It’s hard to count the green


Staff writer, CT Post, December 2, 2008

Is your job green?

The answer may be yes on Monday, when you carefully recycle your soda can and white paper. But how about Tuesday, when you drive around the county for client meetings that instead could happen electronically?

On a more elaborate scale, that dichotomy colors attempts to measure the effect the growth in “green” is having on employment.

Nicholas A. Jolly, an economist with the Connecticut Department of Labor, looked at several data models when working on “ How ‘ Green’ is Connecticut’s Economy?,” the feature story in the December issue of The Connecticut Economic Digest, jointly published by the state departments of Labor and Economic and Community Development.

The biggest problem, Jolly said Monday, was quantifying what constitutes a green job, because the occupational codes don’t make a distinction. For example, he said, a construction worker might install solar panels one day, but the next day’s job might not include what can be called “ green” or “ sustainable” work.

But those difficulties aside, there are some conclusions he can draw.

“ This movement [ to sustainable practices] is going to affect everybody,” Jolly said, because consumers demanding greener products leads to companies building them, which influences the labor market. “They [the jobs] seem to be in all types of occupations,” from the obvious — waste treatment and disposal — to the more covert, such as management of a company’s green practices or products.

Jolly was able to determine some trends for jobs whose codes are fairly specific, but his reported numbers are at the lower end of what he actually expects to happen.

For instance, Jolly expects growth of 19 percent between 2006 and 2016 in the number of environmental engineers in Connecticut, which translates to an increase of 144, to 891. The number of geoscientists — including geologists —

should rise 20 percent, from 174 to 209, while the number of hydrologists — they study water — will rise nearly 25 percent, from 97 to 121.

But the changes aren’t limited to green-specific jobs.

“There will be sweeping changes that will be taking place across occupations,” Jolly said, including the construction workers who will learn to install solar panels.

He’s forecasting a change in where the jobs are, as well. Management, scientific and consulting services will add green jobs between 2006 and 2016, he reported, as will the pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing and architectural and engineering industries. But such employment in the electric power industry will edge down.

“As consumer interest and demand continues to grow for environmentally friendly products, and government policies support and promote them, this transformation will continue,” Jolly wrote.

To Robert H. Thornton, dean of outreach services at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, government support is key. It is especially important, he said, that President-elect Barack Obama keep the green promises he made during the campaign.

After that, “You’re going to see tremendous growth in the sciences [ education demand],” Thornton said.

Already, professors are incorporating green and sustainable practices into their courses. Thornton expects there will be a renewed emphasis on ecology, particularly in global studies and aspects of global warming, such as polar bear research.

Thornton compared the expected boom to the growth in the Peace Corps following the election of President Kennedy. “You will not see many colleges bypassing the green issue,” he said.

“ We are seeing a surge in applications,” said Emly McDiarmid, director of admissions at The School of Forestry & Environmental Studies at Yale University.

For those students, it’s easier to find a job now than it was 20 years ago, said Kathryn Douglas, the school’s associate director of career development. Those jobs are coming with business as well as nongovernmental organizations, she said. Some students are packaging degrees with Yale’s management school, studying socially responsible investing, for example.

“ There’s a lot of companies doing sustainable work,” including giants such as WalMart, Starbucks and McDonald’s, Douglas said. But, she added, a survey of students in the past two years found most were interested in international work, such as with the United Nations, rather than corporate jobs.

At an education conference, however, Douglas did hear that 75 percent of undergraduate students want to work for an environmentally friendly company, no matter what job they finally settle on.