Two government-funded surveys of “green jobs” released in March show vastly different estimates for the number of green jobs in North Carolina, even though both studies were funded by the U.S. Department of Labor.

According to the “North Carolina Green Economy Study,” produced by the N.C. Department of Commerce, “171,950 North Carolinians work in the green economy, representing 4.7 percent of the total covered employment in the state.” Covered employment means employees covered by the state’s unemployment insurance law.

Meantime, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics released a study titled “Employment in Green Goods and Services — 2010” that includes estimates for both the nation and individual states. That study concluded that North Carolina employment in the production of green goods and services is 77,498, or 2.0 percent of covered employment. The Commerce estimate is 94,452 jobs higher than the BLS estimate, representing nearly 2.5 times more jobs.

Nationwide, the BLS study found 3.1 million green jobs in 2010, or 2.4 percent of total employment.

The state study found the occupations with the most green jobs are janitors and cleaners, retail salespersons, highway maintenance workers, construction laborers, and maintenance and repair workers.

The $8 million BLS project follows $48 million in stimulus grants that the Labor Department had made to individual states to produce their own green job definitions and estimates. 

North Carolina received $946,000 for the Commerce study.

To develop the job estimates, both BLS and Commerce sent questionnaires to a cross section of business establishments, providing them with a definition for green jobs. Employers were asked to respond with the number of total jobs and the number of green jobs during the year 2010.

Defining green

Most green job studies, including the BLS study and the Commerce study, acknowledge that there is still no official national definition of green jobs, so counting them is a difficult task.

BLS defined them as jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.

For North Carolina, Commerce analysts asked employers to assign employees to one of six green categories: energy efficient building; biofuels and energy-efficient transportation; pollution prevention; the renewable power industry; sustainable products manufacturing; and education, consulting, or promotion supporting the other categories.

The results of the BLS study are expressed as green jobs by industry sector. The results of the Commerce study are expressed by industry sector and occupational classification.

BLS is working on a second study using a “process-based approach” that will try to capture jobs in “which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production process more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.”

Other state studies

A Carolina Journal review of other state green job studies found the state estimates varied considerably from the BLS estimate:

• Ohio: 22,192 (3.7 percent) green jobs BLS versus 17,059 (3 percent) state

• Indiana: 67,948 (2.5 percent) BLS versus 46,879 (1.7 percent) state

• Oregon: 54,953 (3.4 percent) BLS versus 43,000 (3 percent) state

• Michigan: 79,771 (2.1 percent) BLS versus 109,067 (3 percent) state

• Florida: 95,963 (1.3 percent) BLS versus 42,422 (0.6 percent) state

The green economy

CJ asked Commerce Department spokesman Tim Crowley in an email how the state’s study might be used.

“Is there a distinct and separate green economy?” “The N.C. study provides a baseline of the magnitude of green employment across North Carolina. Based on the results, green jobs are present in every sector of the economy. It also showed that many green jobs are subsets of more traditional occupations, including jobs like production workers, construction laborers, and HVAC installers as reported by the employer community.”

“How will the N.C. report be used by N.C. policymakers?” “I cannot answer on behalf of the policymakers on how they will use this report but it does provide a baseline of green employment and can add to the body of knowledge regarding the green economy.”

“Will the BLS estimates make the N.C. report obsolete?” “No. The North Carolina study, as well as the upcoming OES (second BLS study) information will both be useful in meeting the needs for information for customers. The N.C. study provides a baseline across all NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) classifications and also offers information at the economic development region level. Both the study and the upcoming OES information contribute to the body of knowledge regarding the North Carolina green economy.”

Don Carrington is executive editor of Carolina Journal.

N.C. Study – Occupations with most green jobs

Janitors & cleaners 7,750
Retail salespersons 6,180
Highway maintenance workers 5,120
Construction laborers 4,430
Maintenance & repair workers 4,230

N.C. Study – Industries with most green jobs

Manufacturing 26,580
Construction 25,460
Public administration 17,160
Administrative and waste svs. 14,980
Retail trade 14,240

BLS Study – N.C. Industries with most green jobs

Manufacturing 20,257
Construction 12,193
Administrative and waste svs. 7,967
Trade (wholesale and retail) 5,931
Professional, scientific, tech. svs. 5,310