Defining the Jobs Element of the Green Economy

SJF Ventures portfolio companies Cleanscapes, a sustainable solid waste and recycling collection management service, and groSolar, a premier provider of solar energy systems, are great examples of entrepreneurial companies that are leading the new green economy. These firms provide products and services that lessen environmental impact, reduce natural resource use and also create high-quality jobs.

So we were interested to read recently that research from the Donald Vial Center on Employment in the Green Economy at UC Berkeley and a report by Karen Chapple (2008) reinforce our long-held belief that creating well-paid jobs with opportunities for advancement is an integral piece of the emerging green business and cleantech sectors.

The Donald Vial Center conducts research on how the green economy and climate change will affect labor markets, and the engineering changes, new job skills, and innovation that will be necessary in a range of sectors as a result of anticipated state and federal climate change mitigation policies. The Center also works to promote and publicize best practices in green jobs training, certification, and economic development programs. Although the Center is focused on California, there will likely be research resulting from its work that will have national applications.

Interestingly, Chapple’s report, “Defining the Green Economy: A Primer on Green Economic Development,” notes that while many green collar jobs are entry level, there aren’t de facto supports in place to ensure that they are high quality jobs (p. 4). Communities that want to develop green strategies in traditionally low-wage sectors, such as waste management or retail, should seek to develop a policy for evaluating job quality impacts or even legislate for job quality standards like a living wage ordinance. While we wouldn’t disagree with her recommendation to use public programs and policies to improve employment equity, we believe there are many thoughtful businesses in these emerging sectors that already recognize that strong employee engagement impacts the bottom line.

For example, Cleanscapes, the waste management company mentioned above, has found a bottom line advantage in outstanding treatment of their entry-level employees. The highly-engaged culture at Cleanscapes includes morning team rallies, safety and inspirational message displays, keeping everyone on a first-name basis, cultivating pride in personal and equipment appearance, open door policies and an employee assistance program.

The role of the public sector or other intermediaries should not be discounted as key components of the new green economy. But, as SJF’s portfolio companies demonstrate, many companies are utilizing high road labor practices, particularly around employee engagement and employee ownership, and seeing connections between these practices and improved financial and business results.