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Clean Technology: Where the Jobs Are

If the e-mails and calls I'm getting are any indication, there's a rapidly growing realization out there that clean and green technology is where the jobs are. Nearly once a day, someone calls or writes for help in finding employment in the clean-tech space. (Note to those of you now tempted to call or write: Please don't.) These job seekers aren't just diploma-fresh twenty-somethings. They're mid-career and even late-career job changers, accomplished individuals with advanced technical degrees and impressive career paths. Some have made conscious career changes; others are less voluntarily seeking new work. In any case, they are drawn to the promise, and the financial (and possibly psychic) benefits, of working to advance clean energy, advanced materials, organic products, locally based business, or any of a number of other opportunities. Politicians are drawn to clean-tech, too. Over the past few years, a succession of cities, counties, regions, and states have sought to brand themselves as the "Silicon Valley" of clean technology, or some such moniker. About 18 months ago, Clean Edge prepared a strategy for the city of San Francisco (along with a subsequent progress report) on how to make that city a clean-tech magnet. Other studies have show the potential for clean energy and related technologies to create jobs in Arizona, New Mexico, New York, the Midwest U.S., the Northwest U.S. (PDF), and America as a whole. And then there's the Apollo Alliance, the coalition of labor and environmental groups, that has been advocating a Ten-Point Plan for Good Jobs and Energy Independence. You get the idea. Comes now the City of Angels, heralding "green technology" (in its parlance) as the new job-creation machine for Southern California. According to Jobs in L.A.'s Green Technology Sector, released recently by the Economic Roundtable, "Los Angeles has unrealized opportunities to become a growing provider of 'green' goods and services, and through this growth to create decent jobs that benefit all residents of the city." The Los Angeles study is noteworthy for the level of detail it offers, and for the broad occupational territory it covers. To qualify as a "green-tech" industry in the study required meeting three filtering criteria: that the industry be responsible for at least 500 jobs in the city of L.A., that it have a stable or growing employment base, and that it offered average monthly wages of at least $2,500 (in 2002). Seventeen green-tech industries qualified, from water and sewage systems to a variety of building contractor types to petroleum product recycling. Plus: wholesale electronics, legal services, computer systems design, scientific and technical consulting, and "miscellaneous durable goods wholesaling." You'll have to dig into the report to see how each of these qualifies as "green tech." The types of job opportunities was similarly broad. Among the "green technology occupations" listed are electricians, carpenters, plumbers, laborers, and secretaries -- not typically the tree huggers that come to mind when one thinks about "green jobs." Therein lies both the problem and the promise of green- and clean-tech jobs. The problem is how to define a clean/green job from a conventional one. What, exactly, is the substantive difference in job descriptions between a "green" plumber and her non-green counterpart? Do "green" bookkeepers tally accounts differently than the others? The L.A. report begs the question, though it doesn't quite answer it. But that's also the good news: Anyone, with almost any skill set, can tap into the growing green economy as a source of jobs and careers. That's the story I tell all those job-seekers who call or write me, and I'm sticking to it. ----------------- Joel Makower is Co-founder and Principal of Clean Edge, Inc.