Defining the Green Economy

jennifer Bjorkman | May-31-10

What defines the green economy in Canada?

The term "green economy" has been receiving a lot of attention lately, yet there is still no common definition of this phrase. With different organizations and research bodies employing different definitions across the country, it is difficult to compare information, which is a serious drawback.

Here's what we know so far. Many currently accepted definitions include the idea that the green economy will be able to both create green jobs and ensure real sustainable economic growth, while also preventing environmental pollution, climate change, resource depletion, and environmental breakdown. The notion of the "green economy" is also often associated with economic activity related to climate change mitigation, clean energy or renewable energy generation, retrofitting, grid development, and any form of activity that produces environmentally friendly products or services.

In coming up with a definition, it's important to consider the jobs that contribute to the creation of the green economy. Often you hear about different organizations that are making a move to "green" their business practices, even though they don't work in the traditional environmental sector.

On one side of the debate are those who feel that green jobs should only include the outputs of a specific industry that meets green standards. On the other side are those who favour a job-specific approach, which looks at all types of employees whose work activities or inputs include green practices or greening the economy.

ECO Canada has conducted a large-scale primary and secondary research project to determine which of these approaches to defining the green economy it will take (click here to download the complete report). Once the research is complete, ECO will inform the National Sector Council Program and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada of its definition.

Similar to the United States, Canada has yet to adapt its occupational standards to recognize many of the newly evolving green careers. The US has taken an extremely broad approach to defining the green economy and green jobs, arguing that workers in declining industries should be re-trained and hired on at reasonable wages to work within the green economy. The work these re-trained individuals may be doing could be traditional in nature-however, if they work on projects with an environmental scope, they will fall under the "green jobs" umbrella. The downside of this expansive approach: it includes many jobs in the green economy, but it is potentially too broad to properly delineate the difference between "green" jobs and "regular" jobs.

In an effort to provide a quantifiable scope to help us further define the green economy, institutions such as Statistics Canada have moved to narrow the definition of what constitutes a person working in the environment industry.

In determining what this scope might be, we at ECO Canada believe that it is critical to define the sectors of industry that make up the environmental work that fall under the term "green economy." Although it is yet to be determined what these sectors will be, some potential components include: green construction, renewable energy development and generation, and resource conservation.

Click here to download ECO Canada's Canadian Environmental Skills: Demand and Supply for a Green Economy 2010-2020 report.


Originally published in the April 2010 edition of Environmental Professional (EP) News