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VOL. 7 | NO. 29 | Saturday, July 12, 2014

Chamber: More People Working in Green Sector

By Bill Dries

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The Greater Memphis Chamber counts approximately 15,380 Memphians working in the green economy, with the largest group being 4,800 who work in clean energy.

The numbers are based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and in the headcounts by business, there are some corporate and brand names that might not be on the tip of your tongue when you hear the term green economy or green business.

Andre Dean, the chamber’s vice president of community development, cites Electrolux and Mueller Industries as examples. Electrolux, one of the big economic development plums for the city in recent years, makes stoves and ovens. Mueller makes brass, copper and plastic fittings and pipes used in home construction.

“It’s really in the sustainability of those products,” Dean said, referring to Electrolux. “All of their appliances have some of the highest EnergyStar ratings that you can have in the industry. With Mueller, copper is recyclable. And they have some pretty technologically advanced recycling methods that get more of the copper product and reduces the amount of trash from the copper. … They’ve updated and upgraded there.”

The bulk of the green economy by that standard is in a resurgent manufacturing sector that has come back under very different terms than manufacturing of the 1970s and early 1980s, when a recession closed the city’s biggest manufacturers.

(Memphis News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Manufacturing’s return to the region involves much more technology that requires fewer workers and workers who do more than a singular task on a single piece of equipment.

The other dominant category is in logistics and transportation, a mainstay of the Memphis economy overall that is a factor in the recruitment of businesses to the area and the expansion of existing businesses.

“One of the things that really makes us attractive is one of our bread-and-butter industries – that’s the rail industry,” Dean said. “It’s probably the cleanest mode of transportation, pound for pound, when you look at moving product, especially bulk product.”

The local green economy includes such examples as restaurants using cups and napkins made from recycled material, warehouses with LED lights using motion sensors that trigger the lights on and off depending on what part of the warehouse someone is in, and companies that make such technology and help build green-certified buildings using Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design – or LEED – standards.

“There are so many small practices that companies are using here that are really contributing to reducing the amount of power that’s being required by MLGW. They’ve offered workshops on the lighting,” Dean said. “There are even things around home improvement that are more energy-efficient. … It’s a growing industry. We are booming in it. A company like Flextronics, they are making a lot of the electronics and distributing a lot of the electronics out of here related to a lot of these things that are green.”

Those businesses become part of a chain that results from site consultants coming to town with specs for a potential new location that includes a LEED-certified building and questions about how many of those buildings already exist in the area and who built them.

“If you say you want LEED-certified buildings and LEED-certified homes, they lead to the thought process of site selectors, companies that are building locations or even looking at new locations to say this is an area to go,” Dean said. “It also helps that we have some other initiatives around sustainability with our greenprint for parks and our regional greenprint as we connect to the other communities.”

Greenprints are sustainability plans that deal with quality-of-life issues such as bike lanes and the walkability of a community. Dean said those are also related issues that can come into play before or after the site consultants check off the part of their list that involves a LEED-certified headquarters.

“You are selling more than brick and mortar. We are trying to sell the prospect of saying the lifestyle here will be better,” he added. “We already have good water and a very sustainable process of keeping that and being good stewards of that water. It just feeds all into the other things that we are trying to do.”

With that comes more selectivity about prospects who might not see themselves as part of that economy.

“We share with them some of the things that companies that have been successful are doing. Hopefully they take note and mimic those things,” Dean said of such prospects. “But we certainly don’t encourage anyone that’s not thinking about their carbon footprint. Obviously, we have air-quality issues here. We are working on some of the water-quality issues here always. So we are always cognizant of those things, especially with the air-quality piece.”

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