University of Calgary warns green jobs misinformation can lead to measures that do little for the environment
The concept of green jobs and a green economy is popular among politicians and policy-makers. That is understandable, as they want to be perceived as doing something about the environment or climate change while simultaneously protecting jobs and the economy. Green jobs are considered to be a way of addressing two policy issues at once: employment and the environment. Policy-makers can argue that green-job creation will compensate for jobs lost due to more stringent environmental policy. But what are “green jobs”?
What the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy found is that green job rhetoric is often just that — misleading and dodgy policy. Its recent paper, The Green Jobs Fantasy, warns that this kind of misinformation can lead to measures that do little for either job creation or the environment. To take one example, Ontario recently initiated a renewable-energy feed-in-tariff program. The government estimated that the program created 50,000 green jobs. Unfortunately, subsequent research by Bohringer et al (B. E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy, 12 (1), 2012) showed that for every green job gained, 1.97 jobs were lost in other sectors.
In addition, the definition of green jobs is suspect. Often, what is or is not a green job is defined by the organization claiming to create that job. That means a green job can be any job, painted green in order to further the interests of that organization. For example, are nuclear power or large-scale hydro power green industries? Many argue they are not, despite the low emissions footprint. Two standard approaches for green job measurement are the output approach and the process approach. The output approach identifies organizations that produce green goods and services and then counts the associated jobs they create. The process approach identifies establishments that use environmentally friendly production processes and practices and counts the associated jobs.
However, most industries produce some green and some non-green goods and services, so making distinctions is difficult. Are industries that use green inputs and processes in the production of non-green products and services really green? An accountant working for a company manufacturing solar panels might be considered a green job, but if that same accountant doing the same work was employed by an oil company, their job would be non-green, even though they are doing the same work. The same solar panel manufacturer could use coal-based electricity in its manufacturing plant, making its process non-green while the output is considered green. Are its employees green? The answer would be yes — if that company has to demonstrate a green pedigree with government, regulators or NGOs.