The Green Economy in Light of the Stimulus Package

By Carol McClelland

I recently returned from the second annual "Good Jobs, Green Jobs" Conference convened in Washington D.C. by the Blue Green Alliance. This admittedly unexpected partnership between the Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers brought environmental groups, other unions, social justice groups, businesses, and industries together to advocate for good green jobs.

As I was listening to the speakers, I was struck by the difference in tone from last year's conference in Pittsburgh to this year's conference. Last year the speakers were hopeful, inspirational, and motivational, but there were only a few success stories to show that creating good green jobs was indeed possible.

This year the tone of the conference was again hopeful, but with more realism thrown in. While we were attending the conference, the stimulus package was winding its way through Congress. Without knowing the exact wording of the bill, speakers couldn't make many definitive statements about the green economy.

Nevertheless, several themes echoed throughout the conference.

Obama's presence in the White House was noted by many of the speakers. It is clear that climate change will influence our economic policies and diplomatic actions.

The economic downturn has impacted the green economy, but it's not seen as a factor that will end the progress. In fact, some see the current economic situation as a catalyst for shifting away from business as usual. For example, focusing on energy efficiency that requires a reasonable investment and results in immediate cost savings is an easy sell in this economic environment.

Lisa Jackson, President Obama's appointment for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, began her talk with: "Green jobs are a reality, not just an idea. Green jobs are the driving engine for economic recovery. As a result, environmental issues are now a central part of all discussions."

Now that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has been signed, we have a better idea how the bill will stimulate certain aspects of the green economy. 

Renewable energy is expected to receive at least 6 billion and a collection of tax credits and investment credits. With a slight foothold in the green economy, the wind and solar industries will be able to leverage the stimulus fund with  geothermal first, followed by tidal energy. Industries that are working to create more efficient solar cells, improved manufacturing processes, and sustainable industrial materials all stand to benefit as well. 

There are 120 million homes, 5.1 million commercial businesses, and thousands of government buildings that could be made more energy efficient. The stimulus package devotes around $15.8 billion to improving energy efficiency.  If even a fraction of these buildings are retrofitted, manufacturers, engineers, designers, installers, and energy auditors will be in demand.

The smart grid and electricity transmission projects are expected to receive around $14 billion from the bill. In the current energy grid the transmission stations are decaying, wiring is in need of upgrading, and analog equipment needs to be replaced with digital equipment.  The smart grid technology will make energy transmission more efficient, more reliable and hopefully less expensive while making the US globally competitive. As the energy grid transforms, new technologies will be born to take advantage of new, more powerful ways to distribute, measure, and conserve energy. It is likely that entirely new industries will be born from this transformation.

Public transportation and alternative fuel transportation will also receive considerable funding. Rail projects such as Amtrak, Intercity Rail, and High Speed rail will receive $9.3 billion. Alternative fuel trucks and buses and infrastructure changes required to distribute alternative fuels and electricity are targeted to receive $1 billion. The legislation will also invest $8.4 billion for investments in public transportation.

Although at first glance these industries look very scientific, technical and trades related, all professions will be needed to run successful green companies in these industries. As companies ramp up, they'll need people to fill all of the functions companies need to prosper: a management team, a financial team, a marketing group, a sales team, a legal team, and a human resources department. Building and facilities departments as well as IT departments will be called upon to implement systems to conserve energy and water resources to make their companies become more sustainable.

Generally speaking, these companies will be small start-ups at first, scrambling to introduce new technology that can scale effectively. But over time a handful of companies are likely to become household names. Think back to the dawn of the internet era. At first there was a scramble with many, many small companies ramping up to get a piece of the market share. Then the Microsofts and the HPs took hold. A similar process will begin to unfold as the various markets sort themselves out.

It's also important to realize that there are many more segments within the green economy. The four segments listed above are getting a financial boost in this stimulus package, but other segments will continue to play an important role in reducing carbon emissions and combating climate change. These include (but are not limited to): 

  • Environmental sciences
  • Natural resource management
  • Cleantech
  • Green building of new construction
  • Alternative transportation
  • Green services such as hospitality, eco travel, socially responsible investing, green medical practice
  • And more.

Each industry consists of a variety of job titles that contribute to the work to be done. For this reason, there is no list of "all" green jobs. The key for job seekers is to immerse themselves in the industry/profession of their choice to discover how their passions, skills, experience, and education will be the solution employers need to hire.  


Good Jobs Green Jobs National Conference: Making a Down Payment on the Green Economy, February 4 - 6, 2009, Washington, D.C.

House Passes American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo email distribution to constituents, February 13, 2009. Green elements of Act included in Green Career Tip of the Week on February, 18, 2009; http://www.greencareercentral.com/public/465.cfm

Carol McClelland Carol McClelland, Ph.D, author of Your Dream Career For Dummies, is the founder and executive director of Green Career Central, a subscription-based virtual resource center for career professionals who help students and clients transform their passion for the environment into a prosperous green career. She can be reached at www.greencareercentral.com .


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