The Clean Energy Economy

Green Jobs growing faster than other sectors

There's lots of talk about Green Jobs, but is it just hype or can the renewable energy industries really help us out of the economic crisis? Over the past decade the clean energy economy grew some 2-1/2 times faster than the overall jobs market in the U.S., according to a new report by The Pew Charitables Trusts. With continuing business failures and job losses slowing economic recovery, a thriving energy economy fueling green jobs—a mix of white and blue-collar positions, from scientists and engineers to electricians, machinists and teachers—is good news for our economic future.

The Clean Energy Economy: Repowering Jobs, Businesses and Investments Across America reports how clean energy jobs increased at a national rate of 9.1 percent between 1998-2007, while traditional jobs grew by only 3.7 percent, and manufacturing jobs declined by nearly 21 percent over that period. By 2007, more than 68,000 businesses in the United States had generated more than 770,000 jobs in the clean energy economy, including the sectors of Clean Energy, Energy Efficiency, Environmentally Friendly Production, Conservation and Pollution Mitigation, and Training and Support.

“The clean energy economy is poised for explosive growth,” said Lori Grange, interim deputy director of the Pew Center on the States. “These jobs are driving economic growth and environmental sustainability at a time when America needs both. There is a potential competitive advantage for federal and state policy leaders who act now to spur jobs, businesses and investments in the clean energy sector.” Pew’s research forecasts that the clean energy economy will expand significantly, driven by increasing consumer demand, venture capital infusions, and federal and state policy reforms. Between 2006 and 2008, about $12.6 billion of venture capital investments was directed toward clean technology businesses in 40 states and the District of Columbia.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia were surveyed with California and Texas leading the lists for Clean Energy economic activity. As of 2007, California had 125,390 jobs in 10,209 businesses, and Texas had 55,646 jobs in 4,802 businesses. What’s surprising and really encouraging is how a state like Michigan has been buoyed by green jobs growth while in a general state of decline. By the end of 2009, Michigan will have lost more than a half million jobs, according to state projections, with more than one in 10 workers unemployed. But while jobs overall have been declining over the past decade, the state ranked 10th in the nation with 22,674 jobs in 10,209 businesses in clean energy.

“Manufacturers of green products like wind turbines can find everything they need in Michigan: technological knowhow, factory space, skilled workers, transportation systems, and great universities.”
— Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm

“While many people will continue working in GM plants building the next generation of vehicles, others will be leaving. And for them, we will help however we can, from extended unemployment benefits to job retraining,” said Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, commenting on the General Motors bankruptcy. “Now we have to continue our ongoing efforts to shape a new future for Michigan, one in which we will use our manufacturing expertise to achieve a national goal of energy independence. Five years ago, we began positioning Michigan to lead a green industrial revolution. We provided tax incentives and grants for making green products. We created venture capital for green start-up companies, and we restructured job training programs to give workers the skills for green jobs. Manufacturers of green products like wind turbines or advanced batteries can find everything they need in Michigan: technological knowhow, factory space, skilled workers, transportation systems, and great universities.”

The state recently issued it’s own Michigan Green Jobs Report 2009 that shows even more growth boasting 109,067 total green jobs, both direct and support positions, among private sector employers. That report uses a broader definition for green jobs that includes agriculture and natural resource conservation, clean transportation and fuels including advanced battery production, along with more green-related industries and occupations.

Beyond boosting the numbers, the broad methodology for the Michigan study helps reveal trends on how the transition to a green economy might take place. From an occupational perspective, they found over 70 percent of direct green workers fall into three broad categories including production (28 percent), engineering (24 percent), and construction (19 percent). The executive summary for the report states: “We may be at a tipping point of awareness, understanding, and opportunities that a green economy can provide for Michigan’s workforce, businesses, and communities.

Investments in a clean energy economy will drive down the unemployment rate and provide job opportunities to Americans across all skill and education levels according to a new report from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (PERI), commissioned by Green For All and the National Resources Defense Council. Green Prosperity: How Clean-Energy Policies Can Fight Poverty and Raise Living Standards in the United States finds that clean energy investments can provide significant new opportunities at all levels of the U.S. economy, including "pathways out of poverty" with opportunities for advancement to low-income workers.

Overall, these reports suggest that building a clean energy economy could create three times more jobs within the United States than spending the same amount of money within our existing fossil fuel infrastructure. Moreover, a clean energy economy would foster a wide range of economic and environmental gains with energy-efficient buildings, fuel-efficient vehicles, clean renewable energy sources, and revitalized industrial sectors. 

Read the The Clean Energy Economy report.

Read the Michigan Green Jobs Report 2009.

Read the Green Prosperity report.