Guy Knoblich (left) and Kevin Bell lift a solar panel into its place in a 16-panel array on the roof of a Camano Island home in 2012. Everett City Councilman Paul Roberts is leading an effort to help grow the “green” economy in Washington. One of the first steps is assessing what’s being done in the state. (Herald file)

Effort aims to build green economy in Washington

Washington state sits in a unique position to emerge as a leader in the green economy not just nationally, but also globally.

That’s the opinion of Paul Roberts, the Everett city councilman who is also the past president of the Association of Washington Cities.

He’s working with the association and its nonprofit arm, The Center for Quality Communities, to bring together businesses, government and other voices to make it happen.

The first step needs to be an analysis of the state’s strengths and weaknesses in the green economy, Roberts said.

“Part of this is an inventory on what’s going on out there and how does that relate to what’s most likely going to happen in the next 20 years,” Roberts said. “And how do we pull these things together to make this the center where if I want to go work in that field I want to come here.”

The group is seeking to raise $70,000 from private foundations and corporations to do that study. If the money can be raised, the group hopes to conduct the study next year.

One of the advantages for the state is a private sector community — people in the legal, business, finance and insurance worlds — willing to work on the issue, Roberts said.

“They’re not wondering whether this is happening around the globe,” Roberts said. “They’re on the cutting edge of how to respond to a changing world and a changing climate.”

In just the past several years, there’s been a progression in how people respond to climate change, Peter B. King, CEO of the Association for Washington Cities.

King went to a conference several years ago in Arizona about climate change and received several questioning emails from his membership about why he was attending. Now he said he’s not getting those questions from his members.

“We’ve come a long way in a pretty short time in people recognizing that we need to be proactive,” King said.

Roberts said what will most likely be impacted by a changing climate is: water; energy; agriculture and forestry; and the types of materials to construct buildings.

“In each of those four areas, the state of Washington has some pretty deep roots,” Roberts said. “We’re not somewhere out of the picture in terms of any of those sectors.”

The state also is home to several top research universities. The state’s top companies have a global supply reach, including Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon.

There’s available manufacturing capacity in the Puget Sound region from Everett and Arlington and also in Pierce County.

He notes that countries around the world are at trying to capitalize on the green economy. A changing climate creates challenges, but also opportunities, Roberts said. “Adaptation and mitigation has been described — not by me, but I love the description — managing the unavoidable and avoiding the unmanageable,” Roberts said.

The first step is to figure where the state is at and where it needs to go.

“Are we going to solve climate change? No,” Roberts said. “Are we going to be able to turn some corners in terms of reducing our carbon footprint and greenhouse footprint… that’s what needs to happen.”

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