Green Jobs


Have you seen a growing number of sustainability-focused baccalaureate degree programs or heard terms like: clean tech, green jobs, the clean and green economy, or one of many other similar variations? As a result of the combined challenges of energy security, climate change, fossil fuel resource depletion, and environmental pollution, there’s a high likelihood you may already be familiar with this terminology. Though the finer details may differ, there are many commonalities among terms like these. For the purposes of this fact sheet, we will focus on the term “green jobs”…from the what and why, to the how, when, and where. Are you now ready for obtaining gainful employment information on green jobs? If so, you are not alone (Figure 1)!

Figure 1. Voters in Sarasota, Florida call for Green Jobs Now on the steps of the Federal Building. Credit: Flickr user “” via CC By-NC-SA 2.0 License –

Figure 1. Voters in Sarasota, Florida call for Green Jobs Now on the steps of the Federal Building. Credit: Flickr user “” via CC By-NC-SA 2.0 License.

What are Green Jobs?

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines green jobs as either:

  1. “Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.” (measured via an output approach regardless of the environmental impact of the production process)
  2. “Jobs in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.” (measured via a process approach regardless of the environmental impact of the good or service produced)

Though some states have their own specific definitions, a BLS stakeholder review and analysis of green job definitions revealed several “nearly universal” categories of green job activities and responsibilities (Table 1). Florida’s definition captures these universal categories, though it excludes indirect and support-type green jobs and only measures the “direct” production of goods or provision of services. An extensive list of additional “Selected Definitions of Green Industries and Green Jobs,” has been documented by the State of Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation (AWI).

Table 1. Examples of BLS Defined Green Jobs[1]

Green Job Category Green Goods and Services (GGS) Green Processes
Renewable energy production Electricity, heat, or fuel generated from renewable sources (e.g., wind, biomass, geothermal, solar, ocean, hydropower, and landfill gas and municipal solid waste) Generating the GGS from renewable energy sources for use primarily within the establishment (e.g., solar panels on a building rooftop)
Energy efficiency improvements Electronics, equipment, appliances, buildings, vehicles, and energy storage and distribution (e.g., Smart Grid technologies) Using GGS to improve energy efficiency within the establishment (e.g., combined heat and power)
Pollution reduction/removal, GHG reduction, and material recycling/reuse GGS that (1) reduce or eliminate the creation or release of (and/or remove) pollutants or toxic compounds into (from) the environment; (2) reduce GHG emissions via methods other than renewable sources or efficiency (e.g., nuclear sources); and (3) reduce or eliminate the creation of (and/or collect, reuse, remanufacture, recycle, or compost) waste materials or wastewater Same as GGS column
Natural resources conservation GGS related to (1) organic agriculture; (2) sustainable forestry; (3) land management; (4) soil, water, or wildlife conservation; and (5) stormwater management Same as GGS column
Environmental compliance, education/training, and public awareness GGS that (1) enforce environmental regulations; (2) provide education and training related to green technologies and practices; and (3) increase public awareness of environmental issues Same as GGS column

Other green job categories that receive considerable attention include local food network infrastructure such as growing, distributing, and purchasing locally produced foods, as well as, the trading of certificates and offsets in various markets (e.g., clean air markets, greenhouse gas emissions, and renewable energy certificates).

Why are Green Jobs Necessary?

Green jobs have a tall order in addressing the triple bottom line of environmental, social, and economic prosperity. As such, green jobs must address two major challenges. First, they must slow, and ultimately reverse, the degradation of ecosystems and the provisioning, regulating, cultural, and supporting services they provide in benefit to both human and non-human life. Second, they must mitigate (i.e., make less severe) and adapt (i.e., change to fit within new or different conditions) to the depletion of quantity and degradation in quality of critical natural resources (e.g., minerals, metals, fossil fuels, and water). These are daunting long-term challenges, yet they are also opportunities for the 21st Century economy as we continue to innovate and respond.

In an October 2009 report “Green-Collar Jobs: Realizing the Promise,” the Sightline Institute, a not-for-profit research and communication center based in Seattle, Washington, suggested that fostering a green economy primarily through the clean energy sector creates more total (and more local) jobs than the fossil fuel sector per dollar of investment, insulates the United States from the extremes of energy price volatility, improves international trade balances by reducing energy imports, and reduces the financial risks of climate change.

The good news is that the seeds for this green economy already exist in many industries and merely need the appropriate social, political, and financial capital to further flourish. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Green Jobs Report predicts four major effects will result from a greening of the global economy and four advantages will be realized by corporations adopting early green innovations (Table 2).

Table 2. Effects from Green Jobs and Advantages to Green Innovation

Four Major Effects from Green Jobs [2] Corporate Advantages to Green Innovation [3]
Some additional jobs will be created in new or existing industries (e.g., the manufacture of pollution-control devices and energy efficient technologies) Improved environmental performance
Some existing employment will be substituted for other types of employment (e.g., the shift in jobs from fossil fuel industries to renewable energy industries) Early access to export markets for their innovations
Some jobs may be eliminated without direct replacement (e.g., expendable toxic products or services without greener replacements) Improved opportunities to attract and retain qualified workers who are increasingly looking for greener jobs and employers
Many existing jobs will be transformed and redefined as skills, practices, and methods are greened (e.g., building design professionals and construction trade workers) Management experience in transforming their companies that may help them confront other challenges and also may generate the sale of management services and know-how to others

How Can You Enter into the Green Jobs Market?

