How Green Is Your Collar?

Is your collar green if it's covered in coal dust? How about if it's covered in powdered sugar? In some instances, both collars may be green, a new study suggests.

Kevin Ferguson, Contributor

January 21, 2009

3 Min Read

Is your collar green if it's covered in coal dust? How about if it's covered in powdered sugar? In some instances, both collars may be green, a new study suggests.The renewable energy and energy efficiency (RE&EE) industries represented more than 9 million jobs and $1.06 trillion in U.S. revenue in 2007, according to a just-released green-collar jobs report, Defining, Estimating, and Forecasting the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Industries in the U.S. and Colorado, from the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society (ASES) in Boulder, Colo., and Management Information Services Inc. (MISI) in Washington, D.C. The report goes on to say that as many as 37 million jobs can be generated by the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries in the United States by 2030

That sounds encouraging -- until you read further and find out what "represented" means. In this instance, the 9 million jobs not only includes those directly related to renewable energy (e.g., manufacturers of photovoltaic panels), energy efficiency (e.g., recycling plants and the manufacturers of Energy Star appliances), but those supporting renewable and energy-efficiency industries (everyone from the truck driver hauling the wind turbine blades to the doughnut maker who sets up shop across the street from the factory to the funeral director who handles the final arrangements for the factory worker who ate too many doughnuts and clogged his arteries).

A job is a job, but it's good to know how green some of these green jobs are.

To that end, the report provides distinct definitions as to what does and does not constitute a "green" job. At the same time, though, it highlights the difficulty economists, green advocates, and policy makers will have in assessing the impact of green investments:

"Most analysts would consider jobs in a recycling plant to be environmental jobs. But what if the recycling plant itself produces air pollution? What about a firm in Colorado that produces emissions control equipment for power plants in Utah? It seems clear that the jobs in the Colorado company should be considered green or environmental jobs, even though the user of the equipment in Utah may cause pollution in Colorado.

MISI defines environmental industries and green jobs as those that "as a result of environmental pressures and concerns, have produced the development of numerous products, processes, and services, which specifically target the reduction of environmental impact."

It differentiates environment-related jobs as those created both directly and indirectly by environmental protection expenditures. In the former category, MISI includes companies like Cassatt, which designs, produces, and sells software to monitor energy use to increase energy efficiency in buildings, as well as Johns Mansville, which makes building and roofing insulation materials as well as coatings for wind turbine blades. In the latter category go businesses that support workers in the green businesses, for example, the doughnut shop patronized by the welders at the Johns Manville factory.

"The vast majority of the jobs created by [the renewable energy industry] are standard jobs for accountants, engineers, computer analysts, clerks, factory workers, truck drivers, mechanics, etc., and most of the persons employed in these jobs may not even realize that they owe their livelihood to renewable energy," states the report. "Hot job areas include electricians, mechanical engineers, welders, metal workers, construction managers, accountants, analysts, environmental scientists, and chemists. The vast majority of jobs created by the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries are in the same types of roles seen in other industries (accountants, factory workers, IT professionals, etc).

If nothing else, it explains why when I search green-jobs boards, I find I need either a doctorate (I stopped at a master's degree) or know how to drive a forklift (been there, done that).

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