Forget About Green Jobs; Just Green the Economy

First things first, let’s stop talking about green jobs. There is no such thing. It can mean too many things.

I like indicators… mmhhmmm. Do you want to know why I think they are hot? Because they measure the impacts of things. And if they are good indicators, they are based on measurable facts.

Do you want to know why green jobs suck? Because you can’t measure them. They are like magnets. I mean, how do they work?

Google image "green jobs" and you will find a worker sitting on grass.

Google image “green jobs” and you will find a worker sitting on grass.

Do you know what is easier to measure than green jobs? Jobs.*

So rather than green jobs, let’s focus on greening our economy…

  • Reader: Phew! I thought you were going to keep on bashing green stuff for a second.
  • Writer: Nah, I just like to talk smack.
  • Reader: Wait dude, how is a green economy easier to measure than green jobs?
  • Writer: ‘Cuz greening our economy will have a measurable net impact on overall employment.
  • Reader: (still confused, but faking it) Oh, I get it…
  • Writer: (picking up on the confusion) When a politician shouts “Let’s make our economy green!” and she institutes a policy, we can try to measure the change in the number of jobs after that policy was introduced.
  • Reader: (embarrassed) Dude, I told you I got it.


Now that I got that out of our systems, let’s focus on the net impacts that greening our economy can have on net employment…


In contrast to green jobs, it turns out that there is an official definition for green economy:

“In its simplest expression, a green economy is low-carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive. In a green economy, growth in income and employment are driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.” – UNEP, 2011

Lucky for us, the UN Department of Economics and Social Affairs (UNDESA) wrote a nifty brief on green jobs and social inclusion for the 2012 UN Sustainable Development Conference in Rio de Janeiro. In this brief, they looked at the net employment impacts of greening the energy sector, a large part of the economy and, believe it or not, one that is heavily politicized.

The UN brief recognizes that policy makers are interested in getting the most bang-for-their-buck (and job creation will totally help keep them elected).

So here is an example:


Solar PV creates more jobs than all other energy technologies

The chart below shows the number of jobs created by different forms of power generation (solar PV, wind, biomass, natural gas, and coal).

 employment creation in green energy sectors

The really cool thing about this graph is that it not only shows jobs created per dollar spent, but it also shows the jobs created per dollar spent when all external costs are internalized! Solar PV turns out to be the most efficient job/dollar when considering, you know, the children.

I think the UN definition for green economy is a little too fluffy for my tastes, so here is my definition:

“In its simplest expression, a green economy is when both production and consumption externalities are internalized and all costs are accounted for.” – Alex, 2013

So there you have it, Solar PV creates more jobs than all other major energy technologies, when taking into account all the externalities.


And that my friends, is why we should be focusing on greening the economy. Green Jobs? They’ll naturally follow.


*Of course, measuring plain ‘ol jobs is still not that easy. I mean, is the job part-time, is it underpaid, underrepresented, include benefits, important to society…. yeah, this list of exceptions can go on and on. But c’mon, this is a blog post, so relax and stay with me for a second.

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2 Comments on “Forget About Green Jobs; Just Green the Economy”

  1. winstonrvonengel June 23, 2013 at 10:59 am #

    Great article! I ‘get’ it – it’s the GREEN economy, stupid! We should also count jobs that are accessible by mass transit, rather than only by car as “Green”.


  2. Tanja June 21, 2015 at 7:38 pm #

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