Is Everyone on the Same Page About Green?

Posted by Green Jobs - On September 08, 2010 (EST)


Michelle Melton is a Research Analyst with the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

This blog is adapted from a longer paper by the Center on Education and the Workforce, Measuring Green Jobs.


It seems like everyone has the urge to slap the label green on anything and everything these days—whether it’s a consumer good or a lifestyle, green is definitely hot.  Seemingly everything is green—green jobs, green manufacturing, a green economy.  But is everyone on the same page about what exactly green is?  The answer appears to be no.  After combing through scores of reports and documents about green, it is clear that there are three distinct but related concepts defining green . 

Why do these differing definitions matter?  Many stakeholders have a lot of skin in the game. The federal government, state and local governments, industry groups, researchers and academic institutions, and non-profit and advocacy groups, have attempted to define and count green jobs.  For the green economy to come to be, successful strategic investment in future green workforces are critical – and clear consistent and meaning definition will drive this..  It is not possible to successfully train workers for the green economy without knowing precisely what it constitutes. 

When people talk about “green jobs” and the “green economy,” they’re usually referring to one of three green definitions: the worker-centered definition, the clean energy definition, or the broad environmental definition.

(a) The Worker-centered Definition of ‘Green’:
This definition is used by proponents including former Green Jobs Czar Van Jones and his Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Apollo Alliance, the BlueGreen Alliance, the Vice President Joe Biden’s Middle Class Task Force, and Green for All (also founded and led by Jones), as well as many local organizations.  These groups, which are heavily influenced by the labor movement and often include active participation by unions, have helped propel the ‘green jobs’ movement forward and played a fundamental role in putting green jobs on the political agenda.  The first cluster of definitions is worker-centered, focusing not on the economic output/product or the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to perform the work, but the “job quality,” i.e. worker’s compensation, job security, and opportunities for advancement.  From this cluster, an exemplary definition of green jobs is a “well-paid, career track job that contributes directly to preserving or enhancing environmental quality.”   

(b) Energy-centered ‘Green’ Definition
These definitions classify green jobs as jobs exclusively within the realm of energy production and consumption, specifically the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors (RE/EE).  While all three clusters of definitions recognize RE/EE as the foundation of the green economy, this cluster is distinct by its sole focus on RE/EE.  In other words, it is an energy and technology-driven definition.  This definition of green is used by many, most notably the federal government in its legislation regarding green (including the Stimulus) and many state governments. 

(c) All-encompassing ‘Green’ Definition
The third and largest cluster of definitions is comprised of the expansive, all-encompassing definitions that attempt to group all economic activities related to the environment as green jobs.  These definitions attempt to include, in other words, all jobs that ‘preserve or enhance environmental quality.’  These include jobs related to: renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction; energy efficiency; environmental remediation, including pollution control and clean-up; manufacturing of products related to green technologies; recycling and waste reduction; natural resource conservation and management; energy trading; environmental regulation, education, and protection/stewardship; mass transportation; energy and carbon capture; research, design, and consulting; and agriculture and forestry.  Groups who utilize these definitions range from O*NET, to multiple states, to the United Nations and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ initial, not-yet-official definition. 

These definitions are not necessarily in conflict, but they are certainly not interchangeable.  Policymakers, advocacy organizations, and workforce development folks would benefit from understanding their distinctions and the implications for workforce development and training. For more information, please see the Georgetown Univeristy Center on Education and the Workforce's website Measuring Green Jobs.

User Comments (4)
On September 08, 2010  Jim Malone said:
I enjoyed reading the article about the definition of green. Coincidentally, I just heard a story on NPR about LEED and how it is transforming the building industry.It is not perfect and it does seem to compromise, but it is making a large difference.It seems like there should be some reference to LEED in this article.LEED is on the forefront of green jobs. We are in a period of transition and people are finally realizing the importance of taking care of our one and only world.Until the time comes when everyone can agree on the importance of these changes, there is going to be different motivations and rationals to why we should value anything green.

On September 09, 2010  Matt Milam said:
This is a broad-level analysis of the definition of green jobs. Optimally these three definitions will meld into one overarching theme. As more importance is placed on resource and materials conservation, as well as renewable energy generation, the increased demand for these jobs will lead to a strong career track with good pay. This does not mean the jobs necssarily will be unionized, but indicates that green economy workers will be valued and highly sought after. I think it is reasonable to assume that coal-workers who are retrained to work in the wind sector, for instance, would make comparable if not better wages.

On September 09, 2010  John Kinsey said:
I heard the same story and would seem as though the drive to achieve LEED certification is improving the construction industry especially now that there is a push according to that story to give more teeth to LEED and require buildings demonstrate the energy savings over a 5 year period. I would like to read more about the process and how it is incorporated into local buiding codes and what states are using these.

On September 09, 2010  Charlie Johnson said:
Michelle - great summary of a topic that has many fumbling. It is interesting how the definition changes depending on each group's focus or end-goal. I look forward to reading your future posts.

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