By Lisa Tarry

25 November 2009 – There is no agreed definition for the term “green-collar jobs”, unfortunately, and as a result it is difficult to estimate how many so-called green-collar jobs exist, or are likely to be created with various green-economy plans.

Neither are there definitive lists of the industries, job functions or goals that together define the green economy.

To address the confusion in terminology, a green-collar worker coding system has been mooted in a report by Connection Research, in conjunction with the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand and supported by the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water. At present, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and Statistics New Zealand use standardised coding for jobs and skills, including the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations for occupations and the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification for industry sectors.

The Connection Research report suggests that it is possible to identify green-collar workers, and this is the first step towards understanding their needs, skills and aspirations. I met a number of aspiring green-collar workers at the Australian Youth Climate Coalition at the University of Western Sydney in July. Here are some of their aspirations:

  • To understand how they can use their skills to make a real difference to the world we live in.
  • The opportunity to influence policy-making, and help business make a profit while operating with regard for the environment and society.
  • To become social entrepreneurs.

The report proposes a simple four-character code, each one describing an attribute of the job:

  • environmental or sustainable
  • occupation
  • skills level
  • industry

This system allows any green-collar job to be coded and base-line data to be collected in order to understand the skills’ base Australia has, and therefore what it will need to respond to climate change, water scarcity and what is needed to repair environmental damage and offer environmental goods and services.

It also means that all job descriptions accord largely with standard ABS and SNZ industry, occupational and skills classifications. This is essential for using the descriptions in conjunction with official statistical data used by all government and most industry policy-makers.
Definitions and Distinctions
One of the distinctions that is coming to the surface is that green-collar jobs are different from green jobs.

•    A green job is one that helps the environment.
•    A green-collar job is one that is good for the worker and the environment.

That said, professional positions are largely responsible for launching the green economy. Can you imagine a green economy without the following:

  • Scientists and engineers who invent, design, and test new green products.
  • Investors and financial analysts who provide funding to green businesses.
  • Marketing and sales specialists who educate and motivate the public and businesses to buy eco friendly products and services.
  • Architects and construction managers who design, guide and manage green-building projects in conjunction with sustainability managers.
  • Managers, human-resources groups and administrative teams who run green businesses and manage, train and support those with green-collar jobs.

Although it would be helpful to have a precise way to determine whether a particular job is a green job, a green-collar job, or a green-professional job, the green economy is just not yet mature enough.

As the green economy evolves, its terminology will become more defined and clearly understood. The Connection Research report is a solid foundation on which to build.

Lisa Tarry is managing director of Turning Green Consultants.