Green jobs
“It’s also about quality”

Rainer Quitzow
Rainer Quitzow | Photo (detail): © TU Berlin

What is there to green jobs? An interview with Rainer Quitzow, expert on environmental policy and innovation economics.

Mr Quitzow, do you have a green job yourself?

I do my best. For example, I try to recycle paper in the office. There are certainly basic approaches to making the universities greener – for instance, appointing a representative for energy efficiency.

What exactly are green jobs?

They are jobs that contribute to making the economy more environmentally friendly. The question of course is how narrowly you interpret the concept of environmental friendliness. There are four approaches: the strictest definition sees green jobs only in the so-called environmental industries – hence where technologies are produced that reduce environmental pollution through economic activities. This category includes, for example, manufacturers of filters that reduce pollutant emissions from power plants.

And the broader definition?

Then you can say that green jobs may be found in all businesses whose products pollute the environment less than do the comparable conventional product – for instance, detergents that are environmentally friendlier than the average washing powder. The benchmark, however, keeps changing. A product that was environmentally friendly ten years ago is now probably no longer so. If you see the definition even more broadly, then you find green jobs even in quite normal businesses – even where you would never have thought possible – for example, in the automotive industry. On this interpretation, if someone there contributes to environmentally more friendly production by energy saving, this would also be seen as a green job.

Effects of environmental taxes on the labour market

And the fourth approach?

The fourth category is somewhat abstract. Analyses are often drawn up in science and politics that assess the impact of environmental policies on employment levels in a country. Thus, for instance, they calculate whether the introduction of a carbon tax would have positive or negative effects. If new jobs emerge from such a tax, people sometimes speak of green jobs. But they can’t be assigned to any particular industry.

Despite the different definitions, are there nevertheless reliable figures for green jobs in Germany? We often hear of a rising trend.

There’s the Environmental Technology Atlas of the Federal Environment Ministry, which registers the number of jobs in the environmental sector, that is, according to the first, narrower definition. The environmental industry is growing faster than other industries, even if some jobs have now been lost in the solar sector. According to the Technology Atlas, in 2011 there were approximately 1.4 million green jobs. By 2005 the number is expected to rise to 2.4 million.

In whose interest is it that there are green jobs?

There’s a political interest. In politics the effect of green industries on employment is used as an argument to justify and support the phasing out of atomic energy. Businesses also have an interest in an eco-friendly orientation. They can thus open up new markets – for example, with services such as car-sharing.

“What lies behind the façade isn’t always apparent”

Businesses now like to advertise using a green image.

Yes, environmental friendliness means profits for many companies. What lies behind the façade isn’t always apparent. That consumers value green products, services and jobs seems to be a trend. “Green” also has positive connotations for young people. For instance, at the Technical University Berlin there’s a study programme called “Sustainable Management” that is evidently very popular.

You’ve studied green jobs in Asia. How does Germany stand in international comparison?

Germany is a pioneer in renewable energy technologies and has high employment rates in this sector. In China there are more green jobs, but these can’t be so simply compared. It’s also about the quality of the jobs. Does the job come with secure payment? How does it look with respect to labour union organization? In Germany jobs in the environmental sector are of a fairly high quality because they’re about the development of modern technology.

When will Europe be living in a green economy?

We’re still far from having reached the goal of a sustainable world. One reason is that we constantly need to develop technologically. This is a process. Of course there will always be discussions about how this process is developing and what priorities should be set. But I see that the idea of sustainability is becoming more and more important in political discourse. This is the right direction.

Rainer Quitzow does research at the Technical University (TU) Berlin in the field of innovation economics on strategies of green economy. He is also a Research Associate at the Environmental Policy Research Centre of the Freie Universität (FU) Berlin. Together with other scientists, he has compiled a study on green jobs in Asia commissioned by Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES).