Strictly Business: Green jobs here, worth cultivating

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

Published:

 
photoAaron Corvin is a business reporter at The Columbian.

Turns out, green jobs — those future jobs that will help underpin a sustainable economy — are already here. What's more, greener industries grow faster than the overall economy, and states in the U.S. that possess a greater focus on green industries have fared better in the economic crash.

That's according to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute — a nonprofit Washington, D.C. think tank — that adds significantly to the conversation about how to end our abuse of planet-warming fossil fuels and to begin a transition to a post-carbon economy.

The study, "Counting Up To Green: Assessing the Green Economy and Its Implications for Growth and Equity," shows that the green-jobs conversation isn't just about fossil fuels vs. renewables. "The economy is made up of more than coal miners and solar panel installers," according to the study, "and many occupations have significant roles to play along the spectrum between the fossil fuel economy and a 'clean' economy."

In fact, many green jobs are already here. For example, the manufacturing sector is the largest source of green jobs in the private economy, according to the study, with 461,847 green jobs tied to home energy efficiency, energy-efficient appliances, recycling, renewable energy generation, and construction and transportation.

Clark County is home to several such manufacturers, including Tetra Pak Materials, the Vancouver-based arm of a global manufacturer of packaging for various foods and beverages.

The company is busy reducing its carbon footprint and, as a result, saving on its bottom line. It's done everything from boosting its recycling rate (it reached 97 percent in 2010) to introducing red-worm composting to break down lunchroom trash.

And the Columbia River Economic Development Council and the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council are both involved in two national grants that will train workers and assist companies in Clark and Cowlitz counties to succeed in clean-tech and renewable industries. "While the global clean-tech industry has seen a downtown, it is a trend that is here to stay and the greater Portland region has a competitive edge and culture that is leading innovation in this industry," Bonnie Moore, director of business services for both organizations, told me recently.

The study by EPI also found:

• For every percentage-point increase in an industry's "green intensity" — what share of a sector's total jobs are green — annual employment growth was 0.034 percentage point higher.

• States with a greater share of green jobs, or a high green intensity, "generally fared better in the economic downturn." In 2010, Washington and Oregon ranked No. 3 and No. 5, respectively, in green intensity.

Unsustainable levels of carbon dioxide are pushing the planet into an uninhabitable world of weather extremes and persistent droughts, among other red alerts. Carbon pollution must be reduced sharply. Producing more green jobs — through new private sector-, government- and citizen-led initiatives — is part of achieving that crucial goal.

As the EPI study points out, a dirty economy "shortchanges future generations by leaving the world a worse place for them to live."

We can do so much better.

As the EPI study further notes, "the seeds of a green transition are planted throughout the economy," and the vision of more green jobs — of a sustainable economy — "isn't so radical but rather is already happening around us."

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ;http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com.