Okay — So we know that they're hip, eco-friendly and on the rise. But what really is a "green job"? Turns out The Economist's E.G. traveled to "eco-smug" Portland (and Austin, Texas) to answer just that.

I've always thought about "green jobs" as the category covering work with explicit and intentional environmental benefits. Working on a wind turbine: yes. Making solar panels: of course. Organic farming: okay. Farming in general: not really. Teaching science in a public high school: an admirable endeavor, but not a green job. But there are lots of jobs that fall in a gray area. Tofu can be swapped for emissions-heavy beef; does growing soybeans count? What if you manufacture bicycles? The more you think about this, the more uncertain you become. Most jobs can be greened or at least greenwashed; in Portland, for example, there is a vegan strip club.

What makes a green biz green?
  • Steve Matthews
  • What makes a green biz "green"?

They have a point. What about a vegan strip club or bicycle manufacturer makes it wholly green? Is it too far detached from the initial purpose to label it as such? The author looks to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for a concrete definition:

"Green jobs are either:
1. Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.
2. Jobs in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources."

According to Ecotrope, the largest segments of Portland's "green" economy in 2010 were conservation, public mass transit, organic food and farming, waste management and treatment, and green building materials. Each of these jobs, while generally beneficial to the environment, require dependence on natural resources (and who knows if it's comparably fewer resources than non-green jobs).

The article goes on to conclude, after sizing up varying and somewhat contradicting data, that it all comes down to economy, per usual. E.S. stresses that environmentalists often exaggerate the size of the green economy, making the job sector seem larger and more important to the public than it actually may be.

Could this be another larger-scale form of greenwashing? Greenwashing the greenwashed, perhaps? Where should our "green" economy draw the line?