Friday, July 15, 2011

Brookings Institute Releases Green Jobs Report

Solar panel installation in Boulder Colorado
On Wednesday, July 13, I attended an important green jobs discussion at the Brookings Institute in Washington D.C.  The institute released a new report, Sizing the Green Economy:  A National and Regional Green Jobs Assessment and hosted a discussion on the state of green jobs in the United States.  An archive of the panel discussions can be seen here

The report is the first comprehensive assessment of green jobs in the United States.  Authored by Mark Muro, Jonathan Rothwell, and Devashore Saha with Batelle Tehcnology Partnership Practice, the report gathered economic activity and employment for every county in the United States and provided detailed information on the 100 largest metropolitan areas.

The authors broadly define green economic activity as an economic activity “…that produces goods and services with an environmental benefit or adds value to such products using skills or technologies that are vaguely applied to those programs.”  This definition includes not only activities of business that conduct themselves in an environmentally sound way, but also those that have some benefit to the environment.  For example, an organic famer is included, but so is a bus driver.  Throughout the report, the authors refer to the green jobs as part of the clean economy.

The categories of employment in the clean economy include five main areas:  1) agricultural and natural resources conservation; 2) education and compliance; 3) energy and resources efficiency; 4) greenhouse gas reduction, environmental management, and recycling; and 5) renewable energy.  Each of these categories is further broken down into detailed segments.  While many of the detailed segments under these categories make sense (such as battery technologies and organic food and farming), others are arguably not particularly green (such as nuclear energy jobs) from a purist definition of green jobs.  While I am a realist about the current need for nuclear energy, I would not define it as a clean or green industry after the disaster in Japan.  Germany agrees with me.

Nevertheless, the report is the first comprehensive assessment of its kind and it provides a wealth of useful information.  Interestingly, the Albany metropolitan region was the leader in green jobs on a per capita basis in that 1 in 15 jobs are part of the clean economy.  A total of 26% of the jobs in the clean economy are in manufacturing, compared with 9% in the overall U.S. economy.  In addition, the clean economy is more export oriented compared with the U.S. overall.  I could provide more detail, but I urge you to read the report here.  It is worth reading and I could not do justice to the findings in this short post.

Much of the discussion at the event associated with the release of the report focused on how to grow green economies and build upon success.  It is evident that clusters of developments are key and that there are regional specializations.  Planners should consider strengths within a region and encourage entrepreneurial regional development that takes advantage of existing clean jobs and expertise.  Also, there was much discussion on the failure of the U.S. government to lead the way in transitioning into a green economy.  We do not have a modern energy policy and we are not investing in green technology and infrastructure at rates comparable to other developed nations.  In fact, the failure of the national government to lead the way in this area elevates the work at the metropolitan scale. 

Metropolitan regional development provides a model for a uniquely American approach to green economic development that is heterogeneous and centrally unplanned.  In many ways, the federal government is seen as somewhat unserious with regards to developing a green economy.  When congress debates whether or not we should have light bulb efficiency standards, it is difficult to imagine that our nation’s leaders are going to address complicated issues such as implementing clean energy standards that would require utilities to provide a percentage of their energy from green sources.  While the federal government is a player in the green economy through a variety of important initiatives, it is not the driving force.  Instead, the character of metropolitan regions seems to dictate success.  

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