Green Jobs Still a Small Part of the Economy

A new report from US Department of Commerce titled “Measuring the Green Economy” reminds all of us who do believe green is the future that the future hasn’t quite happened yet.

Depending on how broadly they are defined, green products and services account for a mere 1 to 2 percent of the economy, and about 1.8 to 2.4 million jobs, according to the report.

A product or service was considered “green” based on whether it conserves energy and other natural resources or reduces pollution. The report provided two sets of data, one using a narrow definition of green, the other broader, thus the range in the results.

One caveat: the report is based on data from the Economic Census, which was last conducted in late 2007 and early 2008. A lot has happened since then to affect the green sector, both good and bad.

While we’ve had a massive recession since then, we also had a searing spike in fuel prices, which, as the report notes, creates “greater financial incentives for firms to develop more energy-efficient products and services.” Consumer awareness (and business awareness) of green products and services has also spread, likely increasing demand.

The report found more than 75 percent of green shipments and receipts were in the services sector, while green manufacturing had about 13 percent, construction 10 percent and green agriculture less than one percent of the total. Overall, green shipments and receipts accounted for about $371 billion to $516 billion spent.

Jobs in the energy efficiency sector constituted the largest share of total green employment, under both the narrow and broad definitions, with between 44-47 percent of green jobs. Pollution control was the second-largest employer, with between 26-32 percent.

Just what is a green product or service?

The report demonstrates the intricacies of determining what, exactly, is a “green” product or service. For instance, paying to get your tires inflated improves your fuel economy. Should the “tire servicing” sector be considered a green service? In the end it was not included.

Bicycle manufacturing, on the other hand, was, but only in the broad definition of green. “While only a small portion of bicycles are used for commuting purposes, they were included as a green product because ESA analysts determined that on balance the use of bicycles is beneficial for reducing energy use.”

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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