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Redefining Jobs for an Inclusive Green Economy

JFF’s more inclusive definition of green jobs increases accessibility to the green economy and allows all industries to mitigate climate change.

October 3, 2023

In this blog, JFF shares how a more inclusive definition of green jobs increases accessibility to the green economy and allows all industries to mitigate climate change.

Julia Delgado Coordinator
Marymegan Wright JFF Intern
Practices & Centers

Recent extreme weather events, including a record number of wildfires in Canada and extreme heat across the South, have made the effects of climate change visible in communities throughout North America. The rising scale of this issue underscores the need for proactive approaches to address climate change’s impact.

The green workforce offers one solution for individuals looking to become more involved in addressing the effect of climate change. The Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act created 100,000 new clean energy jobs in the first six months and will generate more opportunities as investment in clean energy grows. However, workers often express difficulty finding “green jobs” or understanding what constitutes the “green economy.”

Jobs for the Future (JFF) redefines green jobs and the industries included in the green economy as a crucial first step in providing clarity for workers, employers, policymakers, and other stakeholders. Our new report, Growing Quality Green Jobs, produced in partnership with the Burning Glass Institute and Ares Charitable Foundation, explains how all jobs can be green through skill integration and illuminates the unparalleled economic opportunity of the green economy. We emphasize equity-facilitating entry for groups that have been underrepresented historically in the environmental movement as a step toward our North Star, eliminating structural barriers to quality jobs for 75 million people in the next 10 years.

Redefining Green Jobs

This paper challenges the traditional, binary understanding of jobs as “green” or “not green.” Instead, all jobs may be classified in one of three categories of green skills integration: additive, blended, or job-changing. For example, at the additive level, jobs gain new green skills but maintain their traditional overall roles and functions. Through this lens, workers can better understand what skills would prepare them to advance in the green economy, including how their own jobs are expected to change and how their positions can create a positive environmental impact.

We believe that our nation ultimately has the potential to transform all jobs, spanning all industries, into quality green jobs, through the integration of green skills and the prioritization of job quality.

Growing Quality Green Jobs

The report features the Green Transformation Cycle as a tool to determine which jobs are becoming green around the country. In this framework, jobs are categorized into seed, scale, established, and at-risk stages and overlayed with the occupation’s most likely level of green skills integration. Policymakers, workforce development organizations, secondary and postsecondary institutions, and other stakeholders can use the tool to best equip workers with the skills they will need, weighing the expected changes to their job functions. This comprehensive model aligns with JFF’s view that we must include all jobs in the green economy to prevent the perpetuation of exclusionary and discriminatory practices in current green initiatives.

Equity Challenges in the Green Economy

Historically, U.S. cities that have implemented climate-resilient practices and infrastructure have displaced communities largely made up of people of color who work in low-wage jobs and those in polluting industries. Community efforts to improve environmental conditions by increasing green spaces, restoring parks and riverbanks, and instituting bioremediation often inadvertently raise property values and displace the local residents who advocated for the changes. However, growing awareness of this trend has yielded promising approaches for expanding green spaces while centering the needs of local communities. Cities could find further success in this effort by continuing to pair local investment with policies that encourage equity, build community trust, and increase affordable housing.

Additionally, the push for a net-zero economy introduces the threat of large-scale job loss for those employed in polluting industries. These workers are often unaware of opportunities within growing sectors like clean energy and possess a skill set specific to fossil fuel-related jobs. In order to find work in the green economy and adjust to stricter environmental regulations in their current occupations, workers in polluting industries will need to acquire green skills. We must find a way to include these jobs in the green economy or risk leaving the nearly 1.7 million workers in the U.S. fossil fuel industry behind. The Green Transformation Cycle meets this challenge by demonstrating the green potential of all jobs and their growth trajectories within a green economy.

With nearly 1.7 million workers employed in the U.S. fossil fuel industry, we must find a way to include these jobs in the green economy or risk leaving hundreds of thousands of people behind.

Drawing from JFF’s Quality Jobs Framework, this report overlays findings from the Green Transformation Cycle with key measures of job quality. The authors focus on opportunities for career advancement, fair compensation, job structure, and agency and culture within a position. Much like any quality job, green jobs should offer not only living wages but also provide access to reliable health insurance, retirement benefits, and paid family and sick leave. Green job workers should also have the opportunity for lifelong learning and internal advancement. For those current and emerging green jobs in physically demanding industries, such as construction or manufacturing, roles must be structured to promote physical safety, stability, and predictability when it comes to fair and transparent scheduling. Finally, all workers should have the authority to make decisions and feel a sense of ownership in their work and their future.

Uniting Leaders for a Green Economy and Resilient Workforce

Prioritizing equity and job quality now helps ensure that the nascent green economy does not replicate current racial and gender gaps and widespread economic disparities. As JFF’s recent report states, the transition to a green economy is both critical and inevitable, offering inclusive workforce development as a path to mitigating environmental harms. This report is the first to provide employers and policymakers with an understanding of how they can increase access to the economic benefits of a green economy for all workers, regardless of their occupations and industries. Using the Green Transformation Cycle for guidance, we must seize the opportunity to shape an economy that actively engages and benefits every worker in the collective effort to address climate change.

Learn more about Climate-Resilient Employees for a Sustainable Tomorrow (CREST), an initiative by JFF and the Ares Charitable Foundation.

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