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What jobs that are ‘green’ really mean

Marketplace Staff Feb 2, 2009
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What jobs that are ‘green’ really mean

Marketplace Staff Feb 2, 2009
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TEXT OF STORY

TESS VIGELAND: The stimulus package is packed with different approaches to reviving the economy. President Obama is pushing for half a million new “green jobs” in fields like renewable energy research, mass transit construction, and more.

Once the economy’s back on track, environmentalists expect private investment to power a full-fledged “green collar economy.”

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sarah Gardner examines just what, exactly, defines a green job.


Sarah GARDNER: When Barack Obama wanted to give Americans a sneak peek at the future “green collar economy” recently, he flew to a factory in Bedford Heights, Ohio.

BARACK OBAMA: We’re not looking to create just any kind of jobs here. We’re looking to create good jobs that pay well and can’t be shipped overseas.

Obama was spotlighting a factory that makes screws and bolts for wind turbines. Those jobs probably could be shipped overseas, a detail that got lost in all the media coverage that day. But Obama’s main point was job creation. The Ohio company started out making bolts for ships and bridges. Now it’s hiring more people so it can make screws and bolts for wind turbines too.

Phil Angelides: A lot of these jobs are, in a sense, the blue-collar jobs of the new, 21st century economy.

Phil Angelides is chairman of the Apollo Coalition. It’s an unlikely alliance of unions, businesses and environmentalists. Angelides admits many of these new “green” jobs are old-fashioned industrial jobs. They just happen to make the parts that go into so-called green products.

ANGELIDES: A green-collar job in our definition is one that pays family-supporting wages, that produces products for Americans and improves the environment.

Of course, just what qualifies as family-supporting or environment-improving is debatable. Some people consider organic farming a green job, or cleaning up toxic waste. President Obama would include installing insulation and energy-efficient windows. So why not throw in the guys that make the glass for the windows too?

Point is, groups like Apollo hold rather high hopes for “renewables and retrofits,” as one blogger put it. Listen to environmental activist Van Jones on GreenBiz Radio.

VAN JONES: We want young guys who are standing on street corners to be able to get jobs installing solar panels, or weatherizing homes, or helping to manufacture wind turbines. And we want to make sure that old Rosie the Riveter comes back, not to make tanks, but maybe to make these new technologies.

But Ron Pernick is co-founder of the research firm CleanEdge.com, insists green gigs aren’t just about hard hats.

RON PERNICK: They do cover a wide swath.

Pernick directed us to job listings on his website that he describes as green.

GARDNER: Director of finance . . . sales operation leader . . . .

Pernick calls these corporate jobs green because they’re at renewable energy firms. He expects a shift to renewables will produce both blue- and white-collar jobs — but more importantly, more jobs overall. Building new solar plants, wind farms, transmission grids, he argues, all requires massive new construction and lots of labor.

But some conservatives are skeptical. Kenneth Green is at the American Enterprise Institute.

KENNETH GREEN: Historically, we know that infrastructure work doesn’t tend to hire huge numbers of unemployed. It tends to move people from the private sector into unionized, public-sector economies. So you’re not really going to create new jobs.

Robert Stavins, director of Harvard’s Environmental Economics Program, is more optimistic. But he warns green-collar cheerleaders to temper their job creation claims, including the ones in the current stimulus bill.

ROBERT STAVINS: I caution against claiming too much because claiming too much will in the long-term be counterproductive. Counterproductive to the credibility both of the economic stimulus package and to the credibility of efforts on behalf of environmental protection.

One thing’s for sure: Just the idea of green jobs is creating work. For meeting planners, that is. We found at least 10 green jobs conferences across the country this year.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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