green jobOregon has released its study of the state’s green-collar jobs. The results are strikingly similar to Washington’s, and given how many different ways there are to define and count green-collar jobs, it’s nice to see multiple studies begin to confirm what appear to be regional trends.

The Oregon Employment Department found 51,402 green jobs in the state in 2008, based on a survey of both public and private employers. The construction industry accounted for 17 percent of the state’s green jobs, and the most common occupations were carpenters, farm workers, truck drivers, hazardous materials workers and landscapers. Overall, green jobs made up 3 percent of Oregon’s total employment, or about the same number of people working in the state’s private hospitals. (A study in Washington found 47,194 green jobs, with farm workers, electricians, construction laborers and carpenters topping the list.)

As in Washington, the greatest number of “green” jobs were actually what we’d traditionally think of as blue-collar, but with a sustainable edge. And many pay well, with at least 64 percent earning more than the state’s median wage.

So what sorts of jobs did industries self-report as “green”? Carpenters working on home weatherization, an herbsman at an organic dairy, truck drivers for compost and biomass companies, asbestos removal workers, a crew leader doing riparian restoration, an auto parts dismantler at a salvage yard, sorter at a recycling plant, people who sell solar panels, retail clerk at an organic nursery, technicians monitoring salmon and firefighters removing hazardous fuels.

This helps explain a question we had: How could Oregon, with its smaller population, have produced even more green jobs than Washington? Is the state really that much better at it?

  • (A recent national study with an entirely different methodology pegged Oregon as the country’s leader in creating green jobs.) In this case too, the numbers are likely explained by slight differences in the way the two studies were structured, according to Nick Beleiciks, an Oregon state economic analyst and author of the study. Though the approaches were similar, Oregon used a broader definition of a green job:

    One that provides a service or product in any of the following categories: Increasing energy efficiency; producing renewable energy; preventing, reducing or mitigating environmental degradation; cleaning up and restoring the natural environment and providing education, consulting, policy promotion, acceleration, trading and offsets, or similar services.

    Washington left out the last catch-all category and defined a green employee as someone who “worked in any of these core areas as their primary job function.”

    Oregon also sent the survey to a broader group of industries, including government employers, not just the “green” ones that Washington’s study targeted. Some industries that reported having green jobs are a little surprising—the arts, food prep, protective service. It’s fair to question, as some have done, what kind of green jobs should qualify to receive the benefit of federal stimulus money and other perks: a security guard in an energy-efficient building? Someone who drives a hybrid bus? In this case, though, Oregon decided to let individual companies make the call about how many of their employees fit the definition:

    We realize our definition is broad, leaving room for interpretation from each respondent. However, we felt that part of measuring what is green is capturing public sentiment and counting jobs which the public views as green.

    Oregon has also compiled good information about the educational and licensing requirements for its green jobs (nearly two-thirds require no education beyond high school), which is useful information for anyone trying to design community college curricula or apprenticeship and training programs.

    Finally, most industries say they expect to add more green jobs in the coming years, with an estimated growth rate of 14 percent from 2008 to 2010. (Exceptions that any recent college graduate might want to avoid include sales, office support and arts/design/entertainment/sports/media.) In a state that’s experienced staggering job losses, the report ends in a bright spot: the pace of growth for green jobs in Oregon is expected to be much faster than overall employment.

    Photo courtesy flickr user of greenforall.org via the Creative Commons license.