Creating good, green jobs
by Michael F. Byrne and Joel Makower
Innovative companies are turning environmental initiatives to financial
small revolution is taking place in California. Throughout
the state, companies, nonprofits, and government agencies are working to
turn environmental initiatives into good, green jobs.
Until recently, such a notion would have seemed unlikely.
Most discussions about business and the environment amounted to a zero-sum
game: profits and productivity versus the birds and the trees. Protecting
the earth meant reducing a company's ability to do business. Saving resources
meant losing jobs. Conserving resources at home meant sending business elsewhere.
As we learned in a recent study, Good, Green Jobs, that
needn't be the case. California is teeming with companies that have harnessed
the power of recycling, energy efficiency, and pollution prevention, creating
an engine for economic development and environmental improvement. The result
bodes well for the future of the state, both economically and ecologically.
But it will take a concerted effort by California's
business community to fully tap the job-creating potential of the environment,
along with consumers' support of companies turning environmental responsibility
into good, green jobs.
Recycling = jobs
California's recycling laws have been one major job creator,, spurring hundreds
of small and growing businesses along the recycling supply chain. Rancho
Cucamonga-based TAM CO, California's only steel mill, using millions of
tons a year of waste ferrous scrap metal, has 350 employees, who earn $12
to $15 an hour, plus benefits. Not surprisingly, the company has practically
In Whittier, Talco Plastics, with 175 employees, has
become one of the top 10 recyclers of post-consumer plastics in the United
States. Company president John Shedd credits Talco's sharply rising profits
to state laws mandating that many rigid containers and trash bags sold contain
California's experience jibes with the growing body
of research linking recycling with job creation. The Institute for Local
Self-Reliance estimates that nine jobs are created for every 15,000 tons
of solid waste recycled into a new product, and seven for the same amount
of yard trimmings composted. By contrast, only two jobs are created for
every 15,000 tons incinerated, and just one job for every 15,000 tons sent
Recycling is by no means the only source of environmental jobs. Another
way jobs are created is through new environmental technologies: those that
reduce pollution coming from factories, farms, and motor vehicles; that
turn waste materials into the feedstocks of new products; that clean up
existing pollution; that lead to less-wasteful production methods; and that
lead to more efficient energy use.
One measure of these technologies' potential is in the
size of their worldwide market. The Organization for Economic Cooperation
and Development estimates that international sales of environmental goods
and services is already more than $200 billion per year and will grow at
5.5 percent a year through the end of the century.
SunLine Transit Agency, based in Thousand Palms, is
the nation's first public transit system powered entirely by compressed
natural gas. To service the vehicles, the company helped set up an Energy
Technology Training Center, the first U.S. training facility in the maintenance
of alternative fuel vehicles. Experts predict that by the year 2000, converting,
fueling, and maintaining natural gas-powered vehicles will create more than
7,000 new jobs in California.
Still another way that environmental initiatives create employment is by
reducing or avoiding job loss through layoffs, plant closures, and business
Consider West Coast Samples, a Chino-based maker of
swatch books distributed to paint and home-decorating stores. Like other
businesses, it faced a tough mandate to reduce air pollutants. The company
had been using a traditional silk-screen process to imprint covers and binders,
a process that emitted smog-producing chemicals.
Working with a local utility, West Coast Samples switched
to a non-polluting ultraviolet technology. Within a year of installing the
system, the company payroll grew from 90 to 220 employees.
The reason? The new system allowed the company to more
than double production speeds. Profits grew by more than 25 percent in a
West Coast Sample's competitors, facing the same environmental
laws, took very different courses: One downsized, one moved to another state,
another left the country, and a fourth shut down altogether. Only the innovator
Other companies would do well to follow the lead of
these businesses by seeking out the endless bounty of technical and financial
assistance offered by California government agencies, lenders, and nonprofit
groups. Whether as business leaders, employees, taxpayers, or consumers,
there's a role for all of us in prodding companies to lead the way.
Clearly, California has only begun to tap the potential
from recycling and other environmental initiatives. We have no doubt that
as more companies harness that power, there will be countless more success
stories to write about.
Michael F. Byrne is director of the California Department of Conservation,
Joel Makower is author of Good, Green Jobs, recently published by the Department.
To obtain a free copy, call 1-800-RECYCLE.