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February 08, 2009


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Outstanding point. I find it very frustrating to read reports of so-and-so million "green collar jobs" created as the result of X, Y or Z. At the extreme, every job is a green collar job depending upon how you do it. Someone who works in an accounting job who has the mandate to reduce paper billing...isn't that a green job?

Personally I think the best definition is one tied to outcomes or objectives. You could, for example, argue that all of the jobs resulting from the $12 billion earmarked in the stimulus package for renovating federal buildings to be more energy efficient are green jobs.

Lastly, these types of definitions and terms take time to evolve and stick. You might remember that "Information Technology" didn't exist in the 80s (it was called "data processing").

Jess S.

The consistent use of language that is at once broad enough to incorporate multiple job types, sectors, etc. and specific enough to be measurable is, I think, incredibly important. While it may be arguable that any language is good language if it gets people talking, if we don't come to some consensus the end result will be a complete lack of accountability.

We've reached a point when language—particularly that used among politicians, business and the media—has become so twisted, ambiguous, amorphous, and outright incorrect that it is simply meaningless. (I realize it's old news, but Orwell really did nail it in 1946's "Politics and the English Language.")

If we don't reach consensus on definitions soon, we're going to see more and more politicians and companies bow out of the conversation altogether. Or worse, talk out both sides of their mouth, as Gov. Schwarzenegger is now doing with his push to halt funding of one of America's most successful green job programs—the California Conservation Corps (see this NY Times article).

So while I agree that it's great to see the conversation happening at all, at some point we're going to have to get a lot more detailed about what, exactly, we're all really talking about.

Paul Sheldon

Thanks for airing these important issues, Joel!
One quibble: for anyone claiming to be "green," inclusion of a quote like "We define these as: any activity that generates electricity using renewable or nuclear fuels," deserves a note that nuclear is not considered by most analysts to be "green," due to the carbon emissions of the fuel cycle and cement industry, absence of viable disposal or recycling of wastes, and the astronomical cost (currently about $.20/kWh, which would require major taxpayer bailouts to keep the cost that low). This last point, the cost, when compared to strategies like efficiency (<.03/kWh) and emerging baseload concentrating solar technologies (<.10/kWh), makes nuclear a sad boondoggle worthy of mothballing with other unsuccessful Twentieth Century failures. Wasn't it more than 30 years ago that Amory and Hunter popularized the phrase "cutting butter with a chain saw"?

Greg Andeck

Good points Joel. To add to the discussion, Duke University recently came out with their "Manufacturing Climate Solutions" report, sponsored by EDF and several leading trade unions (see http://www.cggc.duke.edu/environment/climatesolutions/). By mapping out the supply chains for five climate solution technologies, they've discovered that the real "green job" creation is in traditional manufacturing of components that go into clean technologies. For example, it takes a huge amount of steel and concrete to build a wind turbine. This is promising because many of the traditional manufacturing jobs are in the midwest where companies are being especially hard hit by the current economic crisis.


Personally, I think the UN got it. There definition is broad enough to include most anything, and if it doesn't than it can be adapted at a later date, and it's refined enough to exclude mockery of the term.

"We define green jobs as work in agricultural, manufacturing, research and development (R&D), administrative, and service activities that contribute substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality. Specifically, but not exclusively, this includes jobs that help to protect ecosystems and biodiversity; reduce energy, materials, and water consumption through high-efficiency strategies; de-carbonize the economy; and minimize or altogether avoid generation of all forms of waste and pollution."

We need action now, not prolonged worry over how to define the action we need. Generally speaking, if a company uses the term strictly as advertising, they will be exposed for what they are doing. Meanwhile, it's time now to start turning this vehemouth of an economy in the direction of supportive of life on Earth and get their soon!

Bruce K

I find it very interesting that most of the proposed definitions and many of the commentators agree that any virtually any industry can create "green jobs" if the enterprise is conducted in a sustainable manner. That suggests the discussion is largely academic and not all that helpful. With the global economy in tatters, we ought to concentrate simply on job creation. At the same time, if we pursue imperatives like increasing the percentage of renewable energy in the mix, on repairing crumbling infrastructure (and doing it in a sustainable manner) then many "green jobs", however they are defined, are going to follow. In other words, perhaps our indicators of green growth should concentrate on factors other than "green jobs". Jobs are on everyone's mind at the moment, but the conversation about sustainability is much broader. The Next Ten Green Innovation Index that you're very familiar with (http://www.next10.org/environment/greenInnovation.html) and your own State of Green Business Report contain numerous other indicators that are quite revealing.

