by Kristen Wright, associate editor
Where are the 5 million green-collar jobs 2008 presidential candidate Barack Obama pledged to create within 10 years? Two years into his presidency, nobody knows what qualifies, including government agencies and environmental groups.
What about a recently laid-off woman who now pushes a reel mower yard to yard to make money? Would lawn lady’s be a green job created, a general job lost, or would the two cancel one another for a net job gain of zero?
“No,” said Rick Clayton, chief of the division of administration statistics and labor turnover at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). “I think that cutting a lawn has no environmental impact.”
Another federal agency has found otherwise. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) favors reel mowers over gas-powered ones, and the EPA website even calculates a user’s potential emissions reductions by replacing gas mowers with reel or electric ones. Nevertheless, Clayton probably will trump the EPA on this one. He and his team of 18 will have the final say on what qualifies as a green-collar job.
So what about a man who drives a fuel-inefficient truck to deliver solar panels? Is his job as green as an engineer’s at the same company, or someone’s who works half the time manufacturing an Energy Star product and half the time on something else? And how will meter readers’ jobs lost to smart meters factor into the tally?
People think they know what a green job is until they get hit with hypotheticals that easily could be realities. Right now, industry insiders just go with what they know. Many borrow Justice Potter Stewart’s obscenity description, “I know it when I see it.”
Chad Hall, chief operating officer and co-founder of Ioxus, said his Oneonta, N.Y.-based ultracapacitor company is full of green jobs.
“My definition of a green job is to create or expand the use of alternative energy within an industrial, automotive or utility space,” Hall said. “We have created, today, 25 green jobs, and we will be bringing some more people on board fairly soon.”
Pressed to define “fairly soon,” he said, “Within the next month.” That would be August. Pressed to define “some more people,” Hall was more vague.
“I can only say it’s going to be a large percentage of the company that will be added,” he said.
Green jobs are forming in other countries, as well, and the United States must keep manufacturing at home to beat the competition, Hall said.
“China is adding a huge number of employees to create renewable applications,” he said. “They’re actually very aggressive with their hybrid vehicles. They’re adding thousands of hybrid buses. They’re installing wind and solar at an astronomical rate, and energy storage is a large portion of their plan, as well. I think we’re headed in the right place. Basically the government is picking a winner in the space.”
Lithium-ion batteries are manufactured mostly in China, Hall said, and competing with Asian prices is difficult.
“Our ultracapacitors are made in the United States, and we are beating Asian prices,” he said. “If we don’t do this, then we become dependent on foreign batteries just like we are dependent on foreign oil.”
Why Count Green Jobs?
The surest way to determine whether U.S. green job stimulus is working is to count the number of green jobs created and weigh them against their $60 billion investment.
President Obama tapped that much of the stimulus package, officially the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), to generate green jobs. And in January, the administration announced $2.3 billion in federal tax credits that Obama said would create 17,000 more green jobs.
Five months later in June, 9.5 percent of Americans were unemployed, according to the most recent BLS report as of press time. Americans aren’t asking to see green jobs solely to check federal spending; to them it’s more personal. They want paychecks and will follow the work. Newspaper, magazine and TV stories from one coast to the other tell of workers commuting many miles—sometimes across state lines—to find work.
The Nevada Complex
Jobseekers might look to Nevada after reading the Greenopia USA Environmental Rating. Greenopia’s green-living experts rank eco-friendly retailers, services and organizations ranging from beers to state governors. The Silver State came in sixth in a list of eco-friendliest green states. Meanwhile, Nevada leads the nation’s unemployment rate at 14.2 percent, BLS data shows. It’s the highest state unemployment rate since the government began tracking state unemployment in 1976.
Green jobs, at least, are headed to Nevada. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced May 15 that a new solar manufacturing plant will bring 278 permanent management, technical and production jobs to the Las Vegas Valley. The jobs, according to a Reid statement, will be well-paying positions that require minimal training for someone who has worked in a construction industry. California-based Amonix will use $5.9 million of its $9.5 million ARRA Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit for its concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) solar system at the River Mountains Water Treatment Facility. The plant will open by the end of 2010, according to Amonix. Its annual production capacity will be 150 MW of CPV solar systems when fully operational.
Nevada will get new wind jobs, as well, with help from private equity firm U.S. Renewable Energy Group and a Chinese renewable energy technology manufacturer, A-Power Generation Systems Ltd. The 320,000-square-foot plant—to be erected from 50,000 tons of U.S.-manufactured steel, officials said—will manufacture and assemble wind turbines and create some 1,000 long-term jobs. The site in southern Nevada has yet to be determined.
