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The United States Has More Than 3 Million Green Jobs

A farmer might grow organic lettuce but use conventional methods in an apple orchard. Does that farmer have a green job? A half-green job?

"Green jobs" are notoriously difficult to count or even define. Few jobs require all-day dedication to saving the planet, and plenty of companies doing important environmental work also spend time on plenty of projects that don’t fall under that rubric. Car companies that make electric vehicles also produce gas guzzlers. A farmer might grow organic lettuce but use conventional methods in an apple orchard. Does that farmer have a green job? A half-green job?

Last summer, the Brookings Institute took a whack at counting the green jobs that existed in 2010. The researchers found a clean economy “modest in size,” providing 2.7 million jobs. Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an independent government agency, announced its own green jobs number for the same year, 3.1 million. Mark Muro, the lead author of the Brooking report, says he was “pleasantly surprised” that the two studies came up with similar numbers. “That shows that in fact we can measure the clean economy and that a consensus is emerging on how to do that,” he says.

While the Brookings study showed the clean economy is growing, the BLS study goes into more detail about the proportion of green jobs in different states and sectors of the economy. Vermont leads the country in green jobs as a proportion of total employment: 4.4 percent of the states jobs count as green.

There’s greater variation among the industries BLS studied. More than one in 10 employees in the utilities industry work making clean power. Most of those jobs (35,800) deal with generating nuclear power; only a tiny fraction (400) are connected to solar power. On the other end of the spectrum, almost no one employed in “financial activities” works on green issues. The 190 green jobs the BLS counted make up such a small slice of the sector as to be nonexistent. Other industries with a sizable number of green jobs included manufacturing (4 percent) and construction (6.8 percent).

The jobs counted in the report didn’t include what the agency calls “process-based jobs”—those in which employees work to make production processes less resource-intensive or more environmentally friendly, as a chief sustainability officer might. Those types of jobs seem to define the concept of green jobs, but reports like this one show that green jobs aren’t always found in the most obvious places. Now it's time to take additional steps to encourage the creation of even more of them.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user U.S. Army Environmental Command

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