Green Collar Jobs Defined

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ellabaker.jpgGreen collar jobs are rapidly becoming fashionable. The new trend represents a shift to the mainstream of the good old environmentalist approach to life. But what exactly makes a job green? The experts are far from agreed.

Green collar jobs have a magic lure to them. Not only because the people involved in the sector are supposedly making a conscious effort to salvage what’s left of the earth’s natural resources, but also because they’re hoping to drag the ailing economy out of its current quagmire.

The environmentalist visionary Van Jones, who heads up the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, is drawing massive crowds across the country to his speeches about the green sector. He has helped initiate a green jobs program in Oakland and it is in part due to his work that the Presidential candidates have included green collar jobs in their programs.

The Presidential candidates hope to use green collar jobs to fuel the economy in the future with millions of workers weatherizing homes, installing solar panels, concocting improved recipes for biofuel, adopting hybrid cars and of course building scores of wind turbines.

Hillary Clinton says she plans on creating 5 million green collar jobs and Barack Obama has also made the green business sector central to his energy plan. Former candidate John Edwards was talking about “one America in the new energy economy with green-collar jobs.”

Despite the political interest, it’s still too early to determine what the Green Collar job sector really amounts to. The first contours of a legislative framework are visible. Congress passed a $125 million green-collar jobs program last December, with at least 20 percent targeted at reducing poverty. And a total of 28 states have legislation in place that mandates 10 to 25 percent of energy to be sourced from renewables over the next 10 or 20 years. Oakland, California, launched the the Oil Independent Oakland By 2020 Task Force at the end of 2006 and was also the first to sign the OilDepletionProtocol, an non-government organized protocol which guides communities and private persons reducing their oil dependency.

Official statistics on worker numbers don’t exist yet. People involved in the regulatory issues complain that there is a lack of guidance on the part of the policy makers at the Federal level on sustainable energy policy issues. For the moment, the green sector is mainly driven by businesses, industry and individual home owners keen to promote energy conservation.

Establishing credibility is a challenge for green businesses. Hopes are high, but with no track record, fear of unrealistic optimism is inevitable. Because of the economic dimensions associated with the green collar job sector, naysayers are already questioning its “staying power.” The danger here is that if the nation’s job market as a whole doesn’t improve as a result of going green, the magic might wear off. The “having your cake and eating it too” attitude which demands that green growth will save not only the planet but the entire US economy could smother the concept of sound living. Let’s hope that a sense of realism sinks in before the green job sector really takes off. There’s still time, because there’s no convergence of opinion of what actually makes a job green.

Check out the widely varying opinions on this issue among green job advocates quoted in the New York Times;

Blue Green Alliance (the Minnesota partnership between the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club): There’s little difference between blue collar and green collar jobs. It depends on the product that’s made. Cars obviously don’t make a green product, but wind turbines do.

American Solar Energy Society: there are 8.5 million jobs in renewable energy or energy efficient industries.

Apollo Alliance (A coalition of environmental groups, labor unions and politicians to guide the US economy into a renewable energy based economy): A green-collar job is, in essence, a blue-collar job that has been upgraded to address environmental challenges. Believes there will be 3 to 5 million more green jobs by 2018.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute: Argues that green jobs often don’t create jobs on a net basis because green jobs created will lead to vanishing jobs in another sector. CEI opposes official legislation promoting renewable energy.

Plextronics (a company that makes polymer ink parts for solar panels): Green jobs are vastly different from blue collar jobs because many people involved in green work are highly trained.

The term Green Collar Jobs was first coined by Alan Durning in his 1999 book Green Collar Jobs. The book described the changes in the post logging rural towns of the Pacific Northwest, from economic dependence on resource extraction from timber to green collar jobs such as sustainable forestry, ecosystem restoration and tourism.

The term came into widespread use in 2006 when San Francisco State University Urban Studies professor Raquel Pinderhughes first defined green collar jobs. She said they are “manual-labor jobs in businesses (or other enterprises) whose products and services directly improve environmental quality.” Pinderhughes, who is associated with the Ella Baker Center and Green for All, wrote a landmark study commissioned by the City of Berkeley’s Office of Energy and Sustainable Development. She identified 22 economic sectors in which green jobs are located including green building, energy retrofits and sustainable food production.

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