In addition, Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) data reflects a boom in Nevada, and the GEA projects the state to produce $22.5 billion in geothermal profits during the next 30 years. The Silver State has 86 planned or developing geothermal plants with the potential to add more than 3,600 MW to its energy portfolio. The 14 geothermal plants currently in late stages of development will create some 1,400 construction jobs upon breaking ground, said Karl Gawell, GEA executive director. And ARRA funding for geothermal development is expected to create some 1,100 jobs in Nevada, according to the GEA.
The state will use $6 million in ARRA grants to train residents for the anticipated green jobs. In all, 34 states were awarded $190 million in State Energy Sector Partnership and Training grants.
The Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) will use its grant to teach 7,125 workers energy efficiency and renewable energy job skills through the state’s universities, colleges, community colleges, select high schools, training facilities, apprenticeships and energy partners. The grant targets dislocated workers, the homeless, veterans, former foster youth, young pregnant and single mothers, people receiving public assistance, and people with criminal records, disabilities and low incomes.
When asked about the status of the program, a DETR public information officer, Mae Worthey, said she didn’t know where it stands. A request for the same information to DETR Deputy Director Ardell Galbreth went unanswered.
Outside of Nevada, more green jobs might exist in Greenopia’s top five eco-friendliest green states: Washington is No. 17 in unemployment at 8.9 percent; Vermont is No. 31 in unemployment at 6 percent; New York is No. 20 in unemployment at 8.2 percent; Oregon is tied for No. 8 in unemployment at 10.5 percent; and California is No. 3 in unemployment at 12.3 percent.
House Bill 2815 in Washington state required Washington’s Employment Security Department to conduct a green-collar jobs study. Completed in 2009, the “2008 Washington State Green Economy Jobs” is one of the nation’s first state-sponsored studies to survey employers involved with energy efficiency, renewable energy, and pollution prevention, reduction and cleanup about their estimated number of green-collar jobs. More than 9,500 employers responded. The study concluded 47,194 green jobs existed in Washington at that time. The study’s definition of green jobs varies from others.
That’s the problem with green jobs; there’s no way to tell what is, and what isn’t. Everyone assumes.
Green job definitions dizzy everyone trying to count them. Neither politicians nor agencies agree on a definition, and every company with an interest has its own version.
To simplify the scope, the Regional Economic Development Institute at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College packaged 43 definitions in its “Inventory of ‘Green Jobs’ Definitions: A Review of the Literature.”
It states, for example, that the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth defines green jobs to “include primary occupations engaged in the production of green-related products or services, and support jobs created by green-related revenue.”
The list attributes the Environmental Defense Fund’s “Green Jobs Guidebook” with defining green jobs as “jobs that assist in moving the economy towards preventing or adapting to climate change.”
Another definition on the list stipulates that a green-collar job first must be a blue-collar job, and then be in a green business. That one comes from the Economic Policy Institute and Center for a Sustainable Economy’s “Clean Energy and Jobs: A comprehensive approach to climate change and energy policy.”
And remember that study out of Washington state? It defined a green job as one that promotes environmental protection and energy security.
To count green collars, a standard definition must exist.
Green Means …
“There is no definition,” said Clayton of the BLS. “We’d love it if someone would have given us one.”
Clayton and his team of 18—split across three or four projects—have been trying to define green for a year, he said. They’ll have a U.S. standard definition by 2012.
Obama on Dec. 16 signed into law the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which includes funds for the BLS to define green jobs and determine where green activity exists and what jobs and pay levels are connected.
“We are trying to decide which industries have sufficient green content that needs a sort of conceptual definition,” Clayton said. “We have gone through each of the 1,100 industries. We’ve met with other agencies.”
The EPA, Department of Energy and other federal agencies will participate in the $8 million, yearlong study.
Until that definition is released, the March 16 Federal Register provides a section in which the BLS addresses green job definitions.
“The common thread through the studies and discussions is that green jobs are jobs related to preserving or restoring the environment,” the Federal Register states.
It broadly defines green jobs as “jobs involved in economic activities that help protect or restore the environment or conserve natural resources.” The economic activities generally fall into the following categories:
- Renewable energy,
- Energy efficiency,
- Greenhouse gas reduction,
- Pollution reduction and cleanup,
- Recycling and waste reduction,
- Agricultural and natural resources conservation, and
- Education, compliance, public awareness and training.
From there, according to the BLS, the economic activities result in the production of green goods and services that fall into four types:
- Direct green goods and services,
- Indirect green goods and services,
- Specialized inputs, and
- Distribution of green goods.
According to that preliminary BLS definition, the fuel-inefficient truck driver delivering solar panels would qualify as a green job.
“If a business establishment produces a single good or service, and if the good or service is included in the BLS definition, all employment at that establishment will be counted towards the green job total, including production, management, and administrative staff,” the Federal Register states.
That prompts a final question for Clayton at the BLS. Will he count his job and those of his 18 co-workers as green jobs created by federal stimulus money?
“I haven’t thought about that,” he said. “Probably not.”