Green Jobs: Difficult to Assess, but a Pathway to Success

08/05/2011 09:27 EDT | Updated 10/05/2011 05:12 EDT

Here at Blue Green Canada, we spend a lot of our time monitoring the growth of the green economy and tracking green jobs. One of the things we've realized is that it's not a simple task.

For one, the green economy is growing at an incredible rate and staying on top of it is a huge job. For example, our monthly roundup of global green jobs developments, which is far from exhaustive, is usually five or six pages long, and links to more than fifty stories.

But the larger challenge with tracking the green economy and associated green jobs stems from the fact that this sector is, well, not a sector. There are no occupational classifications dedicated to green jobs, and no industry codes either. Instead, green jobs can be found dispersed throughout various sectors and industries, and in all manner of occupations. Welders, crane operators, architects, concrete formers, machine operators, engineers, garbage collectors, and bus drivers, to name a few, comprise the green economy.

At least some of them do, some of the time. Not every welder has a green job, and those that do may not do "green work" all the time. So, it's challenging to count and assess how many green jobs there are.

This really shouldn't come as a surprise. The green economy is in its nascence, and we haven't yet developed good analytics with which to track it. But the desire to count green jobs is understandable, too: as we work to green our economy and create green jobs, how else can we tell whether or to what extent we have been successful?

One approach is to look at the jobs associated with a particular policy, as we've been doing with Ontario's Green Energy Act. But even here, we've had to limit ourselves to tracking the manufacturing starts because the jobs up and down the supply chain and those in related fields such as sales, installation, and permitting aren't often heralded by press releases.

All the same, by following the manufacturing starts, we've been able to show that a green economy is indeed blossoming here in Ontario, and that the Green Energy Act has successfully created thousands of green jobs. Moreover, by visiting these facilities and meeting with workers there, we have been able to show that these jobs are good jobs, jobs that workers are passionate about and proud of.

But we'd like to be able to say more about the green economy, and to extend our analysis beyond renewable energy, because we're really interested both in tracking and assessing the growth of the green economy, and in uncovering the enabling conditions which allow it to flourish. Which is why a recent study from the Brookings Institute is so important.

Although it deals with the U.S., it's safe to say many of the conclusions from their report, "Sizing the Clean Economy: A National and Regional Green Jobs Assessment," can be applied here.

I'm not going to summarize the whole report. If you're interested, I suggest you start with their executive summary. But I do want to draw our attention to three findings because they are relevant to Canada, and especially to Ontario where our manufacturing sector has been hard hit in recent years.

1. The clean economy is manufacturing and export intensive. Roughly 26 per cent of all clean economy jobs lie in manufacturing establishments, compared to just nine per cent in the broader economy. On a per job basis, establishments in the clean economy export roughly twice the value of a typical U.S. job ($20,000 versus $10,000).

2. The clean economy offers more opportunities and better pay for low- and middle-skilled workers than the national economy as a whole. Median wages in the clean economy--meaning those in the middle of the distribution--are 13 per cent higher than median U.S. wages. Yet a disproportionate percentage of jobs in the clean economy are staffed by workers with relatively little formal education in moderately well-paying "green collar" occupations.

3. Strong industry clusters boost metros' growth performance in the clean economy. Clustering entails proximity to businesses in similar or related industries. Establishments located in counties containing a significant number of jobs from other establishments in the same segment grew much faster than more isolated establishments from 2003 to 2010. Overall, clustered establishments grew at a rate that was 1.4 percentage points faster each year than non-clustered (more isolated) establishments.

To me, this is good news for Ontario, and it confirms that we're on the right track. The green economy can revitalize our manufacturing sector, and create good jobs. And our bid to become a green manufacturing hub has merit, given that clusters boost growth.

It would be nice to get Brookings' level of analysis here in Canada so we can better understand our green economy at the national and regional levels. But, for now, this report is really telling us that the green economy works, and if we want to be players in this competition for new jobs and growth, we would be well advised to do more, not less, to support it.