Unfortunately, there is no central clearinghouse of job opportunities within the emerging green economy. Yet, this is because green job opportunities are so widely distributed across industries (i.e., products and services produced) and occupations (i.e., type of work performed). More importantly, the green economy may become an enabler for under-represented or disadvantaged people and groups. [4] As a green jobs seeker, the keys to a successful search will be to learn about the industries and occupations being monitored for green job activity and the skill sets necessary for potential applicants for these jobs. Floridians are fortunate to have a dedicated green jobs portal (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Employ Florida, a statewide job searching portal made possible by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and CareerSource Florida, Inc., offers a separate search portal dedicated specifically to green jobs.

At a national level, the BLS was once the definitive Federal agency monitoring these activities, so this was the best place to begin honing your green job seeking skills. However, as of September 30, 2013, the BLS eliminated two programs and all measurement of green jobs products and services in order to achieve budget cuts associated with the “Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act.” While the BLS no longer monitors these activities, a good place for job seekers to begin is by searching for industries and occupations as previously laid out in Table 1. At the time, the BLS estimated that approximately 75% of green jobs would come from two industry sectors – construction (38.1% or 820,700 establishments) and professional and business services (36.2% or 779,100 establishments). [5]

The career opportunities and skill sets necessary for these two industry sectors is exemplified in the biannual U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon and its European and Latin American/Carribbean counterparts. The Solar Decathlon provides a public stage for teams of college students to design, build, and operate modular, solar-powered homes in a form of immersive, “hands-on,” green jobs training (Figure 3). Entries are judged in ten categories including architecture, engineering, affordability, and energy balance. The Solar Decathlon serves the purposes of educating the public about the accelerating accessibility and affordability of solar energy and high performance homes, while simultaneously providing students with an avenue to showcase their skills to future green employers.

Figure 3. Team Re-Focus” poses for a photo with their modular home entry in the Solar Decathlon Europe 2010 competition. Credit: University of Florida - and

Figure 3. Team “Re-Focus” poses for a photo with their modular home entry in the Solar Decathlon Europe 2010 competition. T Credit: University of Florida and Team Re-Focus Facebook page.

What is Not Measured as a Green Job…and Why?

As you can imagine from the complexities associated with defining the term “green” with regard to jobs, goods, and services, there is an opportunity for misrepresentation or confusion in comparing the metaphorical apples to oranges. This is why the BLS established an official green jobs definition [6] published in the Federal Register [7] to be measured and verified in a rigorous and statistically sound methodology. For further clarification of the most common misconceptions and limitations about green jobs, we have excerpted and summarized some of the BLS Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) in Table 3. Remember, as stated earlier in this fact sheet, due to budget constraints, the BLS no longer actively measures green jobs products and services. However, the original BLS definitions and FAQs are still relevant for the green jobs marketplace.

Table 3. Examples of BLS Non-Measured Economic Activities and Issues that May be Confused with Green Jobs[8]

Job, Good, Service, or Other Criteria Reason Not Measured or Integrated into BLS Data
Transportation and distribution of green goods No added benefit to environment from transportation or distribution of a green good versus any other good
Self employed workers A limitation stemming from the BLS business list used as the national green job sampling frame
Social equity issues such as wages, union status, safety, benefits, etc. Involves subjectivity that is inappropriate for a statistical agency such as BLS to measure(Note: Some organizations, such as the UNEP, suggest these human equity and “decent work” considerations are deeply embedded in the “Just Transition” to a global green economy)
Demographic characteristics of green jobs Not relevant to BLS data stream, but can be found from other sources and matched to BLS data by end users as needed
Processing of organic agricultural products Though these organic products themselves are measured in green job calculations, the processing component is not measured as there is no added benefit to environment from processing of organic versus conventional agriculture (i.e., benefit takes place during growth stage, not processing stage)
Products made from recycled content Environmental benefits of materials (e.g., metals, glass, and paper pulp) containing recycled inputs occurs during raw material manufacture, not during the addition of these recycled raw materials into secondary goods (e.g., metal roofing and office paper)
Goods and services forming a “minority of revenue” from North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) firms BLS data only measures green jobs from NAICS industries who earn a majority of their revenue from qualifying green jobs and services(Note: The scope and scale of green jobs associated with these minority revenue goods and services is unknown, though recognized as a limitation in BLS measurement)

Furthermore, as terms like “sustainable,” “green,” “environmentally or eco-friendly,” and “carbon offset,” have expanded throughout various industries over the last two decades, there is an increasing concern about the potential for “greenwashing,” or unsubstantiated, over-stated, or misleading claims about the environmental impact of a good or service. As a result of these concerns the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a series of “Green Guides” to assist marketers with how to best and most accurately use these terms without misleading consumers. For more information about these Green Guides and a recent review expanding the terms they are covering, visit the following:

What Legislation Originally Enabled the Green Jobs Market?

