obama’s 30 minute pre-election address.

He said about McKinstry, “Recently, I visited McKinstry Co. in Seattle. They’re retrofitting schools and office buildings to make them energy efficient. Creating jobs, saving their customers money, reducing carbon emissions and helping end our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. As president, I would make McKinstry Co. a model for the nation.”

Founded in 1960, McKinstry has a history that goes back even farther to 1934. Originated as a plumbing and piping services firm, it’s one of the leading mechanical contractors in the region.

In the recent decade, it added “sheet metal (HVAC), fire protection and temperature controls to its core capabilities and pioneered the design build method of mechanical construction.”

Its motto is “for the life of the building,” with the emphasis on maintenance not just “green building” to save energy costs.

From its Web site, the company states that it employs, “some 650 staff and field technicians who help deliver a wide range of services including mechanical construction, engineering, architectural metal, maintenance and facility management.”

Panelist and vice president of Energy Services Ash Awad shared that the company is expected to triple or quadruple their growth within the next ten years.

It also topped the list “Washington’s 100 best companies to work for in 2007.”

Van Jones joked that it is not “by doing all this sexy ‘green’ stuff, it’s by using good, old-fashioned caulking guns.”

Simply put, while home building is stagnant now, with home prices dropping, there is no reason we can’t follow the example of McKinstry and investigate retrofit existing homes, businesses and schools.

Even more, we should demand that our leaders investigate these possibilities for us.

I sat listening last week as representatives from the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners spoke out against the SEED project. While they may have their reasons for questioning the investment in the project, I question their lack of effort in promoting jobs in the building trades, especially when so many are going bankrupt and facing foreclosures on properties.

Why aren’t they asking our local community college to offer similar programs to those of Dr. Wakefield? If they really cared about property owners and developers, wouldn’t they share Van Jones’ motto, “It’s not ‘drill baby, drill,’ it’s build baby build,” by pushing for changes in how builders do business.

I am even more puzzled that school district representatives have taken such a strong stand against SEED. Do they mean to come out against green jobs? Is this a stance the district wants to take?

I’m puzzled. The district suffers its own economic woes, like the county, and yet can we ask what the district is doing to save energy?

How extensive are their energy audits? I have been in classrooms where teachers leave computers, overhead projectors and light boxes on 24 hours a day.

Can we save money by reducing, reusing and recycling within our municipal and school buildings?

Can we demand more? If they are on top of retrofitting the schools, what of creating programs that our students can graduate into?

Can we create an energy auditing certificate program?

Can we join the boom?

While I don’t want to see cold kids, I don’t want to hear of people sacrificing while their tax money gets wasted. I know that we can reduce, reuse and recycle all the while creating jobs and opportunities, like our models in Seattle.

Mary Colborn is a

Port Orchard resident.

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