The Emerging Green Economy: Who will Benefit?

Written by Judith Taylor and Garrett Rapsilber

Experts have been arguing for some time that we are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, with technology driving change at an unprecedented rate. Among the important changes coming is a shift from a fossil-fueled economy to a green one. As with previous transformations, the beneficiaries of that change are uncertain. The decisions we make in the next few years will determine how quickly we build this economy and who enjoys the benefits of this new system.

Many organizations, including city and state governments, have already planned for the emergent green economy, adopting workforce development and sustainability plans with ambitious green job creation and equity targets. Successful implementation of these plans will require the creation and execution of effective workforce development programs.

Yet the lack of national reporting on green jobs since 2012 has left an information gap on even basic characteristics of the green economy. With the Biden administration’s commitments to a carbon-free future, notably an expected $1.0 trillion earmarked for historic investments in infrastructure, clean energy, and zero emissions transportation as part of the Build Back Better Recovery Plan; the administration’s Justice40 Initiative, which states a goal of delivering 40% of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments to disadvantaged communities and tracks performance toward that goal through the establishment of an Environmental Justice Scorecard; and an impending economic recovery, we are at a unique moment to direct both a green and equitable economic future – if we make informed policy decisions.

We recently completed work for the Los Angeles Clean Tech Incubator (LACI) that estimates the size and composition of the green economy in LA and considers the implications for workforce development in that region. We found that the green economy is already larger than most people think and that policy interventions are required to support the inclusive growth of this economy.

“This document provides the evidence that we need to pursue different policies and it should be the blueprint for policymakers and decisionmakers both in the private and public sectors for future investments.” 
– Gregg Irish, Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles Workforce Development Board 

Our work began with coding almost 1,000 6-digit NAICS codes for the percentage of jobs that are green by industry. This work built upon the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Green Goods and Services Survey, which was discontinued after 2011 due to federal budget cuts but remains the most comprehensive survey of green jobs across all industry sectors. Given the age of this data, we accounted for greening of the economy over the past decade, including emergence of industries and occupations such as micromobility and electric vehicle technicians. With these adjustments we were able to estimate the number of green jobs today and to project the size of the future green economy by leveraging job growth forecasts.

This ground-up approach allowed us to not only create green jobs estimates, but also characterize the green economy with labor information, such as education and training requirements, and demographic information, including race and gender. We found that white people disproportionately hold green jobs. People of color make up 75% of the County’s working-age population but constitute only 65% of the labor force and hold 65% of green jobs, pointing to systemic racial disenfranchisement within the Los Angeles job market. Digging deeper, this disparity in the green economy is not uniform. People of color hold 59% of clean energy jobs but 71% of zero emissions transportation jobs.

Likewise, men disproportionately hold green jobs. While women are approximately half the working age population and hold half of all jobs in LA County, only 37% of green jobs are held by women, due in part to longstanding gender inequity in technology, manufacturing, and the trades. Many in the industry recognize and are working to better align training models to support women and people of color.

To complement the quantitative data from our study, we worked with an advisory group of 23 regional workforce development leaders and interviewed other regional leaders from education, government, labor, non-profits, and green industries. We learned, among other things, that many workforce development programs do not have the capacity to teach both technical skills, such as electric battery maintenance or energy efficiency modeling, an d soft skills, such as professionalism and networking. Underserved populations see higher job placement success when receiving this additional soft skill support. Turning again to the low percentage of people of color holding clean energy jobs, we learned that while educational requirements are one cause for the disparity, other factors include lack of soft skills training, diverse networking groups, and sufficient outreach to communities of color.

Coupling economic data and insights from local leaders, we were able to offer policy recommendations that recognized the Los Angeles region’s unique economic strengths and workforce development ecosystem. For instance, as the most populous county in the nation, Los Angeles County has seven local workforce development boards, including the Los Angeles County Workforce Development Board and the City of Los Angeles Workforce Development Board, which share responsibilities for regional workforce policy and oversight. It will take similarly tailored work in communities across the country to ensure that we are prepared to realize national goals for a greener and more inclusive economic future.

For more details on our work for LACI, HR&A’s green jobs report can be accessed in full here.