In a 2013 Brookings Institution Report entitled Sizing the Clean Economy, Mark Muro, Jonathan Rothwell, adn Devashree Saha said that the renewable energy industry, also known by names such as "green," "clean," and "low-carbon" economies--defined as the sector of the economy that produces goods and services with an environmental benefit--remains at once a compelling aspiration and an enigma.
As a matter of aspiration, no swath of the economy has been more widely celebrated as a source of economic renewal and potential job creation. Yet, in sizinng the clean economy remains an enigma: hard to assess. Not only do "green" or "clean" activities and jobs related to environmental aims pervade all sectors of the U.S. economy; they also remain tricky to define and isolate—and count. The clean economy has remained elusive in part because, in the absence of standard definitions and data, strikingly little is known about its nature, size, and growth at the critical regional level.
The United Nations Environment Program defines green-collar jobs (aka green jobs) as, "work in agricultural, manufacturing, research and development (R&D), administrative, and service activities that contribute(s) substantially to preserving and/or restoring environmental quality. Specifically, but not exclusively, this includes jobs that help to protect ecosystems and biodiversity; reduce energy, materials, and water consumption through high efficiency strategies; de-carbonize the economy; and minimize or altogether avoid generation of all forms of waste and pollution."
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has defined green jobs as being those: 1) that provide goods and services that help the environment or preserve natural resources or 2) which help make production processes more environmentally friendly or conserve use of natural resources.
In support of the renewal energy industry, the Federal Government enacted:
● The Green Jobs Act of 2007 authorizes funding up to $125 million for national and state job training programs through the U.S Department of Labor to encourage job growth in green industries such as renewable electric power; biofuels development; and energy efficient vehicles, buildings and construction;
● The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 contains provisions for jobs in the renewable energy sector but focuses on energy efficiency and environmentally-friendly practices; and,
● The Pathways out of Poverty national workforce training program (2009) that targets individuals in or below the poverty level to provide them with skills needed to enter the green job market.
Differences of opinion remain as to whether jobs in the renewable energy sector generate more jobs than do jobs in the fossil-fuel based sector,
In the 2013 report (http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2011/07/13-clean-economy), the Brookings Institution determine that the clean economy:
● had provided 2.7 million jobs across a wide variety of industries, but was concentrated in public services, manufacturing, and export segments; grew more slowly between 2003 -2010 than did the national economy, but newer segments experienced explosive growth that resulted in the clean economy outperforming the national economy during the recession;
● provided better pay for workers with low to middle skills; and,
● was concentrated in metropolitan areas and the South with proportionally more concentration in the West relative to population.
Regardless of divergent opinions on climate change, the quest for a green economy is a trend that isn't going away. Globally, more consumers are demanding environmentally friendly products. Businesses view renewable energy and environmentally friendly goods and services as growth opportunities and the public service sector sees sustainable practices as essential to thrive and survive. Moreover, the green job economy will continue to find its greatest concentration in metropolitan areas and in diverse markets.
For the U.S. the greatest opportunities will be through entrepreneurship, but China, Germany, and Japan are shaping up to be our nation's greatest competitors in this global market revolution.