by Howard Ways, AICP | Much of the recent national discourse around the green economy centers on the success or failure of individual companies like Solydra. While there are several factors that contribute to the profitability of a business, local economies are an intricate, complex web of market sector forces and public sector policies. With less national fanfare, cities like the District of Columbia have made tremendous strides in transforming local economies into more green economies.
Unlike the industrial or information economies before, the green economy is, at its core, a restorative economy. The near consensus in the scientific community is that the earth’s weather patterns and temperature have changed over the last 50 years and much of the evidence points to human settlement patterns as a root cause of these changes. A green economy can help slow the pace of environmental change, reverse the harmful trends of the last half century, improve complex ecosystems, and restore natural habitat.
Many metrics are used to measure the impact of the green economy – for example, the percentage of municipal waste that gets recycled or composted, the number of green buildings constructed, the percentage of people who commute to work by walking, biking or public transit. However, it is green jobs that often emerge as the top measurable output of the green economy.
If ten people are asked what a green job is, they may provide ten different responses. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines green jobs as either:
Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources or
Jobs in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.
Many studies, including the District’s 2009 Green Collar Job Demand Analysis and the U.S. Conference of Mayors 2006 Metro Green Jobs Report, estimate the number of green jobs in the District to be between 22,000 and 25,000, or about 4% of all jobs in the city. The composition of these jobs reflects trends within the larger labor pool, with many of the District’s green jobs in construction, real estate, engineering, design, and law. A higher percentage of green jobs in the District require a bachelor’s degree than in most cities.
As green business practices become more commonplace, the studies project nearly 200,000 green jobs being created over 25 years. The District, with its educated workforce and progressive public policies, is poised to remain a leader in the green economy.
Howard Ways is the Director of Planning and Sustainability at the University of the District of Columbia.