Green jobs are key to Vancouver’s future prosperity, not just a “political fad”

Are green jobs a political fad or the key to future prosperity for Vancouver?

Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Greenest City Action Plan proposes firm targets to grow green jobs as part of the city’s economic development strategy. While only three percent of the city’s economy now, the green sector is growing at twice the rate of other key sectors.

I believe green jobs are critical to the city’s future and made the case in this recent column for Business in Vancouver:

Who says regulations are job-killers?
A new ban on sending mattresses to landfill generated 45 new private sector recycling jobs — and yes, those are “green” jobs — in less than eight months, according to a recent Metro Vancouver news release.
The three new businesses jump-started by the ban deconstructed 47,000 mattresses, enough to create a pile one and a half times the height of Everest, diverting 95 percent of the materials from landfill.
Is this the kind of job to expect from Vancouver’s new Greenest City Action Plan, which has as one of its goals, “to double the number of green jobs over 2010 levels by 2020?”
Yes it is, says John Tylee, economist at the Vancouver Economic Development Commission, but a green job is any job that contributes to greening of the economy by reducing carbon and pollution generally. (The plan has a much fuller and more comprehensive definition.)
While only three percent of the city economy, this sector is growing a more than double the rate of the economy as a whole, Tylee says. Construction, like transportation and warehousing, accounts for four percent of the economy but is growing at less than half the rate of the green sector.
The VEDC estimates there are about 11,000 such jobs in the city now, up to 14,000 if the “local food” businesses are included that contribute to wider “green city” goals.
The job goal includes sophisticated “clean tech” jobs like those at Westport Innovations, which sells highly-efficient natural gas engines, and the professional and intellectual skills of Vancouver’s growing crop of green building specialists, including everyone from the tradesmen to the architects and developers.
Given the clear need to reduce carbon emissions right across the economy, this is a growth area that should weather global economic uncertainty and enjoy long-term demand.
The mattress regulation saves taxpayers money by extending the life of the landfill, but it also generates wealth by creating a reliable stream of recycled materials for other uses.
What, besides regulation, can the city do to foster green jobs?
Ensuring an adequate supply of industrial land and job space in existing neighbourhoods is one key task, says Tylee, and a green business zone, which brings related businesses together to share expertise and demonstrate their products is another.
City procurement policies should also support green business goals.
The toughest challenge may be changing the attitudes of business leaders.
Despite recent provincial reports indicating large areas of the Lower Mainland will be flooded by 2100 if climate change is not halted, corporate commitment to green objectives may be waning in the face of economic turmoil.
For some corporate leaders, green initiatives are a frill to be cut in tough times.
But increasing numbers of executives are discovering that “greening” their businesses is not just a “good thing to do” but a critical competitive edge when it comes to streamlining business processes and reducing costs.
The people doing that analysis are performing “green jobs” too.
The green economy goal is not the only initiative Greenest City Action Plan, which sets objectives for cleaner water, air and many other benchmarks. Each of these will have green economy consequences as the region invests in rapid transit and waste management
Nor is the green jobs plan the sum total of the city’s economic strategy, which is building on the $300 million in new activity secured during the 2010 Games in areas as diverse as tourism, film, digital arts and clean technology. More detail on initiatives in those areas and others will be forthcoming when the VEDC unveils its larger economic development strategy.
But the green jobs goal does challenge the city to consider what it will take to be competitive in a turbulent global economy where environmental risks are casting a longer shadow over stability and growth.