Controversy Aside, Defining What Are Green Jobs in the U.S. [Infographic]

The nation’s first-ever Green Goods and Services report has been in the spotlight of scrutiny, as critics question whether the Obama administration is classifying a broad range of employment as green jobs for political intentions ahead of the November presidential election. The controversy highlights a central question: What exactly are green jobs according to the federal government?

In March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the results of the first Green Goods and Services survey, a comprehensive snapshot of U.S.-based jobs and sectors that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources. The BLS survey included 120, 000 business and government establishments and sampled 333 North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) industries, all which were classified as “potential producers or providers of green goods and services.”



Green goods and services (GGS) jobs, per BLS definition, contain two components: outbased-approach and process-based approach. Process-based jobs include worker duties that involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources. Output-based jobs concern producing goods or providing services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources. The BLS report only covers the output-based jobs.

The survey included all private establishments and state, federal and local government entities in every U.S. state and the District of Columbia. BLS explains that industries included in the GGS scope may consist of industries that may produce green goods and services that fall into at least one or more of the following five groups:

  1. Production of energy from renewable sources
  2. Energy efficiency
  3. Pollution reduction and removal, greenhouse gas reduction and recycling and reuse
  4. Natural resources conservation
  5. Environmental compliance, education and training and public awareness.

Findings show that in 2010, 3.1 million in the country were employed in GGS jobs. While the public sector held 860,000 green jobs that same year, most green employees — 2,268,800 — were working in the private sector (see infographic).

Private-Sector Green Jobs 

Within the private sector, the top green industries with the greatest number of GGS employment were manufacturing (461,847 jobs), construction (372,077) and professional, scientific and technical services (349,024). The BLS report also breaks down GGS jobs by state. The top states, with over 95,000 GGS employment in the private sector, included Ohio (97,027), Illinois (103,344), Pennsylvania (149,377), Texas (169,367) and New York (134,065), with California as the most concentrated state in GGS jobs (230,758).

Public Sector and Government

The public sector had 860,300 GGS jobs, or 4 percent of total public sector employment. Local governments had the biggest portion of GGS jobs, with (476,500). State government GGS jobs totaled 227,100, equivalent to 4.9 percent of all state government employment.

The federal government had 156,700 green jobs, which accounted for 5.3 percent of overall federal government employment, with public administration as the leading sector.

Green Job Backlash

The BLS findings and have stirred controversy. Probing into the types of jobs the BLS classifies as green has revealed a wide spectrum of jobs — ranging from antique shop employees to hog and pig farming— being categorized as GGS employment.

Last month, at a congressional oversight committee hearing, Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) ignited controversy when he implied that the Obama administration is labeling a broad scope of jobs as green for political purposes. The criticism stems back to the 2008 presidential campaign, when Barack Obama promised the nation 5 million new green jobs within the next 10 years, progress of which has been slow, as Reuters reported in April.

At the hearing, Issa interrogated John Galvin, the BLS’s acting commissioner, who confirmed that the extent of jobs that are considered green include a bike-repair shop clerk and school bus drivers — jobs that fall far from the realm of  more well-recognized green fields.

While green jobs may be broadly defined by the federal government, the nation nevertheless has a better understanding of where green goods and services exist and what sectors are leading the way for growth. Similar green job findings are also reflected in a separate Brookings Institution report, “The Clean Economy: A National and Regional green jobs assessment.” The Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings worked with Battelle’s Technology Partnership to develop and study the clean economy.

According to that study, there are 2.7 million workers employed in the clean economy, with the manufacturing sector playing a major role. According to Brookings, 6 percent of all clean economy jobs lie in manufacturing establishments, compared to just 9 percent in the broader economy.

In recent weeks, the controversy, dubbed the Green Scam, has caused media outlets, such as Forbes, to point out that no true firm definition of a green job exists, while others reflect on the importance of greening the economy.

The New Republic emphasized, “The relevant political questions are not: “How many green (or non-green) jobs do we have, or which party created them?” but “How do we best promote environmental sustainability and energy efficiency, while continuing to raise living standards?”



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  • Al Bredenberg
    July 9, 2012

    Beth – Nice job – thanks for some straightforward reporting on this.

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