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What are ‘green jobs’?

The term ‘green jobs’ has become a buzzword in recent years and is of increasing public and political interest. For example, the government’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution outlines how it will create and support up to 250,000 ‘green jobs’ by 2030, to contribute towards its wider vision to support two million jobs within the green economy and across its supply chains.

But what does this actually mean?

At present, there is little consensus on what constitutes a ‘green job’. There is no universally agreed definition. When thinking about green jobs, we may typically think of wind turbine technicians, solar installers, electric vehicle manufacturers, heat pump engineers and so on. Based on this initial thinking, it is plausible to suggest that ‘green jobs’ are those which help to achieve environmental goals, including emission targets.

A similar definition is used in the Green Jobs Taskforce Report. After reviewing multiple definitions of green jobs, the report chooses to define the term ‘green job’

to signify employment in an activity that directly contributes to – or indirectly supports – the achievement of the UK’s net zero emissions target and other environmental goals, such as nature restoration and mitigation against climate risks”.

As highlighted by this report, one advantage of this definition is that it is incredibly broad and takes into full account the wide range of economic transformation required to meet environmental targets. In this sense, green jobs should not be viewed as constrained to certain sectors but rather all jobs have the possibility to be green in an effort to tackle the climate crisis.

Based upon this definition, the jobs mentioned above would be considered ‘green’ as they help to achieve environmental targets. But complexities emerge as jobs working to achieve environmental targets do not always work in totally green ways. For example, electric vehicle manufacturers may use unsustainable energy sources, use high-carbon-content materials, or allow recyclable materials and left-over electronic pieces containing harmful chemicals to be discarded into landfill. At the individual level an electrician installing a domestic heat-pump may drive to work in an old diesel van, throw plastic-covered copper-wire offcuts into the general waste, or allow plastic bubble-wrap to blow away in the wind.

When operating in this manner, can such jobs truly be considered ‘green’? Such complexities make calculating and measuring green jobs extremely challenging.

The Green Jobs Taskforce Report recognises this difficulty. It states that it is not its intent to develop a new statistical definition of ‘green jobs’, instead its definition aims to clarify for the reader what is meant by ‘green jobs’ throughout the report.

If ‘statistical definition’ means one that is tight enough to be used for statistical measurement purposes then we need to consider the United Nation’s System of Environmental Accounting which defines the Environmental Goods and Services Sector (EGSS) as that producing goods and services for environmental protection and resource management. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) adopts this definition as one way of measuring green jobs but again there is the problem of considerable fuzziness where the detail of the roles is concerned.

As highlighted by the ONS, one advantage of using this definition is that EGSS data can be compared internationally because a common statistical system is adopted across multiple countries. However, sources and methodological approaches vary and currently EGSS data are published by only a few countries.

Further complexities of measuring and comparing green jobs arise when definitions attempt to include social objectives. The International Labour Organization (ILO) states that green jobs must be ‘decent’, which means that jobs must provide a fair income, secure employment, safe working conditions, and equal opportunity and treatment for all. But again, these features can be hard to define and measure, and there is the over-riding consideration that they should apply to all jobs.

Achieving 360º Green Jobs

As highlighted by the ONS, varying definitions mean that measuring green jobs and comparing research findings can be challenging, but it is possible. The ONS’ critical analysis of green job definitions, which includes some of the definitions discussed in this blog, points out that some research papers explore how data sources can be integrated and adjusted to achieve conceptual needs. In this sense, there is no single best way to define green jobs. Rather the best approach depends on the question in focus.

Nevertheless, it is very important that we always bear in mind the ultimate target for ‘green jobs’ – that they become 360o green – that the work objectives, the materials and products, the work processes, and the focus on the circular economy are all thoroughly embedded in every stage.

How can Pye Tait help?

Here at Pye Tait, we use our extensive experience and skills to critically examine such concepts and frameworks to evaluate which approaches are best served in the context of answering research questions. We use our vital industry knowledge and analytical skills to consider which frameworks are best placed for each research project.


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