Just What the Heck is a Green Job Anyway?

MacIver News Analysis

January 4, 2012

There are two questions that plague efforts to assess the green economy: What is a green job and how many of them are there?

While still a candidate, President Barack Obama promised to create 5 million green jobs over ten years. During his visit to ZBB Energy in Menomonie Falls in August 2010, he vowed to create 800,000 green jobs by 2012. The vagueness surrounding green jobs could aid him in claiming success in those goals.

Green jobs advocates have been quoted throughout the media trying to nail down some sort of definition.

Phil Angelides, Apollo Alliance Chair, says “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.”

Former Green Jobs Czar Van Jones considers green jobs to be “Blue-collar employment that has been upgraded to better respect the environment; family-supporting, career-track, vocational, or trade-level employment in environmentally-friendly fields, such as electricians who install solar panels; plumbers who install solar water heaters; farmers engaged in organic agriculture and some bio-fuel production; and construction workers who build energy-efficient green buildings, wind power farms, solar farms and wave energy farms.”

Vice-President Joe Biden’s Middle Class Task Force put out a report called “Green Jobs: a Pathway to a Strong Middle Class.”

“They pay more, by 10 to 20 percent, depending on the definition, than other jobs,” reads the report. “Green jobs are more likely to be union jobs than other jobs.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides two definitions. “Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources,” or “Jobs in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.”

The lack of a clear definition for green jobs led to a House Oversight Committee Hearing in September. Congressmen were surprised by what was being considered a green job.

Rep. Connie Mack (R-Florida) was floored to learn the driver of a hybrid bus was considered green.

“How can you call this a green job?” Mack asked Labor Secretary Hilda Solis during the exchange at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. “If I’m sitting in a chair that’s made out of green material, does that make my job green?”

Mack might have been on to something. It turns out there is an actual comprehensive list of occupations considered to be green. O*NET is a dot-org website sponsored by the Labor Department, and considers itself to be “the nation’s primary source of occupational information.”

O*NET classifies 217 different professions as green.   Odds are you have a green job and don’t even realize it. Reporters and correspondents are listed. Some of the other highlights include: aerospace engineers, boilermakers, civil engineers, construction laborers, electricians, financial analysts, landscape architects, machinists, nuclear engineers, roofers, rough carpenters, sheet metal workers and software developers.

Given these generous classifications, it’s very likely Obama has reached his 5 million green jobs goal without having to create a single new job.

The Bureau of Labor statistics is in the process of conducting an official survey to determine the number of green jobs in the country. It hopes to have those results ready be the middle of this year.

In the meantime, the Brookings Institute released a report in July stating half a million green jobs were created between 2003 and 2010. It put the current number of green jobs at 2.7 million.

That would suggest over 2 million green jobs have been created since 2010. The problem is there were only 1.5 million more people employed as of November 2011 from 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.