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What Makes a Job “Green?”

Solar panels don't install themselves. Wind turbines don't manufacture themselves. Homes and buildings don't retrofit or weatherize themselves. In our industrial society, trees don't even PLANT themselves, anymore. Real people must do all of that work.

To be successful, American workers need some new tools, some new training and access to some new technology. They also need a policy environment that supports employers who are trying to bring low-carbon prosperity to our country. With those things in place, we can begin to put some green rungs on America's ladder of opportunity.

If we are smart, we will make the invention, manufacturing and deploying of clean energy technology a cornerstone of the next American economy – and create green pathways out of poverty, while we do it.   ~Van Jones (2009)

We believe Van Jones was calling for something like Ecotech Institute—the first and only college entirely focused on preparing graduates for careers in renewable energy and energy efficiency. But the conversations and controversies over what constitutes a "green" job have only intensified since Jones' comments. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tackled the issue with their "BLS Green Jobs Initiative."

According to the BLS, "The goal of the BLS green jobs initiative is to develop information on (1) the number of and trend over time in green jobs, (2) the industrial, occupational, and geographic distribution of the jobs, and (3) the wages of the workers in these jobs."

Of paramount importance to the BLS initiative was defining green jobs. They concluded that "Green jobs are either:

  • Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.
  • Jobs in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources."

The BLS definition includes many job classifications that may not, at first glance, appear to have anything to do with green: Customer service representative? Machine shop supervisor? Truck driver?

It is important to know more about how the BLS went about categorizing these jobs in the first place: "The BLS methodology will estimate the number of green jobs for a NAICS industry based on the green jobs found at individual establishments classified within the industry. The methodology does not simply designate an industry as 'green' and count all jobs in that industry as green jobs, since establishments in the industry may also produce goods and services that are not considered green."

In other words, the BLS designation doesn't just reflect the kinds of "tree hugger" jobs one might expect to be labeled green. Instead, the BLS is tracking the increased greening of many industry sectors and showing that green isn't a fringe, it's a shade. So, yes, customer service representatives, machine shop supervisors, and even truck drivers are increasingly "green." (We at Ecotech concur; this is why our newest program is in Business Administration – with a focus on sustainability.)

"Man has been endowed with reason, with the power to create, so that he can add to what he's been given. But up to now he hasn't been a creator, only a destroyer. Forests keep disappearing, rivers dry up, wild life's become extinct, the climate's ruined and the land grows poorer and uglier every day." ~Anton Chekhov

Kyle Crider is Manager – Environmental Operations at Ecotech Institute and Education Corporation of America. He holds a Master of Public Administration degree with a double-emphasis in Urban Planning & Policy Analysis. He is also a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional, Neighborhood Development (LEED AP ND). He is currently in the Interdisciplinary Engineering Ph.D. Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Ecotech Institute or Education Corporation of America. Email Kyle at