In response to these needs for green jobs, the Federal government implemented H.R. 2847, the Green Jobs Act (GJA) of 2007 as an amendment to the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). The GJA authorized $125 million annually for an Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Worker Training Program. This pilot program identified the skills necessary for the emerging green jobs marketplace, then developed and delivered training programs in a broad range of industries. However, special attention was paid to fostering “green pathways out of poverty,” which fell in line with the international green job goals expressed by the UNEP. Subsequently, the U.S. Congress appropriated $500 million for the GJA via H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of February 2009.

When Will the Green Jobs Market Reach Maturity?

The original goal of the BLS green jobs initiative was “to develop information on (1) the number of and trend over time in green jobs, (2) the industrial, occupational, and geographic distribution of the jobs, and (3) the wages of the workers in these jobs.” By measuring these trends and benchmarks, the BLS was prepared to collect the data necessary to monitor the evolution of the green job marketplace.

As mentioned earlier, prior to the budget constrained elimination of the program, the BLS standardized two approaches to measuring national green jobs. The output approach was designed to be affiliated with the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program and use a “Green Goods and Services” (GGS) survey. The 2011 GGS was released on March 19, 2013. The process approach was designed to use a “special employer green process survey,” which was never completed due to budget cuts. Despite these BLS market measurement standardization efforts, individual states, such as California, may take different approaches than the BLS process. In Florida, a “Green Jobs Survey” was conducted in 2010 with results published in the spring of 2011.

However, defining a singular point in time when the green economy reaches maturity is not truly possible. In fact, in some ways a mature green jobs market is a dynamic moving target with a relative baseline that will always recede into the horizon just like the moving target of sustainability (i.e., the goal is the process, as there is no final destination). [9] Key concepts and principles that may become evident as the green job marketplace matures beyond its current early stages include: [10] [11]

  1. Integrated and transdisciplinary collaboration;
  2. Productivity measures linking the triple bottom line of the environment, society, and economy;
  3. “Just transition” in green job availability and skill development for all of humanity; and
  4. Fair balance in public sector policy, private sector innovation, and financial sector capitalization and enabling mechanisms.

Where Does FESC Fit into the Green Jobs Marketplace?

Many aspects of the green jobs marketplace are deeply connected to our long-term energy future. As such, the Florida Energy Systems Consortium (FESC), a collection of 12 state universities assisting the Florida state government with the development and implementation of an environmentally compatible, sustainable, and efficient energy strategic plan, is well positioned to support Florida’s evolving green jobs infrastructure and training. We encourage you to explore the sub-menus on the left side of the FESC Energy Education / Jobs page for more information on Florida energy education opportunities sorted by discipline, institution, and degree program, along with training providers and other energy education-related resources.

References and Resources

Beyond the footnotes, see the following links for more information about “green jobs / green collar jobs”:


Author: Hal S. Knowles IIIa

Reviewers: Julie Harringtonb (2011 and 2015) and George Philippidisc (2011 and 2015)

a    Program for Resource Efficient Communities, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

b    Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL

c    Patel College of Global Sustainability, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL

First published April 2011. Revised May 2015.

This is a fact sheet for the Florida Energy Systems Consortium (FESC). The goal of the consortium is to become a world leader in energy research, education, technology, and energy systems analysis.


[1]Measuring Green Jobs.” United States Department of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Retrieved on May 19, 2015.

[2]Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World.” UNEP/ILO/IOE/ITUC. September 2008. Page 3. Retrieved on May 19, 2015.

[3]UNEP Background Paper on Green Jobs.” United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 2008. Bullet 59, Page 18. Retrieved on May 19, 2015.

[4] Van Wynsberghe, R. 2015. Green jobs for the disadvantaged: An analysis of government policies in British Columbia. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management. DOI:10.1080/09640568.2015.1039640.

[5] Though “professional services” and “business services” are sometimes considered separate sectors, the BLS grouped them together for the purposes of its previous green jobs tracking approaches.

[6] Clayton, R., Fairman, K., Haughton, D. and Viegas, R. 2011. “Measuring Green Industry Employment: Developing a Definition of Green Goods and Services.” Section on Survey Research Methods – JSM 2011.

[7] United States Federal Register, Vol. 75, No. 182. Tuesday, September 21, 2010. Notices pages 57506-57514. Retrieved May 19, 2015.

[8]Measuring Green Jobs.” United States Department of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Retrieved on May 19, 2015.

[9]UNEP Background Paper on Green Jobs.” United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 2008. Bullet 12, Page 7. Retrieved on May 19, 2015.

[10]UNEP Background Paper on Green Jobs.” United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). 2008. Bullet 58, Page 18. Retrieved on May 19, 2015.

[11]Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World.” UNEP/ILO/IOE/ITUC. September 2008. Page 24. Retrieved on May 19, 2015. Note: The term “just transition” reinforces the UNEP’s goal to use the green economy as a catalyst to bring people out of poverty by encouraging social justice and equal representation of all people in the transition from our current global economy and its inequalities toward a more socially just, greener economy.

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