3 Labor Pitfalls in the New Green Economy

One of the most compelling concepts behind the new green economy is its ability to create jobs in the US. You certainly can’t outsource the installation of a solar system or high-efficiency windows. Industrial-scale wind turbines are enormous, thus favoring local production.
Although these concepts are true, there are some pitfalls to watch for:

1. Outsourcing Manufacturing

The US has lost 6 million manufacturing jobs in the last three decades. Many of these jobs had been stable and relatively well paying, especially for people without college degrees. These manufacturing jobs will not necessarily come back in a green economy.

This is especially true of energy-efficiency products. A major supplier of compact florescent light bulbs for General Electric has a manufacturing plant in southern China. This plant had been breaking numerous Chinese labor laws and did not inform workers on safety concerns for handling the mercury found in the bulbs.
2. US Subsidies Benefiting Offshore Manufacturers
US Law requires domestic sourcing for many programs and agencies, including the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, Clean Water Grants for Water Treatment, and the Energy Policy Act of 1992. The renewable energy investment and production tax credits however do not have this stipulation, thus these subsidies may end up benefiting foreign markets more than local ones.wind%20farm%20construction_small.jpg
Many renewable energy products are not manufactured domestically, despite their size. For example TDI Composites manufactures wind blades in China that are in part intended for the US market despite PR statements to the contrary.
3. Low Wages
Not all green jobs pay a lot of green, even when receiving generous local subsidies. A recent study of green jobs found recycling plant workers making as little as $8.25 an hour and manufacturing jobs in renewable energy products paying as low as $11 an hour.
On the bright side, there are companies like Sanyo Solar that are paying $22 an hour. This however was a stipulation in them receiving enterprise zone benefits.

Sarah Lozanova is a green copywriter and communications professional specializing in renewable energy and clean technology. She is a consultant for Sustainable Solutions Group and a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Home Power, Earth911, and Green Builder. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine.

One response

  1. Thanks for this perspective. A couple things come to mind:
    A recent
    post by Joel Makower
    about green jobs – he points out that there isn’t really a perfectly clear definition of what is a “green job” and what is not. I wonder if the scope of the green jobs study is too narrow?
    Also, in WA state we have Centers of Excellenceat several Community Colleges that are now providing degree programs in “green IT”, “green construction” etc. I hope that graduates from these programs will fare better than $11/hr…

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