The State of Green Jobs in DFW

By Rita Cook    

When discussing the outlook for the US Economy, green jobs are often portrayed as a key to future growth. But how prevalent are they? According to a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics green jobs in the US accounted for 2.4 percent of the nation’s total employment in 2010.  The report paints a picture of the US economy in which the green environmental sector offered about 3.1 million green jobs in the private sector and 860,000 green jobs in the public sector in 2010. Among the states Texas comes in as one of a handful with over 100,000 available green jobs. 

While this nation-leading result for the state of Texas might elicit cheers from those rooting for a greener economy, understanding the local green jobs picture is a murkier proposition. One local agency, the Dallas Office of Economic Development, has said that the organization isn’t even tracking numbers in the city regarding how many jobs are eco-friendly versus not.  

“There has been no real need to try and track these jobs [to date]” says a spokesperson for the department. The Office of Economic Development spokesperson goes on to note that “since the Bureau of Labor Statistic did come out with a report we would use that data and methodology for our own research when needed.” The result is that anyone interested in the state of the green movement in the Dallas Ft. Worth area or wondering about the local availability of green jobs is out of luck.

One problem local agencies encounter when trying to track green jobs is the actual definition of a “green job”. What the term itself means is not universally understood.

Kevin Lefebvre, Environmental Coordinator for the City of Dallas Office of Environment says that “the factors that go into determining what qualifies as a green job are numerous and hard to define.  Texas has 93 state parks; do the people tending those parks count as green collar workers since they’re protecting a natural resource?  I’d imagine the workers installing the wind-farms in west Texas would count as green collar workers doing green jobs, but do the teams installing CO2 scrubbers on coal-fire smoke stacks count as green collar workers doing a green job?  How about custodial crews collecting recyclables at oil refineries?”

“The main problem with defining who is “green” and who is not comes in verification. Right now there is no organization that has put forward a clear definition for others to use as a watermark for “green,” Lefebvre adds.  “Without that, we are not in a position to comment on how others define what is “green” for their operation.” 

While these debates rage on, the Dallas Office of Economic Development and other local agencies will for now follow definitions that fall in line with the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  This  defines a green business as “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; or jobs in businesses that produce goods and provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources. These goods and services are sold to customers, and include research and development, installation, and maintenance services.”

Tim Glass, Chief Planner at the Dallas Office of Economic Development, asserts that “Dallas understands that doing business in a sustainable way enables an organization to provide its services more efficiently”. According to Glass, the city does target green industries for expansion, recruitment, and retention efforts as a part of our overall economic development strategy.

What does it all mean for people seeking green jobs in DFW? The growth of the green movement in Dallas Ft. Worth in recent years has been striking. Yet when it comes to getting a clear view of the state of the local green economy, discussion around the definition of a 'green job' means that local understanding, and perhaps local opportunities, lags behind the emerging national picture.

Rita Cook is a freelance writer who has worked as a special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News and other major publications.