The micro-economics of sustainability are big and important: according to The Brookings Institution, the “clean economy” employs 2.7 million workers, which compares favorably to fossil fuels at 2.4 million jobs. That figure represents 57,501 firms in the U.S. directly involved in the clean economy. Of course, I continue to believe many important clean economy jobs in the supply chain are missed in these types of studies. For example, Shuttleworth in Indiana diversified its customer base from solely electronics customers to now having roughly 30% of its business from solar customers. While it may be near impossible to capture these nuances in standard Bureau of Labor Statistics data, such examples illustrate even more how the clean economy provides added value for U.S. job retention and creation (see the The Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness report for more information on the diverse firms in involved in the supply chains for many clean energy solutions).
Most encouraging, however, are two other key findings: the high growth rate for the clean economy sub-sector related to clean energy – 8.3% from 2003-2010 which is essentially double the growth rate for the entire economy during the same period (4.2%). Secondly, the report documents the export strength of this sector of the clean economy versus the overall economy: $20,129 versus $10,390 per job. To bring us out of the recession and reduce the deficit, we need economic activity that enables us to grow fast and export more. Look no further than the clean energy economy. The growth rate validates an earlier study by the Pew Charitable Trusts published in 2009 characterizing the Clean Energy Economy which found a growth rate of 9.1% from 1998-2007.
So, what do these companies need to fulfill their promise? More than anything, they need a predictable stream of U.S. customers. So, every time a politician talks about the need to create jobs, reduce the deficit and grow America again, ask him or her what they are doing to create policies that deliver customers to these firms.