Whilst there is no universally agreed definition of what ‘green jobs’ are, the concept has generated a fierce debate between those who advocate direct or indirect government investment in their creation and those who argue that such investment carries a significant opportunity cost in terms of alternative employment and may result in existing jobs being lost as a result of possibly higher energy prices.
Certainly the Rio+20 Issues Brief on ‘Green Jobs and Social Inclusion’ acknowledges that “subsidies and additional incentives for clean technologies … reduce resources that might otherwise be available for other sectors” and goes on to point out that typical employment factors in the renewable energy industry (1.6 to 6.5 jobs per US$1 million) are significantly lower than in other sectors.
So given that, as the Issues Brief concludes, “the overall jobs impact is rather uncertain”, how should we approach the issue of green jobs?
As is so often the case with issues right across the Sustainability agenda, ‘top down’ is not necessarily the answer. An IPPR report last year entitled ‘Green Expectations: Lessons from the US Green Jobs Market’ by Clare McNeil with Hanna Thomas concluded, based on the US experience, that “strong coalitions are needed between the government, trade unions, employers and environmental and community groups to build a ‘just transition’ to a low-carbon economy, to advocate for greater policy stability and to defend existing policy”.
I would agree but perhaps one should go further, beyond partnerships of the already engaged. Because ultimately, the greening of the economy will only happen through choices made by individuals. Choices in their priorities, their lifestyles and their purchasing decisions. Choices that – whether it’s to insulate their houses, switch to a green energy provider, change to a more fuel efficient car or recycle more – can have the effect not so much of creating green jobs but of greening jobs that already exist.