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Where Are All the Clean, Green Jobs?
Joel Makower, 21 Mar 08

The promise of the green economy and the clean-tech revolution is that they will bring a new wave of job opportunities — productive and respectable jobs at every part of the economic spectrum, from line workers to senior managers. Nonprofit groups like the Apollo Alliance have made this part of their raison d'etre.  A steady drumbeat of studies since the late 1990s has told us that burgeoning markets for solar, wind, clean transportation, and other technologies would represent the next big wave of job creation. Cities and states have been positioning to become clean-tech hubs, eyeing the workforce development potential. Organizations representing low-income populations have been viewing the green economy as an entry point for those near the bottom of the economic ladder.

So, now that clean technology and the greening of business seem to be in full swing, where are all the jobs? So far, they're nowhere in sight — at least not in any appreciable numbers.

The reasons are many and varied. Most of the big companies in the clean-energy business — the BPs, GE, and PG&E's of the world — don't seem to be going on hiring sprees, typically creating clean-tech business units from within. So, too, with much of the green business activity — it has to do with efficiency, with doing more with the same or fewer resources, and that includes human resources. Few of the start-ups are undergoing massive hiring, and when they do, they're more often in the market for engineers and other skilled professionals. And the jobs that are being created are disperse, geographically, meaning that there are few robust Silicon Valley-like clean-tech clusters, where companies congregate and jobs proliferate.

Despite such obstacles, there seems to be new energy building behind the notion of a Big Green Job Machine. Last week in Pittsburgh, for example, a Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference, organized by the Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers union, drew more than 900 people from business, government, nonprofits, academe, and labor unions to share strategies for increasing job opportunities in the environmental and clean-tech sectors.

There were about 8 million green jobs in the U.S. in industries that attracted $148 million in investment in 2007, up 60 percent from the year before, Lois Quam, managing director of alternative investments at Piper Jaffray, told the conference. I haven't yet seen the research on which this was based, but I'm intrigued. As I noted in our State of Green Business report, tracking green job creation has been difficult. One reason is that green jobs, at least by my definition, aren't often identified as such, and can be found throughout companies of all sizes and sectors. Does a procurement manager — whose job entails implementing her company's environmentally preferable procurement mandate, thereby seeking out and purchasing millions of dollars a year of recycled, energy-efficient, and other green products — count as a "green job"? What about the loading dock laborer whose job it is to make sure all packaging materials are recycled? Or the facility manager working to replace maintenance staples with green cleaning products? Are these counted among the "green jobs"? Possibly, but I doubt it.

Fact is, there's no good definition of "green job." Consider this report, released last week, by Raquel Rivera Pinderhughes, professor of urban studies at San Francisco State University. Titled Green Collar Jobs: An Analysis of the Capacity of Green Businesses to Provide High Quality Jobs for Men and Women with Barriers to Employment (Download - pdf), it focuses on opportunities in the San Francisco Bay Area. According to Pinderhughes,

Green collar jobs are blue collar jobs in green businesses — that is, manual labor jobs in businesses whose products and services directly improve environmental quality. . . . What unites these jobs is that all of them are associated with manual labor work that directly improves environmental quality.

Pinderhughes lists 22 types of green collar jobs, from food production (using organic and/or sustainably grown agricultural products) to furniture making (from environmentally certified and recycled wood), from parks and open space (maintenance and expansion) to printing (with non-toxic inks and dyes and recycled papers). It's a good list, but it doesn't seem to cover all that's out there.

Another report, Green-Collar Jobs in America's Cities (download - pdf), released for the Pittsburgh event, lays out steps for creating comprehensive green-collar job strategies at the local level. It also profiles some of the great work already underway around the country. The guide — published by Green For All, the Apollo Alliance, the Center for American Progress, and the Center on Wisconsin Strategy — focuses on local green jobs in clean energy industries: energy efficiency, renewable energy, alternative transportation, and low-carbon fuels.

Yet another new report, Greener Pathways, from the same consortium, profiles some of the best examples in the U.S. where work is underway to develop green jobs, including green construction career development in California, Iowa's biofuels job-training bonds, wind technician training in Oregon; and Pennsylvania's green re-industrialization. 

It's all very encouraging, but it feels like there's one key group that's not yet at the table: companies. A look at the impressive speaker roster for the Pittsburgh event reveals only eight of 86 speakers from the private sector — and only three large companies: BP, Gamesa, and Johnson Controls.

Why aren't bigger companies more engaged? Do they not foresee a need for talent in this arena? Are their labor pools overflowing? Or are they simply not tuned in to the opportunity? Any ideas?

