Jobs for the Sustainable Energy Transition


This third Leaders in Energy Without Borders session was conducted on May 5, 2016 to examine the role and progress of green jobs in the United States and globally in transitioning to an energy future tailored to sustainable development and growth.

Janine Finnell, Founder and Clean Energy Ambassador, Leaders in Energy reviewed her findings from a number of recent studies on green jobs in the United States. Silvia Leahu-Aluas, Sustainable Manufacturing Director, Leaders in Energy, discussed success stories on green job creation in the Midwest including Indiana, Iowa, and Ohio.  Adriaan Kamp, Founder, Energy for One World, and a co-founding partner on Leaders in Energy Without Borders, focused on green jobs at the international level and their role in transitioning our world to a cleaner energy future in relationship to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.

A summary of the session is provided below. The session can be viewed on YouTube. The presentation slides can be viewed in the Leaders in Energy website under Presentations.

Clean Jobs in the United States

Janine set the stage for the discussion with information from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and their definition of green jobs. These are defined as decent jobs that contribute to preserve or restore the environment, be they in traditional sectors such as manufacturing and construction, or in new, emerging green sectors such as renewable energy and energy efficiency. They include five major categories in their definition:

  • Improving energy and raw materials efficiency
  • Limiting greenhouse gas emissions
  • Minimizing waste and pollution
  • Protecting and restoring ecosystems
  • Supporting adaptation to the effects of climate change

A recent ILO dialogue took place on the occasion of the celebration of Earth Day 2016 and the Paris Agreement signing ceremony, where it was pointed out that — “The challenges of climate change and challenges of employment are closely linked.”

Those challenges include the impact on workers from transitioning from a more traditional energy economy related to fossil fuels to a clean economy. In the article titled “After fossil fuels, what happens to the workers?”, by Sam Grover in the Mother Nature Network, he states that “The more people who have a viable stake in the clean energy future, the more likely that future will become.” Grover writes about how coal jobs are becoming a thing of the past and the need to help transition these workers and regions.

It is also noteworthy that around the time of this session that Peabody, one of the largest coal companies in the U.S., declared bankruptcy. In the 2016 fiscal budget, the Obama administration proposed a Power+ Plan that included generous provisions to help coal regions transition as coal mines close.   Silvia noted that much of the Midwest is heavily reliant on coal and that the creation of clean energy jobs is also helping several states to make a transition to other energy sources.

Janine reported on several studies on clean/green energy jobs in the United States including:

  1. Employment in Green Goods and Services – 2011, Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 2013;
  2. Clean Energy Works for Us; Fourth Quarterly and Year-End Reports, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) Report, 2015;
  3. Clean Jobs America, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), March 2016;
  4. The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2015 and States Solar Jobs Census, 2016,
  5. Renewable Energy and Jobs: Annual Review 2015, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), 2015. [1]

# 1 – Employment in Green Goods and Services – 2011, Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 2013

The Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS defines “green jobs” as:

  • Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.
  • Jobs in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.

For several years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) had an initiative on green jobs to provide reliable data to the public on the number of existing green jobs in the country, the changes in job numbers over time, the distribution of green jobs, and the wages workers earn in these jobs.   A 2013 BLS report from reported there were 3.4 million green jobs in the United States at the end of 2011. Unfortunately this was the final report produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics due to budget cutbacks.   On March 1, 2013, the across-the board spending cuts referred to as sequestration, required by the amended Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act, came into effect. As part of those budget cuts, BLS stopped offering all “measuring green jobs” products.

The lack of reliable data updates from BLS is a big loss for green job estimates. While information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics exists for some green jobs, it has been more difficult to discern this kind of information due to the elimination of its Green Goods and Services program.

Several non-governmental organizations have stepped in to fill this gap and have been collecting information on green jobs, including the Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) and the Solar Foundation.

# 2 – Clean Energy Works for Us; Fourth Quarterly and Year-End Reports, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) Report, 2015

The Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) has produced quarterly reports that track clean jobs according to announcements for projects. In its Clean Energy Works for Us quarterly report in the section titled “Top 10 States for Clean Jobs by Announcements for Projects,” E2 identified more than 41,000 jobs announced at 143 projects in 2015. This compares to 47,000 jobs announced in 2014. The leading states were California, Texas, and Utah.

