On May 21, 2009, Gov. Bev Perdue announced a series of initiatives designed to “strengthen North Carolina’s green economy” — including a revolving loan fund to finance energy efficiency measures in companies and government agencies, using federal stimulus money to fund green businesses, and boosting spending for green job training classes in community colleges.

“The state that gets green right will own the next 50 years,” Perdue said. “I intend for North Carolina to be that state.”

In November of that year, the state Employment Security Commission announced it would be receiving more than $1 million in federal grants to collect and analyze information on the labor market associated with energy efficiency and renewable energy industries. Despite numerous project delays, the state has continued this initiative — even though in January 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced it was starting the process at the federal level to define and measure green jobs.

Brande Roberts in the ESC’s Labor Market Information Division told Carolina Journal that the state received a $946,000 grant through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and another $71,000 grant from stimulus funds as part of a 23-state consortium to estimate future green job demand. The ESC distributed a Green Jobs Survey to select North Carolina employers in early February of this year, requesting that the surveys be returned no later than Feb. 21.

It turns out that a lot of “green jobs” already exist; they’re just not thought of in that way, and many people might not consider the work to be especially protective of the environment. The state and federal initiatives appear merely to shift many current jobs into green categories and give them a planet-friendly cover.

Six areas in North Carolina’s survey classify whether an employee or organization was doing work essential to a green service or product. The survey allows employers to state that an employee who provides janitorial services and whose duties include collecting paper, soda cans, or plastic bottles for recycling is working in a green job. The definitions also are written such that nearly anyone who works for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources or a similar regulatory body would be defined as working in a green industry or providing green jobs.

For example, activity category No. 6 states: “Providing education, consulting, policy promotion, accreditation, or similar services supporting any of the above categories.” The examples included are “providing consulting services for environmental impact/remediation, governmental compliance; providing education and awareness to the public regarding recycling and conservation programs.”

Activity No. 1 deals with “energy-efficient building (including new construction and retrofitting) and No. 3 deals with “pollution prevention (including waste management and recycling) and environmental cleanup.”

Using these definitions, a construction worker who installs insulation; a pipefitter who installs a valve that controls stormwater release; an electrician who installs a new heat pump thermostat; a handyman who repairs a water heater; and a consultant who develops “energy efficiency analysis proposals including budgets and work scopes” would be considered doing green jobs.

The letter accompanying the survey instructs employers to provide information on their organization’s work force and its involvement in green economic activity. But the definitions are so broad as to make them highly subjective. Both North Carolina and BLS consider administrative personnel, such as secretaries and dispatchers, who are not involved directly in producing a green service or product as performing green jobs if the organization is deemed to provide a green product or service.

BLS will measure green jobs using a process approach and an output approach. The output approach will look only at jobs that produce a set of “green” goods or services without examining the environmental impact of the production process. The process approach, on the other hand, will examine whether the business uses practices or technologies that have a favorable impact on the environment. It is unclear how terms such as favorable or environmentally friendly would be defined.

President Obama’s 2010 budget, signed into law December 2009, appropriated $8 million to BLS to launch an initiative to measure green jobs. On its website, BLS said the “initiative includes special employer surveys; the first one will ask businesses about their environmentally-friendly production processes and associated jobs.”

On June 30, 2010, BLS published a notice in the Federal Register, stating it planned to initiate a research project to collect occupational employment and wage data from businesses that use environmentally friendly processes and practices through a nationwide survey.

Roberts said the state decided to do its own survey before BLS had developed a green job definition or had planned to do a nationwide survey. Asked why the agency took more than a year to get the survey developed and disseminated and then gave businesses only 13 days to respond, Roberts said there were problems getting the funds to purchase certain items, including paper for the surveys. ESC did hire two full-time staff members in April 2010.

The deadline to complete the project is May 31, so Roberts said the commission will be asking for an extension. “Fortunately, the North Carolina State University Center for Urban Affairs and Community Services will be helping us by conducting a follow-up telephone survey. The Center will also assist us in data analysis,” said Roberts.

But why persist after all the delays, especially after learning that BLS would be doing a nationwide survey? Roberts responded that BLS would use North Carolina’s data, but Carolina Journal Executive editor Don Carrington, a former deputy director of the ESC’s Labor Marketing Information Division, said that was highly unlikely, especially since the state created a green jobs definition that doesn’t match the one developed by BLS.

“Our country’s labor statistics programs are based on BLS definitions and methodologies,” Carrington said. “After the its initial survey, BLS may conclude that there is no meaningful way to measure green jobs, so an individual state’s definition of a green job would be useless.”

BLS officials did not return phone calls requesting more information on its green jobs definition and survey methodology.

Karen McMahan is a contributor to Carolina Journal.