A writer for The Economist came to the “eco-smug” cities of Portland and Austin, Texas, looking for a definition of a “green” job. The visit to Portland prompted a few unique questions, such as whether jobs at a vegan strip club or bicycle manufacturer should be considered “green” jobs:
“I’ve always thought about “green jobs” as the category covering work with explicit and intentional environmental benefits. Working on a wind turbine: yes. Making solar panels: of course. Organic farming: okay. Farming in general: not really. Teaching science in a public high school: an admirable endeavour, but not a green job. But there are lots of jobs that fall in a gray area. Tofu can be swapped for emissions-heavy beef; does growing soybeans count? What if you manufacture bicycles? The more you think about this, the more uncertain you become. Most jobs can be greened or at least greenwashed; in Portland, for example, there is a vegan strip club. On the other hand, you could make a Malthusian argument that no job is green because anything that creates value for people helps them and facilitates their attrition campaign against the earth.”
The number of green jobs depends, of course, on what you include in your count. And, the writer in this piece notes, the quality of the jobs you count matters in the debate over whether governments should be aiming to create more of them through public spending.
A recent report from The Brookings Institute concluded there are 2.7 million green jobs in the U.S., but still called the green economy an “enigma” because its jobs are difficult to isolate and count.
In Portland, it found the largest segments of the green economy in 2010 were conservation, public mass transit, organic food and farming, waste management and treatment, and green building materials. The sectors with the largest growth from 2003-10 were solar thermal (45 percent), pollution reduction (27 percent), professional energy services (i.e. energy efficiency specialists – 19 percent), battery technology (19 percent), and air and water purification technology (19 percent).