Jim Cassio

Many excellent points, and thank-you Joel for giving this some needed attention!
I had the opportunity to participate in two forums at that recent green jobs conference where we discussed what is a green job/career? My suggestion tends to be more inclusive than most: Green jobs are jobs that espouse or reflect green values. And what are those values?
-environmental protection and preservation
-sustainable design, development, and business practices
-use of clean and renewable energy
-clean technology (clean tech)
-organic and natural products
There are other values (from fair trade to human rights) that could be added if one wanted an endless list. But using this definition, we end up with approximately 100 occupations that can lead to green jobs
AND that, together, reflect the majority of the green jobs as of 2009. Of course, virtually all occupations can lead to a green job somewhere; just not in numbers that make them easy to find. However, this pattern will change as more and more organizations become sustainable (or demonstrably committed to sustainability). Because ultimately it's not about the job titles; it's about the body of work that is eco-friendly or environmentally responsible. We can all agree that a corporate sustainability coordinator is a green job. But what about his/her assistant and other support workers? When an organization is fully committed to sustainability, all of its jobs should be considered green - from the janitor to the CEO.
Eventually - I hope - the emergence of green values in the workplace will evolve to the point where we don't identify green jobs per se, but (rather) green organizations. And they will be reflected in all industries.
-Jim Cassio, Author of the Green Careers Resource Guide and Green Careers: Choosing Work for a Sustainable Future

Bruce Harrison

Having come out of the mining and chemicals business and gone into counseling manufacturers in the mid-1980s, I had been targeted by pioneer environmental crusaders for my role in communicating industry's plans and achievements. Ultimately the chemical industry’s efforts in which I was prominently involved would lead to the Responsible Care program with industry/community initiatives. The program was aimed at setting a rational pace for green success, in partnership with communities and environmental groups. It was progressive and we talked about it, but corporate green talk was in those days seen by some in the environmental community as a flare summoning activists to attack. Thus I came to face formal greenwash charges, as the lone business representative on a panel at a Society of Environmental Journalists conference.
Greenies ruled the room that wintry day in Boston and the mood was surly—or so it seemed to me as I sat at the speakers table waiting my turn. The moderator of the panel had written a corporate watchdog book that described me as a rising purveyor of greenwashing for nasty industries. I had surprised him, I think, by placing a phone call to him after the book came out and volunteering to be a speaker on the conference panel. And this was the fated day. I followed three speakers. There were the author’s opening comments, not too bad really—he didn’t belabor the evil with which he had associated me in his book. Next came a searing indictment of business from a leading environmental group spokesman. He was followed by a university researcher with results of a survey on corporate environmental responsibility—decidedly unflattering. Who could argue with a survey? I certainly wasn’t prepared to—and it was my turn to speak.
My message (quoting from the script now yellowing in my files) went toward the practical. "You're interested; we're interested in solving environmental problems. You may be ahead of us in your view of the destination, but we're heading in the same direction and you need us to get there." Going for collaboration, I tried out the phrase we would later develop (and use at the upcoming 1992 UN Earth summit): "Companies are not asking you to trust them but to track them as they move down the road. We need to keep talking . . . neither of us should try to shut down the dialogue. . . .”
The hostile, head-shaking chill in the room was numbing—nobody wanted to hear about company and NGO reps linking up and skipping down the lane together. I think I got one question that I could answer and I got a three-minute lecture from an audience member who assured me that I was out of touch with reality, and, in effect, either a capitalist tool or a PR fool or possibly both. I was done. The moderator interrupted the silence with his thanks for my courage in coming out. A colleague who went with me to Boston from Washington suggested we head for the airport while we still had our scalps.

The negative jibe of “greenwashing” survives as a device to interrupt corporate dialogue with its stakeholders. However, the epithet has in the carbon-war era lost much of its early punch. The evidence is this: much greater alignment of corporate PR with marketing/advertising, the substantial rise of corporate transparency on green as well as financial matters, common use by companies of third party validations, and the very interesting prospect of shared pie—both social and economic return—when companies and NGOs talk seriously with one another about cutting carbon. Name calling seems a little old fashioned when a green advocate who gets the full picture, as Environmental Defense’s David Yarnold does, when he describes the common ground that greens found with companies in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. Yarnold inferred that influential CEOs are putting together their own economic interests with evident social (he called it “moral”) and political motivations, and thereby putting former antagonists on a practical path of accommodation. Concomitantly, in American C-suites where green rethinking is under way, I doubt that you could find very much interest in picking further fights with those who profess to represent social progress and I’m certain you would not find a single greenwash brush in the corporate communicator’s pail. We’re at the cusp of a name-calling détente.
There’s one more reason why "greenwashing" charges no longer hold very much water, and that is that such charges can be flung both ways. As Joel Makower once asked, isn't there a greenwash tinge in some of the activist rhetoric—where big green talkers hope nobody mentions their big not-so-green actual lifestyles and their personal big carbon footprints? That is the state of the debate as it seems to me now, a far, and far more productive cry from the old days of going green.

Ed Reid

The standard for green jobs is by its very nature a moving target as technological and social innovation change goals and benchmarks.

Consensus will not occur often and when it does it will likely not be long-lived. Broad definitions fare better but are never perfect or universal.

Green today, greener tomorrow. Never mind the angels on the pinhead.

Mark Vasu

Green jobs is an important idea. Your post sets up a false choice, as if it could be a bad thing to talk about jobs that help the planet transition to a post-fossil fuel economy. Definition will take some time, like all innovation. Dismissing the idea due to language imperfection might be fun to talk about, but doesn't really advance the ball. It would seem to me that someone of your experience might want to take the lead in defining the space and bringing clarity to it rather than serve as an observer to mostly well-intended groups who've done a great job getting traction on a big idea. Time is short. Leadership is needed.

