Green jobs fade due to recession

Survey of state finds positions in category fell 18%

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

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Among its many negative effects, the Great Recession appears to have dramatically eroded the number of green industry jobs in Washington, the Employment Security Department said in a study released Monday.

The study's analysis of job losses was limited in scope because researchers lacked comparative data from its less comprehensive reports in 2008 and 2009. However, among the industries that were surveyed in both 2009 and 2011, green jobs declined by an estimated 18,300, or 18 percent, researchers said.

About 60 percent of the decline occurred in the government sector, but private-sector green jobs also shrank in industries that previously had reported increases, according to the report. Those included construction, scientific and technical services, manufacturing, agriculture, and wholesale trade.

Researchers couldn't identify a specific reason for the declines, but noted a blurring of lines between the so-called green economy and the regular economy.

"It appears the recession took at least some toll on green jobs, but how employers interpret the definition may be another factor," said Cynthia Forland, research director for Employment Security, in a news release. "As more and more jobs incorporate elements of green activities, there may be fewer jobs where green responsibilities are a primary focus," Forland said. "The green economy and the regular economy are mostly one and the same."

By definition

The "2011 Green-Economy Jobs Report" estimated 120,000 public- and private-sector green jobs in 2011, nearly 105,000 of them in the private sector.

The state defines a green job as one in which workers are helping to increase energy efficiency, produce renewable energy, or prevent, reduce or clean up pollution.

In the department's survey, employers were asked to identify how many of their employees had one or more of these activities as a primary focus of their jobs. Studies in Washington and across the nation have not identified any new industries that are uniquely green. Only a few occupations, typically in renewable industries such as wind and solar power, are listed as green occupations.

Similar skills

In the most recent state survey, employers said that two-thirds of their green jobs required skills identical or nearly identical to those in nongreen jobs.

When broken down by industry, the report concluded that about one-quarter of all green jobs are in the construction industry. The next highest category was administrative and support services and waste management, with 10.4 percent. In third place was the grouping of agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting, with 10 percent.

At the bottom of the spectrum, less than 1 percent of jobs in arts, entertainment, and recreation were classified as green.

When measured by occupation, the largest concentration of green jobs were in farming, nursery, and greenhouse employment. That grouping was followed by electricians; heating, air condition and refrigeration mechanics; and transit and bus drivers.

By region, Franklin and Benton counties, which include the Tri-Cities, showed the highest percentage of green jobs, with 13.4 percent of all jobs in that category. Southwest Washington had the fifth-highest concentration, by percentage, with 6.9 percent representing 7,888 jobs. Seattle-King County had the highest number of green jobs, with 32,024, but the lowest percentage as a region, with 4.3 percent.