Op-Ed: With Sustainable Green Jobs, We Can Rebuild

Hugh C. Welsh | September 14, 2020 | Opinion, Energy & Environment
‘We’re asking government in New Jersey to make the same commitment our businesses are making to health, sustainable economic growth, and environmental justice’
Hugh C. Welsh

When New Jersey recovers and rebuilds from the ravages of a pandemic like no other in our lifetimes, it’s important for the steps we take to deliver in four areas:

  • Good for the economy
  • Good for people’s health
  • Good for business
  • Good for communities that suffer from the environmental injustice of having to live amid pollution and resultant illness to a far greater extent than everyone else.

We support the Sustainable Green Jobs Recovery agenda because it would do all those things — and do them well.

Put forward recently by a diverse array of business, environmental, recreational, community and planning organizations, the agenda focuses sharply on advancing clean energy, improving New Jersey’s water infrastructure and building the resilience needed to meet climate disasters.

As important as these were before COVID-19 hit, they are even more important now. It will take much more than business — or government — as usual to make up for the lost time, money and lives we’re enduring.

The agenda is especially clear-eyed in dealing with New Jersey’s energy future. It recognizes the importance of clean energy, like wind and solar, in seamlessly bringing together economic and health benefits. Clean energy is affordable — and getting more so every day. Its use will reduce the incidence of asthma, cancer and other illnesses and will help mitigate the harmful impacts of climate change. If that’s not good for business, we don’t know what is.

For too long, communities of color and other urban enclaves where people struggle to make ends meet have felt the worst damage from pollution. These communities have been powerless to stop power plants, incinerators and other dangerous facilities from being placed in their midst (often accompanied by the unkept promise of generating economic development). In addition, people living there inhale massive amounts of diesel fumes from trucks and buses all day long.

Any recovery plans must take into account the need to do right by these communities.

Better health, employment

Besides health benefits, the Sustainable Green Jobs Recovery agenda would create jobs — good-paying, local jobs that would be a great fit for communities yearning for environmental and economic justice — like retrofitting buildings, building and assembling wind turbines and installing solar panels.

Similarly, building resilience to climate disaster and improving water infrastructure offer a potent combination of economic, health and environmental benefits.

So great is the environmental threat that climate change poses, that the economic impact often is overlooked. In fact, New Jersey is among states facing the highest lost real estate value from the effects of climate change — more than $4.5 billion in coastal real estate value alone. As the Sustainable Green Jobs Recovery agenda says, climate change brings risks that “strain the adaptive capacity of communities to mitigate hazards and require significant public investment.”

Meanwhile, the often antiquated, inadequate water infrastructure across New Jersey is an unseen disaster waiting to happen. Climate change raises fundamental issues like how to assure a plentiful supply of clean drinking water; and leaky pipes as well as outmoded stormwater systems are a huge health threat. In addition, the agenda envisions “green infrastructure” improvements, like urban gardens, permeable pavements and vegetation-laden roofs that reduce runoff by catching rainwater.

The recovery agenda even calls for revitalizing New Jersey’s parks and trails, recognizing that they are essential to our health and quality of life in New Jersey and help to attract businesses and boost the economy. Property values increase near parks, and they provide activities that, for example, reduce childhood obesity rates. Many residents are turning to parks and trails during this pandemic to reduce stress and enjoy outdoor recreation and the beauty of nature.

Ideas, innovations and infrastructure

A theme running through the Sustainable Green Jobs Recovery agenda is the need for New Jersey to invest in new ideas, innovations and infrastructure. As business people, we get that.

Our companies invested a lot of our own resources in New Jersey, and we want to make sure we get the return we need — in the form of safe, healthy, prosperous communities for our employees to live in.

We’ve built one of the largest net-metered solar fields in the U.S. to power our Belvidere manufacturing plant and become more energy efficient in all of our operations, including our North American headquarters in Parsippany, as well as transitioning our vehicle fleet to electric power and providing all of our employees with nutritional products designed to improve their immunity and general health — not because anyone told us to, but because creating green jobs, a stronger economy and better health are good investments. Just as we factor health, economic growth and environmental justice into our planning, we want the state to do the same — not just as a single initiative, but as a part of a blueprint to be followed in every spending decision made in the effort to come back, stronger than ever, from the pandemic.

In supporting the Sustainable Green Jobs agenda, we’re asking government in New Jersey to make the same commitment our businesses are making to health, sustainable economic growth, and environmental justice.