March 8, 2009

So, what exactly is a green job?

The greening of jobs is a welcomed transition as we move toward greater use of renewable energy resources and energy efficient practices. However, as we hear more and more about green jobs and green-collar jobs, it begs the question, what is a green job? The Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc. (IREC) has done some preliminary…

The greening of jobs is a welcomed transition as we move toward greater use of renewable energy resources and energy efficient practices. However, as we hear more and more about green jobs and green-collar jobs, it begs the question, what is a green job?

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc. (IREC) has done some preliminary research to frame a working definition of “green” jobs. We have looked at some definitions that are being used and have also reviewed some recent reports and mission statements. The more we dig, the more questions are raised. We think it is important to have a working definition but one that isn’t limiting nor one that is too vague that it could be used to misrepresent the intent of green jobs.

Below are some of our findings to date and also a first cut at a definition. This definition is a preliminary one. We expect to fine-tune it as we enter into more discussions.

Some definitions that are on the table

Van Jones in his book The Green-Collar Economy, writes: My definition of a green-collar job is this: it is a family-supporting, career-track job that directly contributes to preserving or enhancing environmental quality.” He goes on to explain: “Like traditional blue-collar jobs, green-collar jobs range from low-skill, entry-level positions to high-skill, higher-paid jobs and include opportunities for advancement in both skills and wages. Think of them as the 2.0 version of old-fashioned blue-collar jobs, upgraded to respect the Earth and meet the environmental challenges of today.”

Phil Angelides, the Chair of the Apollo Alliance, defines a green job as: “It has to pay decent wages and benefits that can support a family. It has to be part of a real career path, with upward mobility. And it needs to reduce waste and pollution and benefit the environment.” [May 26, 2008 Time Magazine]

With these, we have economics balanced with the environment as foundations for the definition.

But as you look at these definitions and others, we suggest that before we can define “green jobs,” we first have to define “what’s a green company – a green employer.” Here’s where the questions start mounting up. If we consider renewable energy companies “green,” then what’s the definition of renewable energy? What’s the definition of clean energy? Do we include nuclear, natural gas, hydro, biomass, or biofuels? What about the utility company that offers “green products” or owns solar installations but also has other fossil-fuel plants? Do green jobs include both direct and indirect ones?

In the January 2009 Green Collar Jobs in the U.S. and Colorado, Economic Drivers for the 21st Century Report published by the American Solar Energy Society, Roger Bezdek writes:

A job in the RE [Renewable Energy] industry consists of an employee working in one of the major RE technologies—wind, photovoltaics, solar thermal, hydroelectric power, geothermal, biomass (ethanol, biodiesel, and biomass power), and fuel cells and hydrogen. A job in the EE [Energy Efficiency] industry consists of an employee working in a sector that is entirely part of the EE industry, such as an energy service company (ESCO) or the recycling, reuse, and remanufacturing sector. It also includes some employees in industries in which only a portion of the output is classified as within the EE sector, such as household appliances, HVAC systems, construction, automobile manufacturing, and others. Finally, in this study, jobs in RE&EE include persons involved in RE&EE activities in federal, state, and local government, universities, nonprofits, trade and professional associations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), foundations, consultancies, investment companies (analysts, for example), and other related organizations.

The Green-e Certified Energy Products has a stricter definition of Renewable Energy which we should consider using. It covers renewable resource eligibility, product specifications and emission limits. It’s too long to repeat here but it can be read here.

Joel Makower, in his recent book Strategies for the Green Economy, writes, “One of the big problems companies confront when they set out to devise, implement, and communicate their green strategy is that there is little agreement about what it means for a company to be seen as green … the definition remains in the eye of the beholder.”

Jeff Wolfe, groSolar’s CEO, has spoken at many of our conferences. Creating “good jobs” is one of his primary goals. His company’s mission statement also offers some good insight into a definition.

  • Delivering peace of mind through solar energy systems and whole energy appreciation.
  • Creating economic opportunities for shareholders while being socially responsible in business and community.
  • Providing sustainable, world class clean energy products and service with quality and care.

Rona Fried, President of (she writes a column in Solar Today), defines sustainable businesses as “offer[ing] products and services that fulfill society’s needs while contributing to the well-being of all earth’s inhabitants. Sustainable businesses operate across all business sectors: energy efficiency and renewable energy generation, water and wastewater treatment, resource-efficient industrial processes, advanced materials, transportation and agriculture. They create products and services that compete on price and performance while significantly reducing humankind’s impact on the environment.”

With all of these definitions and descriptors in mind, we’ve crafted a first draft of a definition but we realize that ambiguities still exist.

Green jobs are found in industries and organizations dealing with renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy conservation. Jobs include products, services, research and design that contribute to environmentally sustainable practices. Jobs include new jobs and greening of conventional jobs with training set to industry standards and with opportunities for economic advancement.

IREC will continue to clarify and refine this definition. Any comments? Send them along to Jane Weissman.

Jane M. Weissman, Executive Director

Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc.

March 2009