The clean economy is fueling industry and job creation in almost every major city in America — from solar panel production in Toledo, Ohio, to green buildings in Little Rock, Ark., and wind development in Albany, N.Y. — according to a first-of-its-kind assessment released today.
Environmentally focused products and services now account for 2.7 million jobs — more than the fossil fuel industry — with three-fourths of the newest jobs based in the nation's largest metropolitan areas, the report said.
"Sizing the Clean Economy" is an initiative of the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., which worked with the Columbus, Ohio-based consultancy Battelle Technology Partnership Practice.
The researchers examined county-level data from 2003 to 2010 provided by Dun and Bradstreet, a global business data firm, and other sources such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. International Trade Commission. The study found an increase in clean economy jobs in three dozen sectors throughout 100 metro areas in 50 states plus the District of Columbia.
The team compiled their results into a Web-based map of the United States where individuals can scroll through to find data for different areas. A 64-page report offers insight to federal, state and regional leaders and governments on green development strategies.
"One of the great takeaways for us is that virtually all places are participating in the clean economy, but the ways that they do that are extremely varied," Mark Muro, a senior fellow and policy director at the Brookings program and co-author of the report, told SolveClimate News.
"This is an attempt to provide good, plausible, first-order information for leaders, especially in regional economies across the country, to really make sense of what they have, how large it is, how fast it is growing, and what the opportunities may be," he said.
The assessment defines "clean jobs" as positions in "establishments that directly produce goods and services with environmental benefits, or produce uniquely tailored goods and services that add value to products with an environmental benefit."
Muro said that to some extent the project was inspired by the absence of a clear understanding of what qualifies as "clean" or "green" and what does not.
"I think it has made it harder for federal, state and local policymakers to settle on good stable policies that would be supportive of clean economy growth," he said.
He noted that previous clean economy research, such as a 2009 report by The Pew Charitable Trusts on emerging clean energy sectors, focused mainly on state-level data, but "metropolitan and regional economies have not had consistent data at their fingertips."
New York Metro Area on Top
According to the Brookings-Battelle research initiative, the New York metropolitan area, covering New York City, Nothern New Jersey and Long Island, had the most clean economy jobs of any other metro area in 2010, with more than 150,000 positions.
Further upstate in Albany, nearly one in 15 jobs — over 28,000 positions — are based in the clean economy, due largely to the presence of General Electric and the state government.
The Los Angeles area came in second overall, with nearly 90,000 clean economy jobs, while the Chicago area in Illinois, spanning parts of Indiana and Wisconsin, had close to 80,000 jobs.
In terms of regional economies, the U.S. South topped the list — seven states there had at least 50,000 clean jobs each in 2010 — though the West had the largest job share relative to its population size.
Jobs reported in the study fell within 39 segments of five broader categories, including agricultural and natural resources conservation; education and compliance; energy and resource efficiency; greenhouse gas reduction, environmental management and recycling; and renewable energy.
Muro explained that by spelling out the data for each metro area, the project aims to "empower regions, policymakers, business people and the interested public to better understand the clean economy and begin to become smarter about accelerating its growth.
"Our idea here is that places can understand where they stand in the clean economy, get a better grasp of its nature, understand the variety of segments it consists of, but then also begin to drill down on those 39 different segments," he said.
In Ohio, Data Already Helping
Already, the Brookings-Battelle project has helped sway NorTech, a Cleveland-based nonprofit economic development organization, to develop a strategy for luring energy storage companies to northeast Ohio, said Rebecca Bagley, the group's president and CEO.
For the past six months, NorTech has been using the data on a pilot basis to search for new technology cluster possibilities in the 21 Ohio counties it serves. Bagley said that in examining different emerging market opportunities worldwide, energy storage stood out as a sector in which the region's research and manufacturing base could play a part.
Energy storage systems are used widely by utilities to boost efficiency and reliability in electricity supply and can ensure steady power flow for electrical grids that use intermittent renewable sources like sunlight and wind.
"You can't start a cluster from scratch," Bagley said. "And this data plays a strong role in [determining] what are the assets for a particular region."
She pointed to the report's finding that 26 percent of clean economy jobs are based in manufacturing, compared with 9 percent of jobs in the wider economy. It also found that the growth rate of clustered businesses was 1.4 percent higher each year than that of more isolated establishments.
"That is really important for the Midwest, because if we are talking about revitalizing manufacturing ... to be the basis of our economy, then the clean economy becomes a basis that is extremely important," she said.
Markets Know No 'Political Boundaries'
Andre Pettigrew, executive director of Climate Prosperity Project Inc., said that the study's regional approach is key to understanding the potential of clean economy markets.
Climate Prosperity is a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., that helps regions create and implement environmentally centered economic development strategies.
"These opportunities are beyond your city or county borders, and it forces communities to now begin to share ideas, collaborate and recognize that markets don't know any political boundaries," he said of the Brookings-Battelle project.
"I think it potentially could help better inform all citizens and our elected officials about what is going on around the clean economy. It is alive, it is growing and there is a role for government to play at the federal, state and regional, local levels."