by Alessia Leibert

What’s the difference between a green job and an energy job?  

A common misperception is that all green jobs are in the energy industry or all energy jobs are green. But this is not the case. It is true that the most common place to find a green job is in renewable energy generation or other energy-related industries, but energy careers can only truly be considered “green”  if they primarily engage in the following activities: 



  • Increase the use of renewable energy sources;
  • Minimize the environmental impact of burning fossil fuels;
  • Reduce the amount of energy that comes from fossil sources (oil or diesel) by implementing energy-saving or energy-efficient solutions. The economic sectors that have the most to gain from adopting energy-efficient processes and technologies are those that consume the most gasoline: transportation, manufacturing, and construction. 


The potential for green job creation in energy depends on how energy is produced in a specific region. In parts of the country that are rich in oil or coal, like Texas and West Virginia, energy jobs tend to be concentrated in the petroleum/coal and related industries, since the economic rationale for investing in clean sources is not very strong. These jobs are generally not considered “green,” although some utilities are implementing carbon sequestration techniques to minimize the environmental impact of burning fossil fuels.


Where renewable resources abound, like in California (solar), Minnesota (wind, water, biomass), and Iowa (wind, biomass), the energy sector could “green” quite significantly over the next year as the economy starts to recover. For example, many Minnesota-based utility companies are taking a leadership role in upgrading the national electrical grid to harvest wind resources.


The potential for green job creation in the energy sector is also a function of how labor-intensive an industry is. Since transportation and construction are generally more labor-intensive than manufacturing and energy generation, investments in energy-efficiency in these sectors might have a more decisive impact on employment levels.


But “green” is a broader concept, conveying much more than energy generation and energy efficiency. One possible way to capture the breadth of contexts where green jobs can emerge is to define “green” as synonymous to “sustainable practices.” These include preserving natural resources, making durable (or high-quality) goods, and using them responsibly so that they’ll last. Sustainability has been around forever, in the form of agricultural practices, recycling, and high-quality craftsmanship that uses responsibly harvested materials. It also thrives on the human need for harmony with nature.


Several countries, for example Germany, have moved toward the greening of the economy as an alternative to the “use-and-throw,” “pollute for faster growth” economic model. Developing countries like China are also aggressively investing in green technology and adopting policies to promote private sector investment. Whether the majority of Americans will mobilize under the green banner and adopt behaviors that support green reforms remains to be seen.
 – Alessia Leibert is a Research Analyst for ISEEK and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.


One thought on “Green vs. Energy Jobs: How Do They Fit Together?

  1. When is Minnesota going to get serious about renewable energy. We need to pass laws that make renewable energy the standard. You pay more up front with savings in the long run. It only makes sense. We need to follow California's lead into this new technology.


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