Executive Director, Efficiency Canada
Shuttering many businesses and putting millions out of work, COVID-19 threw a serious wrench into Canada’s economy. As the country begins to rebuild its economic prospects, energy efficiency investments have many benefits including job creation that necessitate a closer look. Shawna Henderson, CEO of the training company Blue House Energy in Halifax, Nova Scotia is a veteran in energy efficiency, having worked in the industry since 1991. In 2001, as a single mother, she began training people in energy efficiency and related construction fields, driving herself and her kids around her home province until she eventually decided to take her business online. She launched BlueHouse Energy’s online education platform in 2012. Henderson said that even before COVID-19, the largely male workforce that builds and retrofits buildings was dwindling because many current workers are retiring and there are fewer people to replenish their ranks. Her online platform saw an increase in interest during the pandemic and in the wake of COVID-19, Henderson said she hopes that Blue House can help train the next generation of workers in the field, particularly women and people of colour.
“There’s so much that could be done with a rising workforce that could carry out significant retrofits,” Henderson said. At Efficiency Canada – a Carleton University-based organization of which I am the executive director – we advocate for energy efficiency businesses like Blue House Energy. Through our advocacy, we connect workers in the field and help raise their profiles through campaigns like Our Human Energy, which tells stories of energy efficiency workers like Henderson. Creating jobs and helping Canadian businesses is one of the pillars behind energy efficiency, and our work at Efficiency Canada. But there are many other reasons to champion it as a cause. Countless buildings across the country need upgrades and retrofits. For example, schools urgently need upgrades to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems to protect against the spread of COVID-19 in winter, while making them more comfortable places to learn.
After a summer full of air conditioner use and before Canada’s cold winters, energy efficiency can help reduce people’s electrical and natural gas bills. This is especially important considering how many households took a hit to their savings and saw an increase in energy bills, or slipped into energy poverty during the pandemic, as it allows Canadians and Canadian businesses to save money that could otherwise be used on other necessities. Besides cutting costs and unemployment, energy efficiency can also cut emissions, an important move as Canada works to meet its climate goals. Improvements in energy efficiency can account for 40% of the reductions committed to in the Paris Agreement, making it the “cheapest and most abundant source of energy,” in Canada, according to a statement from the Office of the Minister of Natural Resources Canada. During a respiratory pandemic, we should all be thinking about lowering emissions and air pollution. “Here in Canada, it’s going to help us go beyond Paris 2030 and get to net zero by 2050. Improvements in energy efficiency enable Canadians to fight climate change in a way that’s accessible to them,” the statement read. As an important part of the country’s recovery plan, the federal, municipal, and provincial governments of Canada need to work to create long-lasting, coordinated energy efficiency policies. Governments and businesses should also work to develop more funding models like grants and low-interest financing.
According to research by ECO Canada, in 2018, around 436,000 Canadians were employed at energy efficiency businesses.This number surpassed two other huge sectors in the country: mining, quarrying, and oil and gas (204,000 people) and telecommunications (123,000people).
That’s a significant chunk of our economy, and therefore our economic recovery. It’s also not just construction workers and insulation installers working in the field. For instance, Henderson’s company – made up of six full-time staff and a few dozen contractors – employs administrators and people working in creative fields. The bulk of energy efficiency workers are also employed by small, local businesses: the kinds of businesses that have struggled the most to weather the pandemic.In the end, energy efficiency is the mom and pop shops, and your aunt Mary who runs an insulation business in your town. Local jobs are at the core of it. Investments in energy efficiency now will help us build the secure and healthy future we want for ourselves and our families: let’s start building back better, today .
Executive Director, Efficiency Canada