What is a green job?

March 16th, 2011 by michael Categories: K-12 Education, Public Utilities Commission, Uncategorized, health care, media 2 Responses
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Defining precisely what a so-called green job actually is and how many have been created in Colorado is perhaps the only job as hard as actually creating such emerald-hued employment— and a University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business survey due later this spring attempting to quantify the growth and qualify the nature of the controversial economic development in Colorado’s business community sets out to do exactly that.

The six-month, $265,000 survey commissioned by Colorado’s Department of Labor and Employment uses funds authorized by the 2009 America Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This includes $3,877,949 in grant money from ARRA designated for the Montana Department of Labor and Industry for a multi-state research project dubbed, “Northern Plains and Rocky Mountain Consortium: Researching the Green Economy” (PDF) The survey includes Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Iowa:

“This project entitled, ‘Researching the Green Economy’ will create a consortium consisting of workforce agencies in six contiguous states to improve labor market information (LMI) collection and research in order to enhance the labor exchange system for green careers within and between the participating states. This collaborative effort will allow researchers to effectively distribute green surveys, devise new methods to close the information gap pertaining to green jobs, and research the impact of green technologies on the workforce. The resulting research aims to build a sustainable dialogue relating to green labor demand and supply, build an LMI system sustaining those relationships and establish a design for evaluation as an integral part of a sustained effort.”

Of the program’s entire budget, $169,000 will be spent on survey costs alone, including $130,000 allocated for follow-up phone calls for non-responsive businesses.

According to documents obtained from CDLE, the green jobs survey’s purpose contains five key components:

1) Qualify the types of green jobs in Colorado,
2) Quantify the number of green jobs in Colorado,
3) Identify the training needs for green jobs in Colorado,
4) Quantify wage categories for green jobs Colorado, and
5) Identify vacancies/trajectories of green jobs in Colorado.

In order to produce the deliverables, Leeds’ “Business Research Division” launched the comprehensive survey in January, with a letter to 30,000 Colorado employers offering this as the definition for green jobs—“A green job is one in which an employee produces a product or a service that improves energy efficiency, expands the use of renewable energy, or supports environmental sustainability.”

Crystal clear, yes?

No. To head off confusion, Leeds has included this rather detailed diagram of what is, and more importantly, what is NOT considered a green job:

Divided into roughly six discernable segments, Leeds offers suggestions in the following wide-ranging and exhaustive areas:

1) Pollution, Waste, and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Management, Prevention and Reduction
2) Energy Efficiency and Conservation
3) Environmental Cleanup and Remediation and Waste Clean-up Mitigation
4) Education, Regulation, Compliance, and Training and Energy Trading
5) Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Conservation
6) Renewable Energy and Alternative Fuels

Got all that?

According to this handy-dandy chart, telecommuting—while noble and certainly “green” by its inherent non-use of fossil fuels in that terrible old internal combustion engine—is NOT, in the estimation of this project, a “green job.” Also not making the list? Xeriscaping landscapers, well-intentioned workers purchasing organic products (sorry Boulder), and “volunteers” cleaning up litter.

In: RTD directors (“Mass transit administration”), Greenpeace canvassers (“activities to educate the public”), Al Gore (“carbon credit brokering”), and government-subsidized solar panel production (manufacturing “renewable energy and alternative fuels”). This would include solar panels like the ones installed at Denver’s own Museum of Nature and Science that would require 110 years to recoup the enormous cost of purchase through energy savings WITHOUT the use of government rebates and incentive programs.

Out: traditional recycling and conservation efforts (including installation of those lovely CFL bulbs, carpooling, and consumption of recycled goods), support/administrative staff to green-related business, and old-fashioned garbage removal.

Conducting energy-related research (including policy effects, conveniently for CDLE and Leeds), enforcing government regulations, and “sustainable organic farming,” however, are offered as examples of “what we mean by green.”

This provokes the inevitable question—is the opposition to green jobs a green jobs creation? It would appear to be, as “policy analysis” and “educating the public” both meet the survey’s criteria for green job creation.

We’ll have to check on that one and get back to you.

In an email from October 2010 uncovered by the same CORA request, a Leeds research analyst cited three earlier state surveys from 2009 that included similar green jobs parameters:

Oregon Green Jobs Survey (2009) defined a green job as a job:
1. Increasing energy efficiency
2. Producing renewable energy
3. Preventing, reducing, or mitigating environmental degradation
4. Cleaning up and restoring the natural environment
5. Providing education, consulting, policy promotion, accreditation, trading, and offsets, or similar services supporting categories 1-4

Michigan Green Jobs Report (2009) defined a green job as producing products or services in:
1. Agriculture and natural resource conservation
2. Clean transportation and fuels
3. Increased energy efficiency
4. Pollution prevention or environmental cleanup
5. Renewable energy production

The Washington 2009 Green Jobs Survey defined a green job as employment where a person is “directly and predominantly” working in:
1. Increasing energy efficiency
2. Producing renewable energy
3. Preventing and reducing environmental pollution
4. Providing mitigation or cleanup of environmental pollution

While there is considerable overlap among the three definitions, Oregon’s expansive listing encompassing “providing education, consulting, policy promotion, accreditation, trading, and offsets, or similar services” best approximates the more generous definition employed by Leeds in the current survey.

And that may prove a critical dimension with surveys collected and results tabulated—an expansive definition would certainly yield more green jobs, artificially inflating not only the nominal job creation overall—but may also underestimate the marginal cost of each new job created.

Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter did not offer a definition of a green job in his recent New York Times editorial, but did offer a path to creating a “clean energy economy”—the heavy hand of government regulation and subsidies to create market winners and losers in the energy sector. Measuring the potentially ephemeral nature of many of these “thousands of new jobs” is a key component of the Leeds survey, though calculating the actual cost to taxpayers of each new green job due to increases in regulation and the price of energy (mostly to heavy subsidies to uncompetitive alternative energy sources and penalties for fossil fuel usage) does not appear to be on the research group’s radar screen.

Nor does the cost to the overall economy of each new green job created, and particularly in times of record unemployment in the state of Colorado (9.1%), when the number of green jobs created is measured against the number of other jobs lost elsewhere—anywhere from 2-4 jobs lost for every green job created in European countries like Spain and the United Kingdom—this would appear to be a crippling oversight on the part of the Leeds team.

Survey results may bring into clearer focus what, at least for the purposes of the research conducted by Leeds on behalf of CDLE, Colorado defines as a green job, and just how many of those jobs have been created. Omitting the cost component of the green jobs economy, however, limits the real insight afforded by such a massive undertaking. At this point, it is difficult to tell what the results will ultimately reveal, but it is certain that at least one “green” aspect of the jobs measured will be the variable of “awash in taxpayer dollars.”

And you don’t need a diagram to tell you that.

[This is the first part of a series--check back for more in the coming weeks--ed.]

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