# 3 – Clean Jobs America, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), March 2016

This report tallied a total of 2.5 million clean energy workers comprised to 1.9 million workers in energy efficiency; 414,000 in renewable energy (solar – 299, 953); Advanced Vehicles 170,000; Clean Distribution (storage and Smart Grid); 40,000 Fuels, 33,000 AFUE – Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency/ REHC – Residential Energy Heating and Cooling.

# 4 – The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2015 and States Solar Jobs Census, 2016

The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census 2015 is the sixth annual update of current employment, trends, and projected growth in the U.S. solar industry. As of November 2015, the solar industry employed 208,859 solar workers, representing a growth rate of 20.2% since November 2014. The Solar Foundation numbers were lower than the E2 numbers.   E2 numbers were around 300,000, and The Solar Foundation reported 208,859 workers.  The Solar Foundation reported that California had the largest job creation year following by Massachusetts, Nevada and New York as the top four states.

# 5 – Renewable Energy and Jobs: Annual Review 2015, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), 2015

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Renewable Energy and Jobs: Annual Review 2015 report reports 734,000 renewable energy jobs in the United States. This is more than the E2 Clean Jobs America report number of 414,000 jobs. The IRENA information is also tabulated by technology sector such as biomass and solar. The solar jobs figure was 174,000, which was a lower jobs count than the reports by E2 and the Solar Foundation.

Success Stories in Clean Energy Jobs from the U.S. Midwest

Silvia Leahu-Aluas reported on success stories in the U.S. Midwest to show how a transition can be made from traditional energy industries to newer, cleaner ones and how the states have different approaches in terms of developing and attracting clean energy jobs. She looked at data compiled by the Clean Energy Trust, which is a clean energy accelerator based in Chicago, Illinois, from a survey that it conducted on clean energy employment in the Midwest.

There are about 570,000 clean energy jobs in the 12 states that comprise the Midwest region. Clean jobs are broken down by several categories including energy efficiency, renewable energy, advanced transportation including hybrid and electric vehicles, clean fuels, and advanced grid. Iowa has 28,000 clean energy jobs and leads the region in wind power generation jobs. The region has a healthy projected growth in future clean energy jobs, so this is a success story for states that have lost a lot of manufacturing jobs.

Silvia highlighted particular success stories in Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio. She emphasized that clean energy is important not only for utilities but for use in the manufacturing sector itself. Manufacturing is a particular core competency in the Midwest followed by agriculture and the use of clean energy can play an important role in production and the overall supply chain and helping to resurrect manufacturing. Ohio has been able to do this very successfully with the creation of 100,000 clean energy jobs, and it is a leading state in the creation of clean energy manufacturing jobs.

In addition to producing jobs in Iowa, the wind industry provides positive externalities in the form of $16 million/year in lease payments to landowners. This helps to provide farmers with a stable form of revenue to mitigate crop risks, keep family farms as independent and viable.  Silvia brought up a particular success story in Newton, Iowa where this small town had been impacted by the loss of a key company that was offshored. With the help of a number of government agencies, the old factory site was turned into a manufacturing site to produce wind support towers, which created 140 jobs.

She also presented on Benton, Indiana, where 97 new jobs were created. In that county at an average pay of $40,000 with good benefits and paid vacation days. The BlueGreen Alliance was also brought up as an example of an organization that is working to promote jobs that are in balance with nature and that serve local communities.

International Clean Energy Jobs

Adriaan turned the attention towards the UN Development Goals and Paris Agreement and how a great amount of investment will be needed to meet these goals. He highlighted that there are currently 7.7 million jobs in clean energy worldwide, according to the Renewable Energy and Jobs 2015 Annual Review by International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). He says this equates roughly to the number of jobs in the oil and gas sector. The clean energy area will continue to grow. It is currently contributes 3-4% of total world energy and in the next 15 years, projections are for it to grow to 30-40%, so there are tremendous investment and growth opportunities in this sector that will also lead to new jobs.