J Nooone

Great point, but if we improve both the enviornment and the job market is that not a plus?

Joy Clarke-Holmes

Joel – Clearly, we need to do a better job of defining what we mean by “green jobs” – particularly if we expect the growing ranks of job seekers to see a “green job” in their employment future. On our website alone, we’re currently advertising more than 500 open jobs – many of them “green jobs” manufacturing, installing or servicing high-efficiency HVAC systems. With billions of stimulus dollars about to be invested in energy efficiency retrofits to federal, state and local facilities, schools and other buildings, demand for trained technicians will soon skyrocket. Whatever definition of “green jobs” we agree upon, let’s make sure it’s a definition that makes lots of people want to apply for one!

Bill Stock

An analogy is the long term discussion over what is "organic" food. And I know that has not evolved in a way that has satisfied everyone concerned with the definition. On one hand federal standards were set a few years ago that defined organic; however, many think that process was hijacked by business interests who wanted to capitalize on the cache, consumer demand and price premium associated with the organic label. On the other hand we now have the ability to buy "Certified Organic" food from many sources which adheres more closely to the ideal of organic. Perhaps one way to deal with the definition of green jobs is not to try and identify the entire range of jobs (i.e. boiling the ocean) but rather agree on a series of principles or characteristics which, if met, would allow for a job to be characterized as a "Certified Green Job". Now, Green For All has made a start in that direction, but I think more needs to be added to that definition to allow for a certification to be widely recognized as valid and valuable.

Mitra Ardron

Thanks Joel.

I think both you and Hunter are correct, a fuzzy definition allows for green-washing, BUT it gets corporations thinking about it, and it opens the discussion up.

Its the flip side of corporations reluctance to make green claims because it opens them up to criticism for not being perfect, i.e. once a company claims to be green, we can ask "How Green", while as long as they make no claims all we can do is lump them into the "bad" category.

I'm inspired by the rapid adoption of Green Jobs, it shows how quick a "green" idea can become mainstream once it resonates. Here in Australia we are seeing the word used as well in conjunction with Australia's stimulus package.

After all ... if you step back it just makes sense - with one chunk of money you stimulate the economy, create jobs, help with climate change, and increase security (no need to steal someone else's oil). In addition insulation programs support poor families. Politicians of all stripes SHOULD be able to see the advantage in that.


If you look at the job site in Clean/Green Tech, there really are just a few jobs available in the sector now, so that is proof that the job creation is not really there.
Has anyone else besides me looked on http://www.cleantechrecruits.com/ , they seem to have the most jobs and all of the positions are truly in CleanTechnology. Some of the other sites have been diasspointing with jobs listings that include so many positons that are really outside of Clean Tech. I am looking for an Electrical Engineering role with a strong up an comer in WIND, Solar, etc. and so far I have only found the one site to be truly useful !



I enjoyed this article. I have been getting upset about this subject recently, so it was nice to see how people are trying to define the term "green job."

What I don't understand about all this "green job" hype is why is anybody trying to define a "green job" in the first place? People want jobs that make them feel good about themselves and what they are accomplishing. That is it. No one is going to put "official green job" on their business card. Who cares.

All that we are talking about here is that our society and government are asking for a higher level of corporate responsibility that incorporates significant "green" or sustainability measures. Why do we need to define that? If you are going to work for a solar company, you will feel good about what you are doing, if you think what you are doing is good for the society and the environment. Do you have to tell somebody that they are allowed to feel good about their job by calling it a "green job"?

I just don't get it. It seems like the term "green job" is nothing more that another political buzz word that means absolutely nothing. It works because people think that "green" is good, and people need jobs. and they want "good" jobs. Nobody really knows what it means! Someone should do a montage of interviews with Main St people asking them what a "green job" is. I am sure it would be a comical mess.

Mark Sofman


Huh? It *IS* and it's eyewash to boot.

I work in commuter services for a DC-area county government encouraging commuters, via their employers, not to drive alone to work in order to relieve traffic congestion and to reduce air pollution in compliance with Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. (Which, in case no one knows, has a big Federal string attached: funding for transit/transportation projects)

So I can call mine a "green job," too, right?

More people ought to read Orwell's essay, "Politics and the English Language" - VERY prescient.

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i like the fact that there are green jobs. i think this is great for this country and great for the economy.

Crane Trucks

It is great that people are thinking about the environment and working to make the world a safer place. Not only the materials that you are using on your home are safe for the environment but dump trucks have come a long way since the earlier models. We are learning and expanding and coming up with a wide range of safer more effective vehicles for the work force. I think it is great that many auto manufacturers are turning to hybrid vehicles to protect the environment and now they are even using hybrid dump trucks.

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I hope they 'screen' people properly for these so-called 'green' jobs. I wouldn't want to see the economy turn 'brown' again after a few years because of a 'green' boom.

Post Resume

This is a wonderful post. It is important to stay positive and I like how this post reinforces that!

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The infatuation with green jobs should lead us to a new green bubble in a few years time... Good luck with those planning to think of a green resume.

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