Companies that recognize the potential of a green economy are employing skilled workers with knowledge of new design and construction techniques, in order to get ahead of the coming market transitions. Interest in green jobs continues to grow, but without defining, standard-setting, and benchmarking, this will remain a vague term that can be interpreted in many different ways. The US Bureau of Labor Statists (BLS) has developed tools to help us better understand the increasing role green jobs play in industries nationally.
The BLS measures green jobs using two approaches. It counts jobs associated with establishments that produce green goods and services (GGS), and jobs associated with environmentally friendly production processes and practices. By measuring the jobs created due to output of GGS and production processes, the BLS can quantify the total number of green jobs created in business practices.
According to the BLS, a green job produces goods or provides “services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.” Additionally, green jobs are those in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources. These technologies and practices fall into one or more of four categories: Generate electricity from renewable sources; improve energy efficiency, including cogeneration; reduce and remove pollution; conserve natural resources; and enforce environmental compliance, education and training.
The BLS report documents industries with the largest percentages of green jobs. Among the highest-ranking industries is construction, with 820,700 establishments, or about 38% of the industry having GGS, as of 2009.
Green construction aims to design and construct a building that uses environmentally responsible practices and is resource efficient. For example, green buildings reduce environmental impact by incorporating energy-saving technologies and reusing water. Companies like McGraw-Hill Construction are developing innovative, green building methods in order to meet the increasing demand. In 2005, McGraw-Hill Construction estimated green nonresidential building construction in the US to be worth approximately $3 billion. Just five years later, in 2010, McGraw-Hill increased that estimate to $43 to $54 billion – and by 2015, estimates it will be worth $120 to $145 billion.
In order to distinguish GGS from other goods, BLS employs standards or product ratings. For example, federal standards classify sustainable foods and food production as USDA Certified Organic, and goods and services that are energy efficient as Energy Star products. Furthermore, buildings can be classified as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which indicates the building has met the green industry standard. While labeling helps consumers purchase GGS, one concern is that many of these standards are voluntary. Therefore, establishments may opt out of the rating system.
Between 2000 and 2008, green construction supported more than 1 million workers, of the 7.2 million people working in general construction in 2008. The US Green Building Council suspects that this figure will increase to 3.3 million between 2009 and 2013. The 3.3 million people employed by green construction does not include those employed by suppliers of green building goods and services.
Companies will continue to innovate, producing more green jobs. The deployment of new technologies in the energy sector alone has the potential to support 20 million jobs and trillions of dollars in revenue by 2030. Government support of GGS, and increasing consumer demand for these goods will be vital to their competitiveness in the market. Developing green goods and services will bolster preparedness for climate change and buffer the rising costs of energy into the future.
(Written by Antonia Sohns)