For now, groups like the Apollo Alliance and Green for All will have to go it alone, and they have their work cut out for them, helping to ensure, in the words of Green for All founder and president, Van Jones, that "the clean-tech wave lifts all boats." It won't be easy, especially without the active participation of companies in the clean and green sector.

As Jones told me recently: "The next set of challenges have to do with going from rhetoric to reality."

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Comments

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Posted by: hapa on 22 Mar 08

IF more big companies pledge a 'green' shift in their business practices, I think it's very important that they show their consumers (and investors) how 'on track' they are. www.openeco.org allows businesses to plug-in their monthly energy consumption bills and compare it to others within their industry and plot it over time- all in hopes to reduce their carbon footprint. There are also a lot of resources on the site to help curb energy usage. Joel, have you checked out Openeco.org yet?


Posted by: Brody on 24 Mar 08

Green jobs can be defined in very differant ways but there are alot of new companies (over 2700 listed in the greencollareconomy.com directory) that will become more mainstream in the near and long term future. The Green for All Dream might be more long term as it aims to take care of the young children as well as grown up in poverty right now.


Posted by: Sean on 24 Mar 08

I'd be interested in data on PR agency budgets for cleantech. A bunch of agencies have cleantech groups (including the one I work for), but it's unclear how successful these groups are across-the-board and if the budgets are on par with other tech sectors.

Cleantech startups seem to invest primarily in R&D and creating actual widgets and less on marketing/PR than startups in social media/2.0, biotech, etc.

Based in San Francisco, I still don't see much in the way of cleantech jobs outside of engineering/sales reps, though I get pinged regularly by people with sustainable MBAs or others trying to break into the green game.


Posted by: Sean M. Gibson on 24 Mar 08

I think the commmunity should not wait for big business to take the first step towards green collar jobs. Smaller business like bike shops and business that produce products from recycled material is the start of things to come. Support the small business and watch big business follow.
You've been Trashed!!!

www.greenbugz.com
Recycling Today For A Greener Tomorrow


Posted by: Jason-Milwaukee on 25 Mar 08

I've recently been pondering this problem in terms of designers (eg architects and industrial designers). More and more design programs are training up "green" and "socially inclusive" designers, but without addressing the fact that few jobs actually exist for these "activist" designers.

In design the conventional model of "service for hire" doesn't really accommodate the desire that more and more designers seem to have to be involved in "transformative" design. My own view is that the marketplace has only limited potential to bring forth transformative design and designers, as well as others, need to get on their activists hats and start looking outside the marketplace, to social enterprises, nonprofits and governments. These actions then raise the bar for what is considered "competitive" and "required" (eg regulatory compliance) and activists can begin again to raise the whole thing up to the next level.

Ann Thorpe
http://designactivism.net


Posted by: Ann Thorpe on 26 Mar 08

FORGIVE ME FOR SOUNDING CYNICAL, BUT VAN JONES'S STATEMENTS LOOK AND SOUND AS RIDICULOUS AS ANYTHING I HEARD GROWING BACK IN SOVIET UNION AND LISTENING TO THE COMMUNIST PARTY CONVENTION SPEECHES. THE LEVEL OF DEMAGOGERY AS WELL AS LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF LIFE SCIENCE,IN ADDITION TO TOTAL DISREGARD FOR BASIC SOCIOLOGICAL FACTS, IS STAGGERING. THE GUY (Green for All founder and president, Van Jones) IS A DEMAGOUGUE AND A SCAM ARTIST. IT IS INCOMPREHENSIBLE HOW PEOPLE ARE LISTENING WITH STRAIGHT FACES AND MANY ARE BUYING INTO SOME OF HIS CONCEPTS AND STATEMENTS.


Posted by: 123 on 1 Apr 08

ive been listening to people on the news and any soap box they can stand on. ive switched to a wood stove to stop big oil.i also have a huge garden to grow my own food.raise my own beef.i run all floresent lights, now i decided, i would like to use solar panels. this is where going green stops for me.all the millionaires say how cheap and efficientthey are thats bs. the cheapest solar panel i found,is 600 buck.it makes 80 watts per hour, for eight hours.that is less than my celing fan uses to move the heat through my house.i need two panels for my tv,one for my computer and then there is the fridge,lights,microwave,water heater,alarmclock.thats about ten panels at six hundred =6000. thats more than 10 years of electric bills.

i also looked at wind farming. the turbines at thier cheapest are 7200 bucks.and i need several to run my house. this is another unreachable dream. if it is easier ,and cheaper to stay on the grid,where is the benifit.if its the feel good part,that is painfully destroied, by the stress of paying for the green lifestyle.if any one has a suggestion,or a cheap place to buy these items,drop me a line.


Posted by: james wagner on 1 Apr 08



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