Green-Collar Economy

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A green-collar economy is a production economy of goods and services driven by the creation and sustaining of green-collar jobs.

Green-collar jobs, as defined by the Green For All foundation, are well-paid, career track jobs that contribute directly to preserving or enhancing environmental quality. Like traditional blue-collar jobs, green-collar jobs range from low-skill, entry-level positions to high-skill, higher-paid jobs, and include opportunities for advancement in both skills and wages.

Green-collar jobs tend to be local because many involve transforming and upgrading the immediate built and natural environment—work such as retrofitting buildings, installing solar panels, constructing transit lines, and landscaping. Green-collar jobs are in construction, manufacturing, installation, maintenance, agriculture, and many other sectors of the economy. While some green-collar jobs (e.g. wind turbine technician) are in new occupations, most are existing jobs that demand new green economy skills. For example, construction companies building and retrofitting America’s cities need workers with traditional construction skills who also have up-to-date training in energy efficiency. And employers doing solar installation need workers with conventional electrical training, in addition to specialized solar skills.

However, if a job improves the environment, but doesn’t provide a family-supporting wage or a career ladder to move low-income workers into higher-skilled occupations, it is not a green-collar job. Such would be the case with workers installing solar panels without job security or proper training, or young people pushing brooms at a green building site without opportunity for training or advancement.

Most green-collar jobs are and will be middle-skill jobs requiring more than high school, but less than a four-year degree. Clearly many PhDs, financial analysts, and engineers hold green jobs and directly contribute to the building of a green economy. But publicly-funded workforce development projects should promote green-collar jobs accessible to those with less than a university degree. These jobs represent the bulk of employer demand and range from entry-level to high-wage jobs in a multitude of industries, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, and biofuels.

Green jobs thus defined can be significantly affected by state policy and meaningfully supported by established workforce development systems. Given the exploding interest in green jobs, and the real potential for their development, present concerns include the need to consider where the lack of a trained workforce might hinder the regional development of a given industry, where state policies might be effective in shaping related employment and training programs, and where the potential size of the industry merits sustained public efforts to leverage private investment.

In sum, spurring the creation of green-collar jobs in the community means building a sustainable economy, where environmental goals go hand in hand with social and economic goals.

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Author: Van Jones and Charles Shaw