Adriaan pointed to a slide on clean energy coming from the UN FCCC/Bloomberg, where they have appraised $17 trillion USD required in renewable installation costs, in order to move the world into a 2 Degrees Celsius scenario (2035-2050). The International Energy Agency projects that the world will need to invest over $50-60 trillion in energy investments over the same period (approximately $2 trillion per year going forward). Both of these numbers are huge, and Adriaan says we are not preparing ourselves enough to meet them.  More on projected energy investments needed to stay with the 2 degree Celsius limits were also discussed in the International Energy Agency Special Report – World Energy Investment Outlook.

Fossil energy jobs have traditionally been very lucrative. Can clean energy jobs also provide decent jobs and high salaries along these lines? Adriaan pointed out that as we embark on changing our present (fossil fuel) energy-intense economies and we aim to grow economies for our societies, that we have to embrace a plan that can create both energy and non-energy sector jobs. The transition from an oil and gas economy into a renewable economy will also require altering other elements of our economy. In addition, there are also concerns that increased mechanization and artificial intelligence may also reduce jobs.

Adrian pointed out the suffering in oil-resource dependent economies because of the current low price of petroleum in the past year, like Brazil, Nigeria, Russia, and Venezuela. He also mentioned the commensurate suffering that takes place when the price of oil is high at $100/barrel and impacts countries that depend on imports, such as India. He discussed an alternative model that Saudi Arabia has been developing that may be of interest to other countries, where they are privatizing their oil company in the hopes of stimulating other forms of investment.

Adriaan discussed the growing population overall, as well as that of the middle class, where more people are being added to megacities around the world. Planetary boundaries have been exceeded in water, fisheries, and more, and change will be needed to make cities more sustainable.

Several books were referred to including The Prize, by Daniel Yergin, and Energy Autonomy: The Economic, Social and Technological Case for Renewable Energy, by Herman Scheer, who was the architect of the solar economy in Germany with the feed-in tariff and who is a proponent of moving to renewable energy. The Prize tells the story of the DNA of the present oil and gas economies: the power games, the interests, the corruption, and the geopolitical energy security and economic rivalries. This “energy games of thrones” is still very much in place. Energy Autonomy contains Herman Scheer’s proposal and plan to make energy available, affordable and sustainable to all. We have yet to see the better dialogue in order to keep this dream alive.

Adrian discussed the writings of Professor John Kotter in “Accelerate – The Evolution of the 2st Century Organization”, which argues that we need hybrid organizational forms. Cotter says that in order to perform to scale, you need hierarchy. And in order to innovate to scale, you need networked organizations that can rapidly deliver new blueprints for performance delivery in a hierarchy. Companies like ExxonMobil are currently operating in the hierarchical structure.

He highlighted the characteristics of the different generations in the workplace and how the Millennial generation is looking for meaningful work where they can make a real contribution in solving the challenges that are being faced by the world. He noted that Oslo is not only the home of the Nobel Peace Prize but also the Oslo Business for Peace Award. The Business for Peace Foundation has initiated a new business worthiness pledge for businesses to commit to supporting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Conclusion — Preparing a New Formula for Energy, Climate, and Sustainable Development

We hope that you enjoyed this presentation on how green jobs can facilitate the transition of our economy to a more sustainable energy system. New opportunities will need to be created with a combination of politics, business, and government and NGOs to help move beyond the more traditional energy economy and to help businesses and communities create new jobs and opportunities to attain the 17 UN Sustainable Development and Paris Climate Change Agreement goals. This transition cannot take place overnight. It will take place in a step-by-step progression. There is an important role here for organizations, such as Leaders in Energy and Energy for One World, to help bring about this transition.

We invite you to join our Leaders in Energy community. Our mission is to build a community of leaders to enable solutions for a sustainable energy system, economy, and world. It was a pleasure to collaborate with Silva Leahu-Aluas and Adriaan Kamp in this session.


Janine Finnell
Janine Finnell

About the author: Janine Finnell is the Founder and Clean Energy Ambassador for Leaders in Energy. She enjoys connecting with other leaders (current and aspiring!) in clean energy and sustainability who are interested in collaborating on projects and related opportunities to make a difference.

Please feel free to reach out to her at if you have any thoughts that you would like to share regarding this article or your interests in clean energy and sustainability.

[1] Since our session in May, IRENA released its green jobs report for 2016.


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