Green Jobs: An Overview

Green-collar jobs are well-paid, career track jobs that contribute directly to protecting or enhancing our air, water, and planet. If a job improves the environment, but doesn’t provide a family-supporting wage or a career ladder to move low-income workers into higher-skilled occupations, it is not a green-collar job.

Here are some other key characteristics of green-collar jobs:

Green Collar Jobs Rebuild a Strong Middle Class

Green-collar jobs are good jobs. Like blue-collar jobs, green-collar jobs pay family wages and provide opportunities for advancement along a career track of increasing skills and wages. A job that does something for the planet, and little to nothing for the people or the economy, is not a green-collar job. The green economy cannot be built with solar sweat shops and Wal-Mart wind farms.

Green Collar Jobs Provide Pathways Out of Poverty

Most green-collar jobs are middle-skill jobs requiring more education than high school, but less than a four-year degree — and are well within reach for lower-skilled and low-income workers as long as they have access to effective training programs and appropriate supports. We must ensure that all green-collar jobs strategies provide opportunities for low-income people to take the first step on a pathway from poverty to economic self-sufficiency.

Green Collar Jobs Require Some New Skills (and some new thinking about old skills)

The green economy demands workers with new skill sets. Some green collar jobs — say renewable energy technicians — are brand new. But even more are existing jobs that are being transformed as industries transition to a clean energy economy: computer control operators who can cut steel for wind towers as well as for submarines; or mechanics who can fix an electric engine as well as an internal combustion engine. We need identify the specific skills the green economy demands. Then we need to invest in creating new training programs and retooling existing training programs to meet the demand.

Green Collar Jobs Tend To Be Local Jobs

Much of the work we have to do to green our economy involves transforming the places that we live and work and the way we get around. These jobs are difficult or impossible to offshore. For instance, you can’t pick up a house, send it to China to have solar panels installed, and have it shipped back. In addition, one of the major sources of manufacturing jobs — a sector that has been extensively off-shored — are components parts for wind towers and turbines. Because of their size and related high transportation costs, they are most cost-effectively produced as near as possible to wind-farm sites. Cities and communities should begin thinking now about ways their green strategies can also create local jobs.

A Green Collar Job Strengthens Urban and Rural Communities

Urban and rural America have both been negatively impacted over the past decades by a failure to invest in their growth — green-collar jobs provide an opportunity to reclaim these areas for the benefit of local residents. From new transit spending and energy audits in inner cities to windmills and biomass in our nation’s heartland, green jobs mean a reinvestment in the communities hardest hit in recent decades.

And By the Way … Green Collar Jobs Save Planet Earth

This may be obvious. The “green” in green-collar is about preserving and enhancing environmental quality. Green-collar jobs are in the growing industries that are helping us kick the oil habit, curb greenhouse-gas emissions, eliminate toxins, and protect natural systems.

Green-collar workers are installing solar panels, retrofitting buildings to make them more efficient, constructing transit lines, refining waste oil into biodiesel, erecting wind farms, repairing hybrid cars, building green rooftops, planting trees, and so much more. And they are doing it today. There are already many green-collar jobs in America. But there could be so many more if we focus our economic strategies on growing a green economy.

The Green Jobs Act

The Green Jobs Act of 2007 authorized $125 million per year to create an Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Worker Training Program as an amendment to the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).  The Green Jobs Act (GJA) is an initial pilot program to identify needed skills, develop training programs, and train workers for jobs in a range of industries – including energy efficient building, construction and retrofits, renewable electric power, energy efficient vehicles, biofuels, and manufacturing that produces sustainable products and uses sustainable processes and materials.  It targets a broad range of populations for eligibility, but has a special focus on creating “green pathways out of poverty.”

The Green Jobs Act became Title X of the Energy Independence and Security Act (often referred to as the “2007 Energy Bill”), which Congress passed and the President signed in late 2007. Congress appropriated $500 million for the Green Jobs Act through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of February, 2009. Here is a link to the entire 2007 Energy Bill.

More information check out our Green-Collar Jobs Resources page.