Tough task to tally green jobs

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LANSING — Detroit Workers for Environmental Justice runs a green-jobs training program for low-income or unemployed Detroiters, some of whom formerly worked in the auto industry. The organization boasts a 100 percent job placement rate, mostly in hands-on clean-up work, according to Kinnus Paul, the organization’s job developer.

Since March 2008, more than 40 people have completed the program. Their post-training jobs include lead and asbestos abatement, weatherization installation and hazardous waste cleanup.

But while Paul knows a green job when he sees one, government agencies are struggling with a definition as they try to track an activity they hope will fuel the economy.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will start tracking green employment in 2010 but still lacks a formal definition.

Currently, only Michigan, Oregon, Washington and California have official reports that tally green jobs. Those states generally count jobs involving energy efficiency, renewable energy, pollution cleanup and conservation. California includes educational training.

Michigan agencies define green jobs as occupations that generate green-related products and services, including clean transportation and alternative fuels. The state counts other jobs supported by a firm’s green-related revenue. So far, Michigan is the only state to include green support jobs, such as secretarial positions with a solar panel manufacturer.

The Michigan Bureau of Labor Market Information based its green jobs count on a survey of private sector employers in the state. There were 6,434 firms that responded.

The bureau tallied 109,067 private sector green jobs in 2009. Its report identified 96,767 direct and 12,300 support jobs that, together, make up about 3 percent of total private sector employment in the state.

Work on clean fuels and transportation accounted for the largest category — 40.6 percent — of the state’s green employment. Renewable energy provided only 9.1 percent.

Steven Kroll, an economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, said the federal definition is broad and still being researched.

His bureau will try to agree on a uniform definition with other federal institutions, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy and Congress. It will consider both individual occupations and industries when it starts tracking green employment next year, Kroll said.

The task won’t be easy, he predicted.

Green jobs may include ones that previously existed but are now considered green, as well as those used for training or teaching. For example, it’s possible the bureau will count zookeepers as green because that occupation conserves natural resources — animals — and also serves as an educational tool for the public.

“Chances are that park ranger to secretary to purchasing manager for a park service will count as green,” said Kroll.

While definitions are determined on a national level, real numbers are hard to come by outside the four states that already track data.

“There is a real lack of basic information on this topic at the state level,” said Bruce Weave, the project manager for Michigan’s green jobs report. “There’s no database that delineates whether a job is part of a green economy versus something else.”

Definitions could be broadened to encompass companies that are hired to improve another firm’s day-to-day operations or narrowed to include General Electric Co. for the energy-efficient light bulbs it produces.

“If you look closely at a couple of studies, they make assumptions or they are incomplete in some ways,” said Kroll. “Based on different definitions, you may have different ways of measuring data.”

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