Worldwatch Paper #152: Working for the Environment: A Growing Source of Jobs

Author: Michael Renner

ISBN: 1-878071-54-8
Publication Date: Sept. 2000
85 pages

As societies confront environmental challenges, they will need to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, metals, and lumber; restructure the utility and transportation sectors; and boost the efficient use of energy and materials. Many fear that moving toward sustainability will disrupt the economy and trigger massive job loss.

But jobs do not necessarily depend on maintaining a huge flow of raw materials. In fact, environmental regulations have spurred creation of at least 11 million jobs worldwide. The industries causing most environmental degradation (extracting and processing raw materials) employ relatively few people, their numbers already decimated by automation. Environmental policies can stimulate the creation of jobs in areas like energy and materials efficiency, renewable energy, remanufacturing, and recycling, and in extending the life-span of products.

Current tax and subsidy systems discourage job creation even as they encourage the overuse of natural resources. Raising taxes on resource consumption and using the revenues to finance social security funds (now typically funded through payroll taxes) could lower indirect labor costs and boost job creation.

As with any fundamental economic transformation, the transition to a sustainable economy entails some challenges. Affected workers, communities, and regions will need assistance to master new skills, technologies, and livelihoods. To be viable, the new economy will have to be both environmentally and socially sustainable.