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Green Economy

Published on June 5th, 2015 | by Silvio Marcacci


1.2 Million US Green Jobs Reported In Q1. Here’s Why That’s A Problem.

June 5th, 2015 by  

If America’s clean energy economy keeps expanding at its current pace, the industry’s biggest problem might not be creating enough green jobs, but accurately tracking all the open positions it creates.

A whopping 1.2 million green job opportunities were posted across the United States from January to March 2015, according to Ecotech Institute’s first quarter 2015 Clean Jobs Index.

But while Ecotech’s assessment helps highlight exactly what kind of clean economic growth is happening in which state, it also highlights a glaring need – a universally accepted definition of what should be counted as a green job and a synchronized assessment of how they should be tracked.

Clean Jobs Index Q1 2015

Clean Jobs Index Q1 2015 graphic via Ecotech Institute

Clean Energy’s Booming Economic Impact

Ecotech’s Clean Jobs Index is an ongoing tally of employment opportunity across a number of businesses considered “clean” by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) – any position producing goods or providing services benefiting the environment or conserving natural resources. These statistics are sourced from a number of different sources and aggregated state by state.

And by any measure, business is good. 1.2 million green jobs were posted across America in the first quarter of 2015. Ecotech reported 3.8 million new job openings in 2014, 3.6 million in 2013, and 3 million in 2012. Clearly, green jobs are trending upward and growing with the continued expansion of America’s clean energy economy — especially compared to weakening job creation during Q1 across the overall US economy.

On a state level, employment is largely following renewable energy installations. California topped the list with 131,215 openings, Texas was second with 90,281 openings, and New York was third with 71,748. Rhode Island, North Carolina, and Maryland joined New York and Texas in the top five states with the biggest increase in openings compared to the first quarter of 2014.

The economic benefits of renewable energy have been heavily cited during the fight against renewable energy standard rollbacks in Texas and North Carolina, and it’s hard to argue with the sheer number of jobs being created in these states.

So Wait, Just How Many Green Jobs Exist?

But therein lies the rub – how accurate are Ecotech’s figures? While they’re based on the BLS description, BLS officially stopped tracking green jobs in 2013, with the last clean economy employment tally completed for 2011.

In light of an official federal government report, multiple other sources have done their best to track green jobs growth. For instance, the International Renewable Energy Agency reported 724,000 US jobs in renewable energy during 2014, while Environmental Entrepreneurs reported 47,000 clean energy and transportation jobs were created across the US in 2014. The Environmental and Energy Study Institute has done a yeoman’s job collecting total job figures in renewables and energy efficiency, but their assessments are based on multiple sources because some industry groups don’t adequately report employment in their own sector.

Workers install rooftop solar panels

Many Americans rank environmental and climate issues low on the totem pole, meaning economic benefits and job creation are a critical way to persuade policymakers. Without one clear, universally accepted accounting of what makes a job green and how many actually exist, the arguments used by clean economy advocates in the fight against fossil fuel interests are susceptible to attack at best and dismissal at worst.

Now compare this situation to jobs in oil, natural gas, and coal. They’re all tracked by BLS in official tallies, forming the backbone for arguments to keep subsidizing fossil fuels – after all, how could there be a “War on Coal” if not for tens of thousands of job losses which are universally accepted as fact?

We’re Doing Great. Let’s Do Better.

So yes, America’s green jobs growth is remarkable, and it’s real, and it should be celebrated. And yes, entities like Ecotech, which are training the next generation of blue-collar US workers should be supported.

But let’s also push for the federal government to get back into the business of tracking green jobs – because if we can track jobs in categories like “performing arts and spectator sports” (BLS really does track jobs in this economic sector), why aren’t we tracking one of the country’s fastest-growing industries?

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About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.

  • Frank

    I see how it’s easy to understand this simple jobs argument, but I don’t like it, just like I didn’t like it when the coal folks cimplained about loosing the jobs. Renewables, when properly compared with FF generation, externalities included, is the most cost effective for our economy. A strong economy is good for jobs. Happily, it also improves quality of life by reducing illness.

  • JamesWimberley

    The indirect jobs will be roughly the same for any spending, a fortiori energy investment, so in comparisons between technologies only direct jobs are relevant.

    Playing up jobs creates a political problem for the future. With the solitary exception of coal (and possibly biomass), energy production is very frugal with labour. Almost all the jobs are in installation of new capacity. In the long run, there will be far fewer jobs in renewables than during the transition. A problem for 30 years ahead, but it should be acknowledged.

    • Offgridman

      The number of direct long term jobs is also an issue with the fossil fuel companies. While the unions want to blame the war on coal for the job losses, a lot of it can be attributed to the switch to mechanized open pit or mountain top removal mining from the tunnel mining decades ago. Even then a lot of the jobs were lost to machinery doing the work.
      I have read that the turbine and panel farms actually end up with quite a few long term maintenance positions compared to fossil fuel production, but how accurate that is, not sure.

      • nakedChimp

        mankind still has to ‘learn’ how to distribute wealth in an environment where less and less human labour is needed to fulfill all our needs (note: I didn’t wrote desires 😉
        Capitalism per se is in a similar position to this problem as the incumbent fossil fuel industry and the problem of climate change.. renewable energy is a systematic change that overturns the old order. I don’t know the answer but I do know that what we see today is kindergarten to what is to come once mankind is confronted with this head on.

  • Martin

    I wonder who decides what jobs/part of the economy gets tracked and how that gets selected?
    And why they stopped tracking that sector?

    • Phronesis

      I e-mailed the BLS a few months ago regarding this, and I was told that the funding ran out.

  • Kevin McKinney

    Hey, what’s wrong with my jobs in the entertainment industry?

    But, yes, of course we should be officially tracking jobs in green tech?

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