Green economy on the rise

OLYMPIA - Green jobs in the state's private sector grew by nearly 33 percent last year, according to a state Employment Security Department report released Thursday.

The study, directed by the state Legislature, tallied 99,319 green jobs, or about 3.3 percent of the state’s work force. The state defines a green job as one in which workers increase energy efficiency, produce renewable energy, or prevent, reduce and clean up pollution.

A 2008 study found 47,194 green jobs but didn’t count green jobs in the public, which totaled 23,000 in the new report.

“In this recession, we didn’t expect to see this dramatic growth,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said at a news conference on the Port of Olympia docks, where huge wind turbines served as a backdrop for the announcement.

The governor noted that the state had almost no wind-power generation in 2001, and now it ranks as the fourth-largest wind-power generator in the nation.

Gregoire touted green jobs as the way for the state to make the transition to a green-energy economy.

Most green jobs are in existing occupations with traditional titles, but the jobs are evolving to promote a more sustainable way of living.

Examples include people who drive buses powered by alternative fuels or engineers, architects, carpenters and electricians who design and construct environmentally friendly buildings.

“We don’t have a separate green economy,” Employment Security Commissioner Karen Lee said. “We have an economy that is becoming greener.”

The top three occupations among private green jobs are organic agriculture workers, electricians and carpenters.

In the public sector, bus drivers and civil engineers lead the way.

In a five-county region that includes Thurston, Mason, Lewis, Grays Harbor and Pacific counties, 4.9 percent of the work force, or 8,585 jobs, are defined as green. The green jobs in Pierce County represented 2.7 percent of the work force – 7.349 jobs.

“The numbers are encouraging,” said Beth Doglio, an Olympia-based campaign director for Climate Solutions, a nonprofit group working on clean-energy initiatives in the Northwest. “I think we’re making a lot of progress.”