From composting to transportation, “green collar jobs” are increasingly recognized as a vital part of the economy, but the sustainability of the movement is harder to predict, a bit like monitoring a plant in its growth stage.
The proof will come with time, supporters like Nate Keener say.
“Right now, a majority of employers surveyed are saying that they fill their ‘green jobs’ by either promoting from within or adding additional duties to existing employees. However, a majority also state that energy efficiency and reducing costs through environmental action are very important. So, this means that prospective employees are well served by learning ‘green skills’,” he said.
Keener, the director of sustainability at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, has spent almost two years building a program complementing the green movement. From now until May 1, his department is offering a series of green speakers on Thursdays on topics from architecture to engineering to farming. Beyond that, the college has or plans to have dozens of courses that serve related needs.
It all goes to serving a big movement, according to the numbers.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C., define a green job as one that produces goods or services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources; or one in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.”
By that definition, there were 3.1 million “Green Goods and Services Jobs” in 2010 and 3.4 million in 2011.
“During those years, green job growth actually outpaced all other industries after slow growth in the years 2003-2010,” Keener said. “I think the recession really allowed firms an opportunity to refocus and innovate.”
In 2011, Illinois had 115,208 “green jobs,” with architecture and construction leading the way by industry sector. In 2011, Missouri counted 28,720 primary green jobs and 102,383 green supporting jobs.
Illinois scored major recognition in mid-February when the governor announced that the U.S. Green Building Council had ranked the state No. 1 in the sustainable building design movement.
Illinois has more than 29 million square feet of certified green buildings, or 2.29 square feet for every resident. Some 171 projects were certified as part of that process, far more than the second state on the list, Maryland, with 119.
“Illinois’ national ranking is the result of the robust network of businesses committed to sustainability working together with elected officials who understand the benefits of green building,” said Brian Imus, executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Illinois Chapter.
Top LEED projects certified in Illinois in 2013 included the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie; a 57-story tower at 300 North LaSalle Street in Chicago; the Caterpillar Visitors Center in Peoria; Lincoln Hall at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana; and Springfield’s Workforce Careers Center at Lincoln Land Community College.
Green jobs are concentrated in manufacturing and export – electric vehicles, energy, green chemicals, biofuels (26 percent of all “green” jobs are in manufacturing compared to 9 percent in the broader economy). They are also in:
- Agricultural and natural resources conservation (conservation, organic food and farming, sustainable forestry products)
- Education and compliance (regulation and compliance, training, outreach/public education)
- Energy and resource efficiency (appliances, battery technologies, EV, smart grid, HVAC and building controls, public mass transit, wastewater and storm water, green building)
- Greenhouse gas reduction, environmental management, and recycling (green building products and materials, air and water purification technologies, recycling, salvage, remediation, reuse and repurposing)
- Renewable energies (biofuels, geothermal, hydropower, wind power, solar PV, solar thermal, wind)
LCCC has two-year programs in architectural technology with a big focus on LEED design, green buildings, and building efficiency; automotive technology, which has a focus on electric vehicles; biological laboratory technician and environmental technician; restoration ecology, focusing on restoring impaired landscapes and conserving resources and managing storm water; and water and waste water quality.
The college is offering two new certificates of completion in Smart Grid Technology and Storm Water Management. Smart Grid is an emerging topic, training future energy sector workers to tackled the nation’s dated infrastructure. Smart grid describes a wide variety of applications that automate electrical distribution and monitoring for increased energy efficiency.
Ameren Illinois has been working closely with the campus on programs. Students will learn about basic electricity principles, power generation, transmission, distribution, smart meters, microgrids, distributed renewable resources, building energy management, network security, control components and protocols.
The storm-water course basically teaches people how to effectively manage storm water given environmental considerations and state/local regulations.
LCCC also has a number of individual courses that focus on a variety of “green” topics to better prepare students for the green workforce of the future, from Environmental Sociology to Solar PV Installation and Design.
Keener says he hears from colleges throughout the state, all of which are trying to ride the green wave.
“We’re part of the Illinois Green Economy Network, made up of every community college in the state,” he said. “One of the ideas behind it was that each community college was doing something any way. If we all pooled together, we could promote that specialization.”
Some schools have coordinators; others have very specific departments or ad hoc teams.
At the University of Illinois, a group of students helped form the Illinois Green Business Association, which has grown into a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and a staff of three that uses a board of community leaders to spread its vision of sustainable change in Illinois businesses and communities.
LCCC has also enrolled as an institution in Green Business Challenge out of St Louis, which is coordinated jointly by St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Missouri Botanical Garden
The Challenge plays host to monthly workshops in which it advocates a “triple-bottom” line approach that focuses on the financial, social and environmental pluses of green culture.
“With sustainability you’re looking at ecology, the business bottom line and the welfare of people. It’s not just, ‘Stop driving cars’ and ‘Don’t eat meat.’ It’s about how are people going to find jobs,” Keener said.
For a complete schedule of the upcoming green jobs speakers series, visit www.lc.edu/green.