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Despite All the Talk, Tracking Green Jobs Can Be Difficult

There’s a lot of talk about the “Green Economy,” green business corridors and how green jobs are the wave of the future. But what does all of this mean and more importantly, is talk resulting in the creation of said jobs and companies? A seemingly simple question. But finding localized and concrete answers isn’t so clear cut. “Defining ‘green jobs’ is something that’s being worked on by people across the country,” said Fran Styron of California’s Employment Development Department (EDD), adding there’s no broad consensus, and estimates on the number of these jobs and companies vary. The EDD is trying to rein in some of the obscurity, at least in California. It developed a working definition of “Green Economy,” and in May began sending out a first of its kind Green Survey to employers to track regional and statewide numbers. A total of 51,100 surveys are being sent to employers in all industries, size classes and counties in California. The agency hopes to finish collecting data in the next three months and release preliminary estimates in the fall, said Styron. Survey objectives include: obtaining an estimate of current green jobs in California; identifying current and changing business practices that are helping California achieve a more sustainable environment; identifying emerging occupations; and identifying resources and strategies to assist businesses in cutting costs by reducing energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions. “What everybody’s hoping for from the whole green movement is, of course, the preservation of the environment, but also the creation of jobs,” said Styron, adding survey results will help show the skill sets needed for these jobs and where training programs can be developed. The EDD’s definition of “Green Economy” is the result of agency staff reviewing reports on the issue and getting input from a variety of sources, said Styron. It’s a work in progress. The current definition says it refers to activities or services including: generating and storing renewable energy; recycling existing materials; energy efficient product manufacturing, distribution, construction, installation, and maintenance; education, compliance and awareness; and natural and sustainable product manufacturing, according to the EDD. “The term ‘green jobs’ is tricky and has been overused,” said Tracey Grose, vice president of research and strategic development for Collaborative Economics in Mountain View. “What’s important is to talk about the drive to become a greener economy.” Grose helped crunch the numbers for the 2009 California Green Innovation Index, a report that analyzed the role green innovation plays in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and growing California’s economy. Using its own definition of green economy, the report’s findings are encouraging, she said. Despite slowing in overall venture capital investing, clean technology investment in California hit an all-time high in 2008 of $3.3 billion. From 2005 to 2007, green job growth increased at a rate ten times that of statewide jobs. Employment data from 2008 has not yet been analyzed, said Grose. Green job growth was strongest in advanced materials (28 percent) followed by transportation (23 percent), air and environment (22 percent), and green building (20 percent), with 20 percent of those jobs being generated in manufacturing. Numbers for the San Fernando Valley were not available. And more than 1.5 million jobs have been created as a result of energy efficiency policies developed by the State of California over the last 35 years, generating $45 billion in payroll. The recession and delays in tax breaks for developers of renewable energy systems have likely dampened green job growth in California, said Grose. But innovation continues. “When you set out to transform an economy, opportunities emerge,” she said. “There’s definitely activity going on throughout the state.”

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