Clean Economy Employs 2.7 Million Workers, More Than Fossil Fuels or Biotech

Today, the Brookings Institution released a major report on the clean economy, which now provides 2% of all American jobs, more than either the fossil fuel or biotech industries. The clean sector, as the authors define it, spans numerous industries including manufacturing, agriculture, energy, and transportation, and includes all activities, “that produce goods and services with an environmental benefit.”

The Brookings project is one of the first to provide comprehensive, detailed data on the number, location, and type of green jobs available nationwide and to allow for comparisons across regions and localities. I’ll have a post later on where green jobs are located, but for now I want to focus on some highlights from the report about the size and scope of the clean economy.

(1) While clean energy gets the most hype, the jobs are really found in sectors that have been around for a while – waste management/recycling, public transit, and conservation.

The clean economy involves over 40,000 companies engaged in a diversity of activities and spread across sectors and industries, as you can see in the charts above and below. The largest share of green jobs are in fields that have been around for a while – waste management (14% of jobs), public transit (13%), and conservation (12%). Renewable energy, which gets much of the press, accounts for only 5% of the clean economy.

(2) The clean economy is growing, but slowly. Young firms and sectors are experiencing the strongest growth.

The clean economy has grown over the last decade: one-fifth of the 2.7 million green jobs in existence today were created since 2003. From 2003 to 2010, the sector grew at an annual rate of 3.4%, slightly lower than the 4.2% growth of the economy as a whole. But unlike the rest of the economy, the clean sector continued to see strong growth during the Recession, likely due to clean energy subsidies from the stimulus bill.

It is the young firms and sectors that grew fastest in recent years. Four-fifths of the green jobs created since 2003 were in companies founded in or after 2003. Certain cutting-edge clean energy segments – wave/ocean power, solar thermal, and wind energy – experienced rapid expansion, averaging 15 to 20% growth annually.

 (3) “The clean economy offers more opportunities and better pay for low- and middle-skilled workers than the national economy as a whole.”

The green sector has been touted by some political leaders as an industry that can provide opportunities for workers at all educational and professional levels, provided they have the right training. The Brookings study provides some evidence for this claim: median wages in the clean economy are 13% higher than in the economy as a whole and these good-paying jobs aren’t just reserved for highly advanced professionals. Nearly half of green jobs employ workers with a high school degree or less, compared to 37% of jobs in the economy as a whole.

I’ll have another post up soon about where clean economy jobs are located…

Sizing the Clean Economy: A National and Regional Green Jobs Assessment
Brookings Institution // Mark Muro, Jonathan Rothwell, Devashree Saha // July 13, 2011