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An Emerging “Green-Collar” Workforce in Duluth

Ecolution reporting made possible by Seward Co-op, which has been a community-owned grocer since 1972: Together, we continue to cultivate a cooperative economy.

Nearly a year ago, my partner and I packed up our things in Salt Lake City, Utah, and moved back to the Midwest — this time, to Duluth. The decision to leave Utah was fueled by our need for a variety of things: better air quality, reduced cost of living, and proximity to clean water, plus our genuine love and optimism for Minnesota’s North Shore.

Photo courtesy Green New Deal Housing

The backdrop for this decision? Duluth will become an increasingly appealing place to live, given the present and future impacts of the climate crisis.

In Duluth, I took an AmeriCorps position at the University of Minnesota’s Northeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (RSDP). As sustainability project coordinator, I support a local nonprofit called Green New Deal Housing (GNDH).

GNDH aims to develop equitable, zero-energy housing throughout the Arrowhead region. Simply put, zero-energy homes produce as much energy annually as they consume. A pilot home was recently completed, and several new builds and retrofitting projects are underway.

As climate change promises increased extreme weather patterns, durable, robust, and resilient housing and infrastructure become increasingly important. The urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions means rapidly transitioning to clean energy sources for all our energy consumption, including our homes.

GNDH is working to develop a “green-collar” workforce in the Arrowhead region through free green construction training opportunities.

Unlike conventional training, green construction training emphasizes using eco-friendly building materials and waste reduction techniques and incorporating energy-efficient renewable sources.

Over the last three years, GNDH has partnered with local organizations, such as Community Action Duluth and Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, to deliver workforce training in green building, focusing on teaching women and people of color. Excluding the current training program, GNDH has trained nearly 50 individuals so far.

Photo courtesy Green New Deal Housing

Last summer, GNDH launched the Train the Trainers (T3) program. T3 is a free professional development opportunity for construction-related educators and tradespeople to facilitate the integration of green building principles and skills into their trades instruction. Green building principles fall under four main categories: health, durability, energy efficiency, and accessibility. The six-month program includes in-person and online coursework delivered by green building and building science professionals. Participants who complete the entire program can test for an industry-recognized Building Performance Institute credential in building science.

T3 emphasizes the importance of “seeing the forest through the trees.” Professionals in the construction field — including builders, installers, architects, and engineers — often find themselves confined to their specialized domains, impacting their work’s effectiveness. A whole-systems approach is needed in green building since all the parts contribute to a building’s efficiency. Members are not merely absorbing information but actively applying insights and crafting training methods. These future trainers will play a pivotal role in shaping a sustainable future for us in Duluth and beyond.

Photo courtesy Green New Deal Housing

Among the 16 members of the T3 cohort, five are women. This is a notably high percentage, especially considering that the Minnesota Department of Economic Development reports women make up less than 15 percent of employees in the construction field.

Housing currently accounts for 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Until we adopt more sustainable construction methods, the inefficient building practices commonly employed in home construction will remain a significant contributor to the climate crisis. Initiatives like T3 offer practical methods to decrease and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from homes.

I graduated with a degree in environmental studies and have been involved in climate-related work for several years. It has been easy to feel overwhelmed by the immediacy of our climatecrisis.ButinitiativeslikeT3give me hope. I look forward to continued collaboration and partnership dedicated to ensuring a bright future for this beautiful region I now call home.