Guest Post by Jim Cassio, a career information and workforce development consultant

For all the talk about green jobs, it’s interesting that we don’t have much agreement on what a green job is, or how to define them.

I’ve noticed that most people tend to have a narrow view of green jobs, usually based on what industries or occupations they’re most familiar with. Few people have an inclusive view of green jobs. It reminds me of the story about the blind men who each feel a part of an elephant and then come to believe that they know what an elephant is. But, of course, their interpretations are all limited by not being able to see or feel all the parts of the elephant. Our interpretations and definitions of green jobs seem to have those same limitations.

And those who use the term “green collar jobs” are even more inclined to define them narrowly – often by suggesting that they are skilled trade jobs that don’t require a college degree. And that may be nifty for public policy and workforce development purposes, but it adds to the confusion.

Does that mean that the jobs of environmental scientists, which may have been our original “green job,” are no longer considered green? At this point people have no idea if green jobs and green collar jobs are the same thing or not.

Many people, including those in the media, like to use the term “the green industry.” But when we say “the green industry,” are we actually referencing an industry? If so, what industry, exactly?

Are we talking about the industry that represents lawn care professionals – which they call “the green industry?” Are we talking about the industry that represents landscaping contractors – which they call “the green industry?” Or are we talking about the industry that represents horticulturists – which many of them call “the green industry?”

Of course not. In 2009, in the context of green jobs, when someone says “the green industry,” it’s a reference to “where the green jobs are,” but an ambiguous reference nonetheless that doesn’t actually suggest any specific industries. At best it may be used as an umbrella term for renewable energy and energy efficiency. But, while these are two very important slices of the green jobs pie, this is also a pie with many slices – not just one or two.

So, obviously, people are confused about green jobs.

Another thing people are confused about is why they can’t find more evidence of green jobs in the job market. Many people are beginning to suggest that the green jobs they hear so much about are “a bunch of hype” since they can’t find evidence of them among the job ads. Well, there are a couple of problems with this:

First, this is the toughest job market since the great depression and green jobs are not the silver bullet. At least not yet. We’ve lost 6 million jobs since December 2007 and that includes green jobs.

Others wonder why the nearly billion of dollars in economic stimulus spending hasn’t created some green jobs that we can see? The problem there is that, for the most part, the money is still in the pipeline and has created very few jobs to-date. I certainly expect to see some of those new created jobs in the not-too-distant future, by the end of the year would be a more reasonable expectation.

But the other problem is that green jobs are difficult to identify: Number one, their job titles rarely include the word “Green.” Number two, their job titles don’t usually indicate the relationship of the job to the environment. You might get lucky once in a while with a descriptive job title, but for the most part, you need to look beneath the surface (beyond the titles) to see if the job reflects green values. If so, then it’s probably a green job. Or perhaps somewhat green.

But what are those green values? There are many possibilities, of course, but here is a short list of core values that can help us identify most green jobs:

-Renewable energy
-Energy efficiency
-Green building/sustainable design
-Environmental protection and preservation
-Organic and recycled products
-Sustainable business practices, including cleantech

But what about sustainable organizations and green businesses? Is the executive director of the Sierra Club working in a green job? Of course. But what about his/her personal assistant? If not, how do we draw the line between the green jobs and the non-green jobs when they’re both of the same green organization and both working toward the same goals? The answer, in my opinion, is that we have to consider all the jobs to be green jobs when the employer is genuinely committed to sustainability or green values.

So in my view, we have two ways of determining whether a job is a green job: either by looking at the nature and purpose of the job itself, or by looking at whether the employer is committed to sustainability. This is an inclusive view of green jobs. Not because I want to impress anyone with green job statistics, but because the real goal here is to have as many jobs and organizations as possible working to reduce our carbon emissions and to better preserve and protect our environment and our planet. And we want to do this for our children, and for our children’s children, and for their children

So where are today’s green jobs? They are found in virtually all industries and across all sectors. Here is a sampling of private sector industries where we can find green jobs:

