Evergreen Jobs: Sustainable Employment in Sustainable Sectors (By Michael Belinsky)

The creation of “green jobs” is a way to kill several birds with one stone – employment, energy, and the environment.

Rio+20 certainly has the potential to further the dialogue around the creation of green jobs. For one, government regulation is a significant driver of green job creation. I saw this directly when working in the mergers and acquisitions team for Samsung Corporation several years ago. At the time, Samsung was revisiting its strategy in the photovoltaic sector. One of the company’s main dilemmas was where in the solar power supply chain investments should be made over the next several decades. Part of that question revolved around the projected/expected demand for solar energy. And – surprise, surprise – demand turned out to be driven largely by government subsidies for solar power. California, Germany, Spain, and several other locations where government subsidies reduced the cost of solar power turned out to be key locations for companies like Samsung. Where government invested its political will, companies invested their money – and green jobs followed suit.

Exhibit: Number and percent distribution of establishments in industries where green goods and services are classified, by industry sector, 2009 (Source: US BLS)

Industry sector Number of establishments Percent distribution
Construction 820,700 38.1
Professional and business services 779,100 36.2
Other services (Repair and maintenance services, Professional organizations) 183,300 8.5
Natural resources and mining 88,700 4.1
Information 77,000 3.6
Manufacturing 77,700 3.6
Trade, transportation, and utilities 49,300 2.3
Public administration 42,100 2.0
Education and health services 26,400 1.2
All other sectors 10,400 0.5
Total 2,154,700 100.0

This is the logic for how governments spur job creation. Of course, if governments were interested in maximizing job creation without looking at what type of job was created, then a different logic applies. For example, the government “creates” more jobs per dollar it invests in several other industries than it does for its renewable energy investments. This is the argument made by the Rio+20 Green Jobs and Social Inclusion Brief, which is part of the 13 briefs prepared for the conference. “In summary,” one of the brief’s paragraphs concludes, “the employment benefit of green solutions is not evident across the board…” What this means is that, as economists say, there is no such thing as a free lunch. If we want to create jobs, that’s one singular goal. But if we want to accomplish several other goals in the process, then we might have to sacrifice some quantity of job creation to get other things done – a.k.a, to have quantity and quality job creation.

Clearly, some argue that you can productively combine the two goals. Here is one statement that the environmental group Apollo Alliance made in Time Magazine:

“The hard work of decarbonizing the American economy will actually create millions of new jobs. Someone, after all, will need to produce alternative power, increase energy efficiency and overhaul wasteful buildings. Angelides notes that between now and 2030, 75% of the buildings in the U.S. will either be new or substantially rehabilitated. Our inefficient, dangerously unstable electrical grid will need to be overhauled. The jobs that will go into that kind of work can be green-collar — provided that the government adopts the kind of policies that incentivize environmentally friendly choices. “Green jobs won’t be sprouting up only in new technology fields” like solar energy, says Angelides, whose group is calling for a $300 billion investment in green jobs over the next 10 years. “We’ll be creating jobs in the industrial sector.””

There is another logic to the green jobs debate – and this is the one that policy-makers might find easier to discuss at Rio+20. That logic is as follows: environmental standards, technologies, and infrastructure in general are becoming cleaner and more efficient in a very general sense. That means that investments into improving and upgrading infrastructure, and building new infrastructure are, in one sense, de facto green job-creating investments. Simply put, new infrastructure and newer cars are greener than the old stuff.


Readers who are interested in policy, Rio+20, and green jobs maybe also be interested in sources of green jobs. I looked at some resources available.

GreenJobs.com currently lists about 320 jobs. Some of them are green in a direct way, such as a job for SolarCity, a full-service solar power company. Others are less related, like voter outreach for environmental issues. This organization also helps job seekers directly: “Services to candidates which include the opportunity to apply for jobs, list their resume/CV, obtain guidance on finding and applying for jobs, gain background information on the RE industries and have access to a directory of RE companies and organizations.”

GreenJobs.net is a no-frills website about green jobs. It’s connected to the Green Collar Jobs blog – part-job site, part-community about green jobs.

Treehugger – more media outlet than straight-up job site, Treehugger nevertheless contains many jobs that are not listed on the previous two websites.

Michael Belinsky is a 2012 graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School Master in Public Policy program.


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