Mirror Mirror On The Wall, Who Counts Green Jobs Best Of All?


Turbine blade manufacturing. Image credit:Ctr for American Progress, A State-by-State Picture of Occupations that Gain from Green Investments, Via: AP/Jack Dempsey.

The chattering class has an ongoing debate as to how many green jobs recently were created in the USA and how many could be added under an economic "stimulus package." None of the numbers being tossed around are very accurate (most estimates are probably on the low side), and precision is also low, both because of definitional as well as methodological issues that are not easily solved. These limitations do not infer that policy makers are incapable of good policy choices, however. See analysis below.Economic development types talk about the economic multiplier effect: i.e. 'for every full time job in the manufacturing sector, up to 10 local and regional jobs are positively impacted.'

While some circumstances merit much a larger, and others a far smaller economic multiplier, a full time job in a wind turbine plant unarguably puts food on the table and indirectly supports the jobs of grocery checkout clerks, for example.
Though you wouldn't expect a bureaucrat to count the benefiting checkout jobs as "green," the effect is real.

Most of the discussion of "green jobs" seems to be limited to primary manufacturing of resource efficient goods. The methodological problem comes in deciding how relatively more efficient or less polluting the products have to be from standard offerings? Do jobs making "clean coal" based chemicals get counted? Value judgements are unavoidable.

A logical prerequisite for counting, that most would agree to, is that there must be "additionality" to the green job, regardless of whether it is full or part-time. To explain what this means, here's a hypothetical example of additionality.

A manufacturer of fiberglass shower pans and recreational equipment finds sales have fallen. Rather than lay off workers and wait for demand to bounce back for traditional products, the factory now fabricates wind turbine blades. Those jobs have "additionality," because, without the blade contract, workers would be gone. This is true whether they are full, or part-time.

Suppose that a Federal or state green job stimulus package increases the extends the duration of the blade making contract: that's more additionality. These jobs should be get counted as "green additions" even if the industry sector code indicates nothing about wind turbine making

.
The long tail of green job count accuracy comes slowly to Washington.
Referencing again our blade making example, searching a US Department of Labor database is unlikely to turn up new green jobs in the shower-stall making industry category. Think-Tankers and Senate staffers can search employment databases all day and all night and the data will still be out of date and inaccurate.

The accuracy problem is not with lack of database domain knowledge or search skills. It will take months or possibly years until the Department of Commerce makes necessary changes in how individual manufacturers are coded. In part this is because it takes at least a year until businesses respond to surveys or submit tax reports.

Supply chain jobs are completely overlooked
For every bulk container of polyester or epoxy resin ordered, for every drum of organic peroxide received, for every roll of fiberglass batting or cloth and for every pail of paint ordered by the turbine blade making company, numerous supplier jobs in the chemical and glass industries are actively supported by our blade maker's purchases.

Not only that: jobs in the trucking industry, jobs in the abrasives and safety supply and professional services also are being supported, or at least they can be actively supported if contractual clauses specify that "Made In The USA" counts for something in purchasing decisions.

Doesn't matter whether you respect the chemical industry or glass industries for their environmental performance. By right, supply chain green job additionality should be, but isn't counted. How does some guy sitting in Washington DC "count" them if he wanted to? It's an impossibility. Which is another reason why estimates of green jobs are low. And also why politicians sometimes fail to understand the job creating power of a financial stimulus package.

What then is the path forward? Look to history for an example.

When, in the 1980's, Japanese car makers took a major market share away from "Detroit," there were protectionist tariff proposals aplenty in Congress. In response, Toyota, Honda, Datsun, BMW, and the rest, promised to put vehicle production facilities in the USA (which they eventually did). Problem solved.

During this period, "green" was not in consumers minds when making a car choice. Quality was. Detroit had to learn to make "high quality" cars and trucks. Quality meant good mileage. Quality meant reliability and safety. Quality meant good value and high performance. All those things.

Green as a quality function
If we want large numbers of green jobs in the USA, we have to exact similar promises now from foreign owned corporations in multiple industry sectors. When taxpayer dollars are spent to stimulate jobs, maximum green job creating leverage should be taken to have supply chains anchored firmly in the USA.

Green jobs and fuel consumption need to be viewed as quality indicators.

For another day, another post.
Left out entirely from this discussion are scientific researchers, student interns, writers (like me - this is a sort of green job) professors of environmental engineering, architects, government program administrators, and so on. But who counts them, anyway?

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