D.C. Invests in Green Collar Jobs

A new "green jobs" initiative in D.C. will promote a stronger economy, better job market, and cleaner environment, writes Bracken Hendricks.

Last week Washington D.C.’s mayor, Adrian M. Fenty, announced the launch of a major “green jobs” initiative. The Center for American Progress salutes this effort, which will build the District’s workforce and development opportunities through green buildings, transit jobs, climate and renewable energy solutions, and solving the city’s water quality problems. 

The Center for American Progress has worked closely with the District of Columbia and other state and local governments to implement clean energy and climate solutions that promote economic development. The Center was also an active champion of federal “green jobs” legislation in the recent energy bill.  The mayor’s initiative established for the first time an advisory committee that will craft a detailed plan to link worker training programs to the growing demand for skilled labor in emerging “green collar jobs.”

Solving climate change can mean new markets and new investment in the District’s workers and small businesses. Building green neighborhoods and cutting our carbon emissions creates real work for construction, manufacturing, and service employees. These are jobs that can build small and minority-owned businesses and employ workers in jobs that can’t be outsourced. The mayor’s initiative—announced at a vocational high school in D.C. that is training students for jobs in public transportation—will ensure that more of D.C.’s residents can find good jobs and opportunity in the emerging green economy.  

The “green economy” is exploding into a billion-dollar industry. According to a 2006 study by Management Information Systems, Inc., the economy’s environmental sector, taken as a whole, is bigger than the biggest Fortune 500 company and represents $341 billion in industry sales and 5.3 million jobs nationally. It creates three times more jobs than the chemical industry, six times more jobs than the apparel industry, and 10 times more jobs than the pharmaceutical industry. Green means jobs, from machinists to clerks and skilled maintenance workers to systems engineers. Yet we are only just beginning to tap this new investment, which can drive new employment and economic renewal for our cities.

These “green collar jobs” involve environmentally-friendly products or services such as construction of green schools, solar panel manufacturing, energy efficiency retrofits of homes, and environmental clean up and waterfront restoration.  They are concentrated in areas like construction and manufacturing that grant family supporting wages, skill development, and career ladders. And they are often locally-oriented, which makes them harder to move off shore and provides a bigger economic ripple effect in local communities.  These jobs create sustainable living economies and are strong enough to lift people out of poverty, all while rolling back pollution and creating healthier cities and better neighborhoods for families.

Greening the economy also means new investment capital flowing to the businesses that create the demand for skilled workers.  Energy technology has become one of the hottest investment fields for venture capitalists.  Renewable energy investments have nearly doubled over the past three years, and have increased six-fold from $6.4 billion in 1995 to $39 billion in 2005 with cumulative investment over this period of nearly $180 billion. Yet unlike the Internet and technology investments that fueled previous boom investment cycles, clean energy investments are more community-based and create demand for both skilled local labor and manufacturing and assembly jobs as well as entry-level positions with real pathways into long-term skilled employment. 

“Green collar jobs” create positive solutions for investing in people and places, and build a “high road” economy that creates value through skills, better wages, and an improved environment. Fenty’s new initiative places Washington on the leading edge of a trend toward recognition that there is green to be made in green.  He joins a small but growing number of local leaders that are committing to the steps to build a green economy that is both more sustainable and more prosperous.  That’s real leadership, and something the mayor should be praised for.

“Green jobs” are a smart vision for the future, and something worth fighting for at a federal level and in states and cities across the country.  Our nation can build a better future led by trailblazers such as Fenty who are turning our climate crisis into a new wave of green jobs, growth, and opportunity.

Bracken Hendricks is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

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Bracken Hendricks

Senior Fellow