David Foster lives and breathes green jobs.
The executive director of the not-for-profit group Blue Green Alliance is an advocate for renewable energy, recycling and energy efficiency, all things he says will help push our overall economy forward.
The organization was launched in 2006 with a partnership between the United Steelworkers and Sierra Club. The group has since built a coalition of nearly 15 million members.
The Blue Green Alliance plans four regional conferences this winter and spring throughout the country to discuss best practices and green job possibilities.
Foster spoke to Workforce Management sister publication Waste & Recycling News to give his perspective on job prospects for the coming year.
Waste & Recycling News: What is the outlook for green jobs in 2012? Is it a growing sector of the economy?
David Foster: It has been positive in spite of it being a relatively sluggish economy and sluggish growth and job creation. The expansion and investments in the green economy have been at a significantly higher level than the rest of the economy. I think a few of the highlights have been that last year, the investments in the United States rose 33 percent for clean energy, which was a really significant increase.
The overall record of growth of the clean economy since 2008 has been an expansion of 8.3 percent. So that is taking place in the context of this deep recession and contraction of the economy in other areas.
WRN: What are the issues standing in the way of more growth?
Foster: The failure to set long-term policy and regulations that would give investors a really clear sense of what the country´s energy policy is and what our clean energy policy is. When we failed to pass comprehensive climate regulation in 2010, that was a terrible mistake because it left private investors and private companies unclear in what direction the country was going to go in terms of energy policy.
WRN: What types of jobs will most likely be a growth area in 2012? Which ones have been growing recently?
Foster: The significant growth areas, surprisingly, in the green economy are in manufacturing and construction. In the construction arena, it's in energy-efficient buildings, both in the construction of high-performance, energy-efficient buildings to the retrofit of existing buildings. Green construction, up to the time of the start of the recession, was employing up to 1 million workers. That´s anticipated to rise as much as 3.3 million by the end of 2013.
In manufacturing, it´s the new products that are being stimulated by the demand for energy efficiency and renewable energy. I think that´s an important development because that is two areas of the economy that have been hard hit, and it´s an additional demonstration that these are areas that get a big boost.
Recycling is also a bright spot where job growth can take place. But [at] the same [time] we need to set clear long-term goals to guide investors, which is one of the reasons why the Blue Green Alliance has pushed for a national recycling goal of 75 percent.
WRN: So give us an idea of what a 75 percent recycling rate would mean for the economy, for new jobs?
Foster: Our recently released study said that we would add 1.1 million jobs in the recycling industry if we set, as a national goal, a 75 percent recycling target by 2030. We´ve urged the Obama administration to set that as a goal. I think we all have limited expectations of Congress in 2012, but the president can lead by example by setting that target that we could be driving toward collectively.
I think that type of leadership would help states and municipalities ramp up their own recycling goals and programs. States could do a lot of things to encourage recycling through policy. They could do a lot to promote the recycling of e-waste. All of these things could be really significant job creators.