-Agriculture and food related industries (sustainable/organic)
-Alternative fuel vehicles and related industries
-Alternative fuels
-Bicycle related industries
-Biotech and life sciences (when committed to green values)
-Cleaning and janitorial services (green cleaning)
-Clothing and accessories (organic/recyclable materials)
-Green building, sustainable design, energy efficiency industries
-Ecotourism (tourism focused on environmental protection/preservation and education)
-Environmental services (hazardous materials, groundwater contamination, etc)
-Landscaping and habitat restoration services (sustainable landscape design)
-Legal services (green business, environmental regulatory and land-use law)
-Manufacturing and technology industries (when committed to green values or cleantech)
-Pesticide services (natural/organic pesticides)
-Printing and publishing industries (when committed to sustainability)
-Public transportation (green)
-Recycling and salvage industries (when committed to sustainability)
-Renewable energy industries (includes biofuel, biomass, geothermal, hydroelectricity, solar energy, tidal power, wave power and wind power)
-Socially responsible investing (SRI) services
-Utilities, electric and water (when committed to sustainability)

And, of course, we can find green jobs in many non-profit organizations and in many government agencies – federal agencies, state agencies, cities, counties and special districts.

So how many green jobs are there? I would estimate that we have about 9-12 million green jobs out of 150 million total jobs in the U.S. That’s 6% to 8% of the pie, overall. However, we don’t know for sure because our government doesn’t have reliable statistics on green jobs. They have data at the occupational level and at the industry level. For example, they can tell you how many biochemists there are in your geographic area, but they can’t tell you how many of those biochemists are working in green jobs and how many aren’t. They can tell you how many jobs there are in the publishing industry in your geographic area, but they can’t tell you how many of those jobs are green, or how many of those employers are green.

So that leaves us at the mercy of the ad-hoc and independent studies that have been done. And some of them are quite good. Of course, some are quite bad, including those on both sides of the playing field. All independent studies have a funding source, and one needs to consider the agenda and biases that may be driving the studies’ conclusions.

What types of occupations lead to green jobs? A wide variety. Basically, most occupations can lead to a green career – as well as to a non-green career. It’s a matter of degree, occupation by occupation, as some, like horses, are more likely to lead you to water. The spectrum includes:

-Engineering and mechanical careers
-Environmental health and safety, and regulatory careers
-Green building, sustainable design and energy efficiency careers
-Green business and enterprising careers
-Natural and land resource management careers
-Natural sciences and physical geography careers
-Sustainable and organic agriculture careers

Recommended Green Career Resources:

SIX STRATEGIES TO FIND YOUR GREEN CAREER – This free ebook by Carol McClelland PhD is a step-by-step process helping green career seekers use their passions, interests, experience, and training to plug into the green economy.

THE COMPLETE GREEN JOB GUIDE 2009: SECRETS FOR GETTING THE JOB YOUR WANT – Discover How To Unlock The Booming Green Economy For Your Job Search And Future Financial Security with the 10 Breakthrough Steps You Need To Know To Find And Land A Green Job Quickly.

CLEANTECHIES RESUME AND COVER LETTER WRITING SERVICE – Cleantechies help job seekers ease the transition from mainstream to Cleantech. Learn More!

© 2009, Jim-Cassio. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Jim-Cassio (1 Articles)

Jim Cassio is a career information and workforce development consultant who has been commissioned to conduct hundreds of labor market studies and has published numerous occupational resource books. Jim specializes in green workforce issues, as well as industry, occupation, and skills research, analysis, and resource product development. Recent publications include:Green Careers: Choosing Work for a Sustainable Future; Career Pathways Handbook; the Green Careers Resource Guide; and Your Guide to the Top 100 Careers. Jim is an experienced trainer and workshop facilitator and has designed and coordinated research and development projects for federal, state, and local agencies, including O*NET pilot projects. Jim is a frequent trainer for the California Career Development Association and a consultant to many workforce development boards as well as private corporations. Visit his web site.

  • hiintonhumancapital

    Thank you for writing this article. It clears up a great deal of the confusion that has been lingering in the news media. The real truth is many of the well paying green jobs that initially come available are Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) related. If anyone is a proponent of green jobs, my hope is that they are also a proponent of STEM education.
    .-= hiintonhumancapital´s last blog ..Climate Change, Environmental and Infrastructure Jobs from Hinton Human Capital =-.

  • Fenton Heirtzler

    @hiintonhumancapital – STEM education does not necessarily imply green jobs. For that matter, very little of the stimulus money for “new science” is going towards addressing the large number of currently unemployed American chemists, biologists and physicists. These people already have their education and their degrees. Instead, the funds are overwhelmingly going towards “big science” infrastructure items and financial support of (mostly foreign) PhD students and post-docs.