Thursday, October 13, 2011

It Ain’t Easy Being Green

By Jonathan Miller, Project Associate.  

Green has become the new black, whatever that means. There is little question that the green economy has taken the nation by storm and is heralded as a key economic driver that will help lead us out of the current economic malaise. However, the discussion on green jobs seems to me to be imprecise. Defining a job as green must consider whether the process or product is green; does green refer to environmental benefit, energy efficiency, or a specific business sector; and how should firms be classified if they are indirectly related to the green economy.

In order to provide some semblance of common ground, I compiled 11 definitions of green jobs and green industries. Definitions were obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net (a national repository of occupation descriptions), the Brookings Institution, and state statutes (DC, TX, CO, VA, IL, NM, LA, CT). Rather than reading all definitions and proving a detailed comparison, I submitted the definitions to, which analyzes the occurrence of words in a string of text and creates graphic representations. The following word cloud is the visual created from the definitions of green jobs and green industries.

Clearly, the most important word in all the definitions is energy. While “sustainability” and “environmental” are certainly important aspects of the green economy, they do not command as much consensus. Of course, these words are not at odds with energy efficiency or alternative forms of energy, and in most cases are complementary. Other notable words include products, materials, and renewable. 

From a policy standpoint, recognizing that green jobs and the green economy are inherently concerned with energy issues is not a radical stance, but may provide more clarity when it comes to identifying strategies to bolster, increase, and stimulate growth of green jobs. 

While Kermit the Frog could never have known that his most famous line would one day be applied to a debate on national energy policy, someone should really update his Wikipedia page description to include “enduring political pundit”…oops, I mean puppet.

The following definitions are a sample of those analyzed:

Washington, D.C. statute: 
“Green collar jobs” means jobs in the environmental sector of the economy which jobs may involve the implementation of environmentally-conscious design, policy, or technology.

Colorado statute: 
“Green jobs” means occupations or employment positions in the wind, solar, energy efficiency, or renewable energy industries.

Bureau of Labor Statistics: 
Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources. 
Jobs in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.

New Mexico statute:
“Green industries” means industries that contribute directly to preserving or enhancing environmental quality by reducing waste and pollution or producing sustainable products using sustainable processes and materials and that provide opportunities for advancement along a career track of increasing skills and wages. 

Green industries include: 
(1) energy system retrofits to increase energy efficiency and conservation; (2) production and distribution of biofuels, including vehicle retrofits for biofuels; (3) building design and construction that meet the equivalent of best available technology in energy and environmental design standards; (4) organic and community food production; (5) manufacture of products from nontoxic, environmentally certified or recycled materials; (6) manufacture and production of sustainable technologies, including solar panels, wind turbines and fuel cells; (7) solar technology installation and maintenance; (8) recycling, green composting and large-scale reuse of construction and demolition materials and debris; and (9) water retrofits to increase water efficiency and conservation;

Brookings Institution: 
The clean economy is economic activity—measured in terms of establishments and the jobs associated with them—that produces goods and services with an environmental bene?t or adds value to such products using skills or technologies that are uniquely applied to those products.