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On July 13, 2011, the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, together with the Battelle Technology Partnership released Sizing the Clean Economy, a report that tracks”green” jobs in the clean technology industry cluster.

The study defines the clean or green sector (they use the terms interchangeably) as the sector of the economy that produces goods and services with an environmental benefit.  The study utilizes a set of general categories to establish what this means:

  • Agriculture and Natural Resource Conservation
  • Education and Compliance
  • Energy and Resource Efficiency
  • Green House Gas Reduction, Environmental Management, and Recycling
  • Renewable Energy

The study shows the number of green jobs in each of the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S., and asserts that, overall, there are 2.7 million green jobs.  The study concludes that the green economy constitutes 2% of the total U.S. economy.

The report is very useful as an assessment of the clean tech economic sector and clean tech jobs, but it can lead to a serious underestimation of the true size of the green economy.

Brookings/Battelle only look at the supply side of the green economy, but not at the demand side or the place-based side.  A broader definition of the green economy includes all of the businesses, non-profits, and public institutions that operate in an environmentally beneficial way even though they may not produce a product or service with an environmental benefit.  These businesses, organizations, and institutions are the consumers of clean tech products and services and they constitute a much larger portion of the economy.

According to KMPG, well over 50% of the largest 250 corporations in the world issue sustainability reports tracking, among other things, their environmental impact.

In 2005, Walmart, by some measures the largest corporation in the world, adopted three environmental goals:

  • To be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy
  • To create zero waste
  • To sell products that sustain people and the environment

They have made significant accomplishments in each area in their corporate operations and with their whole supply chain. (http://walmartstores.com/sustainability/)

Other major U.S. corporations with comprehensive sustainability programs include: Dupont, Interface, Dell, Johnson Controls, Hewlett Packard, Johnson and Johnson, Coca Cola, H.J. Heinz, Google, Random House, Nike, Starbucks, TimeWarner, UPS, Whole Foods, Xerox, Target, Walgreens, and many others.

In thinking about the actual scope of the green economy, it makes more sense to utilize the concept of the Four Greens:

  • Green Savings (the demand side of the economy).
  • Green Opportunities (the supply side of the economy).
  • Green Talent (the human resources side of the economy).
  • Green Places (the location dimension of the economy).

These broader categories are more difficult to measure, but they provide a much more accurate understanding of the true size of the green economy.