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Growing Green Jobs: A Conversation with Mark Izeman


Mark Izeman is the director of the New York Urban Program, which seeks to advance environmental initiatives in and around New York City. NRDC's goal is not only to protect the health of the greater New York residents and conserve its natural resources, but also to use its advocacy successes as models for sustainable living in other urban areas around the country—including on the issue of advancing green jobs.

Q. As graduating students know only too well, finding work today is more difficult than it has been in years. What  particular areas of growth should they (and those just entering college) bear in mind?

M.I. Students should be looking into the areas of energy efficiency and renewables for new green jobs. The area is not growing as fast as it needs to if we are to address the climate change crisis the world is facing. But significant new government monies and private investment are being funneled into the clean energy field right now, and so hopefully we will see significant job growth in the coming years. I also advise students to keep on top of new climate and clean energy legislation—especially proposals to establish a federal cap-and-trade regime for greenhouse gases. When cap-and-trade law is in place—and I’m being optimistic that it will pass—this will open up many new types of new green jobs around the country related to its implementation.

In addition, I would recommend students, if they have the interest of course, to look into sustainable food issues. In particular, there is growing demand for more local food, and many cities are now beginning to see the importance of addressing food in their overall sustainability plans. This is red hot issue right now.

Q. Has the economic stimulus already created a large number of green jobs?

M.I. Yes, at least according to the Council of Economic Advisers.  The Council reports that in 2009 over 50,000 jobs in the clean energy sector alone were created—or saved—under the stimulus bill. But this is an area that needs much more analysis and concrete data moving forward. Counting green jobs is important for measuring the concrete benefits of new green jobs legislation and funding at the federal and state levels. When new laws are passed there are often projections on how many new green jobs the legislation will produce. It is important to have hard data to support these estimates or, if necessary, to make legal or spending changes in the programs where job creation is lagging.

Q. Realistically, can we count on green jobs making up for a sizable portion of the lost manufacturing jobs in the United States?

M.I. Right now, making such projections is difficult to do with any real reliability.  But one new study by the Peterson Institute indicates that, at least with respect to the energy industry, the newly proposed “American Power Act” in Congress—authored by Senators Kerry and Lieberman—will produce a net gain of over 200,000 jobs per year for the next ten years.  This figure takes into account jobs lost as a result of reduced fossil fuel demand and higher energy prices.

Q. If so, is enough of the U.S. work force trained either in green job or related skills to fill those lost manufacturing jobs?

M.I. Many of the green jobs that are expected to be in high demand require relatively short training periods—from four weeks to six months. So even if there are currently insufficient numbers of trained workers, it should not take long to meet the demand once they are identified.  Further, not all "green jobs" are necessarily new or unique occupations, but represent new "layers" of green skills on top of existing occupations. So transitioning many traditional workers into green careers may require relatively little training.

Q. How do you define "green jobs" in the first place?

M.I. As you know, defining “green jobs” can be tricky.The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is developing a definition as part of its project to collect data on green jobs, although a concrete formulation has not yet been released.  However, in a recent comment request on the subject, BLS has said that it intends to count the jobs associated with two types of environmental economic activity: (1) the output approach—identifying businesses that produce green goods and services; and (2) the process approach—identifying establishments that use environmentally-friendly production processes and practices. We will be closely following the development of the BLS’s definition—as well as formulations by other stakeholders.

One definition that is very appealing is from Green For All, the organization founded by well-known activist Van Jones views green jobs as “well-paid career-track jobs that contribute directly to preserving or enhancing environmental quality.”

Q. Finally, to sum it up how big a role do you see for the green jobs sector over the next forty years?

M.I. Greening the economy—and creating new green jobs—is absolutely critical to successfully tacking climate change and many other global environmental crises we face. And these new jobs can at the same time jumpstart our economy and address our distressing unemployment rates around the country, especially in low-income communities. So, hopefully in 40 years, green jobs will be such an integral part of our economy that we won’t even need to label such jobs as “green.

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