Since 1990, energy efficiency gains have delivered nearly $790 billion in savings for Americans, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, and are helping to create healthier, more sustainable places to live. In the U.S., the energy efficiency sector represents more than 2.25 million people – more than the number working in the coal, oil, gas and even renewable energy industries combined. Yet it remains a part of the workforce where women make up a small portion of workers.
Related: Colorado among top 5 states for green homes
Nationally, women represent about 47% of the workforce, but only about one-fourth of energy efficiency jobs, according to a report by NASEO and EFI. USGBC’s Women in Green program recently recognized two Coloradans as leaders in the green industry.
Clare Epke, based in Boulder, is the manager of sustainability and wellness at NORESCO, one of the largest energy services companies in the U.S. She’s developed a passion and commitment to sustainable design over the past 19 years, and helps clients understand how sustainability can contribute to improving health. Epke is responsible for managing environmental testing services and quality related to indoor air, water, lighting and acoustics.
“Over the years, I have seen women taking on more management roles not only in consulting and but also in hands-on field work such as energy audits and performance testing,” said Epke. “Another welcome shift to witness is women in technical sales, engineering and leadership roles who are actively supporting the growth and advancement of other women. When we acknowledge one another’s abilities and create an atmosphere of support, we improve our own livelihood, our projects, and the sustainability and wellness sector.”
Sonrisa Lucero is another Coloradan influencing sustainability and energy policy at the local level. She is the sustainability strategist supporting Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and helps to establish sustainability as a core business value for the city. Lucero was also deployed to work at Denver’s COVID Women’s and Transgender Shelter, and sees sustainability as a method for helping all people, especially the most vulnerable.
“Our job is to be a change agent. Often, I’m the lone voice in the room speaking up, bringing up the environmental and the social aspect. It’s surprising for people to hear a sustainability professional advocating for equity,” said Lucero. “They do not recognize it’s a relationship between the two: the environment and the people.”
Lucero and Epke’s work was featured at the annual Women in Green celebration in November during this year’s virtual Greenbuild conference. The two leaders are among a growing group of women driving the adoption of energy efficient practices and connecting the benefits to health and social equity outcomes. Now, as the state focuses on recovery from the pandemic, reinvesting in energy efficiency will be critical to laying the foundation for a healthier, more sustainable future.
Annie Hall is the project manager for the Mountain Region at U.S. Green Building Council.