What We Talk about When We Talk about Green Jobs

Letter from the Chief Economist

Published on Aug 19, 2022

Updated on Oct 5, 2023

Written by Bledi Taska

Now that the new climate, tax, and healthcare bill has been signed into law, we’ll soon see how it leads to new investment throughout the economy.

I’m especially interested in the impact we’ll see in the green economy. For several months, Lightcast has collaborated with WorkingNation on a project called Green Jobs Now, where we use our data to help show what kinds of green jobs are available in different states, and how those patterns are likely to develop in the future.

Through tax breaks and rebates, the new legislation is the largest single investment in energy efficiency the US has ever seen, and manufacturers of heating and cooling systems are already planning for how to scale up to meet increased demand. 

Scaling up means more green jobs. But discussions about “green jobs” can mean a lot of things—how can we define them?

There are three main definitions we can employ, but they all have their drawbacks.

  1. The first would be to define green jobs by their occupations and industries. This is the most traditional way, and used in most analyses, but it’s based on a lack of data and misses jobs related to green projects in other industries.

  2. The second is based on companies, and it brings up the inverse problem—can every job at a “green” company be considered “green” itself? 

  3. Lastly, we can use skills to define green jobs. But the industry is changing fast, and so are the skills requested in its job postings. To effectively reflect the state of green jobs, we also need to see both where they are and where they’re going.

It takes all three of these methods to really understand this fast-moving landscape. So in our internal analysis and research with WorkingNation, we use four tiers to think about just how green a given job really is: 

Core green jobs have a primary responsibility associated with the green economy, like solar engineers or energy efficiency specialists.

Green enabled jobs are adjacent to those core roles; they might not work entirely with the green economy but have some of its skills. HVAC technicians installing the new energy-efficient heating and cooling systems mentioned above would be a good example.

Green enabling jobs are those that work indirectly in the green economy through their associated companies. Marketers or IT techs at a electric-vehicle company would fall under this category. 

Potential green jobs don’t currently work in any of these fields, but they could in the future—especially as investment increases and the green economy expands. 

These four tiers draw from all the three main definitions of what a green job could be. So as the new law leads to more investment in energy efficiency and other climate projects, we’ll looking at these new green jobs from every angle to see where they are, how they’re growing, and what that means for the labor market.

For more on these categories, read Lightcast Senior Economist Rachel Sederberg’s introduction to the Green Jobs Now project here. 

In the Papers

On a very related note, the paper I want to highlight this week is “Green Energy Jobs in the Us: What are They, and Where are They?” by E. Mark Curtis and Ioana Elena Marinescu, which just came out a few weeks ago. I’ve worked with Mark and Ioana in the past, and I was glad they were able to use Lightcast data in this project looking specifically at jobs in solar and wind energy. 

Importantly, they also found that the green jobs they studied paid about 21% more than average, and many of the areas with the most to gain from the green economy are those that are most at risk from the decline of fossil fuel extraction. 

This research highlights what’s one of the most important aspects of our work studying and analyzing the labor market—while it’s important to process data well and understand the impact of new factors like this new legislation, what we really want to do is enable success and prosperity for businesses and individuals. What we see in the data that the green economy will be good for workers, and that’s something to look forward to.

Until next week, 

Bledi Taska

Lightcast Chief Economist

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