Where Are All the Clean, Green Jobs?

Where Are All the Clean, Green Jobs?

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

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."