Where the Jobs Are

10/20/2010 04:01 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Nicole Lederer Co-Founder of Environmental Entrepreneurs, The Independent Business Voice for the Environment

In the fall of 2000, a small but visionary group of environmental entrepreneurs bet big on our clean energy future. We believed we could create jobs and spur growth by investing in secure and renewable sources of power, new ways to recycle, and the next generation of energy and resource efficient cars, homes and workplaces.

A decade later, we're no longer small -- and we're no longer going on faith. The group we founded -- Environmental Entrepreneurs, or E2 -- represents business leaders who've founded 1100 companies that have created 500,000 jobs in 41 states.

Putting half a million Americans to work is a monumental accomplishment at any time. It's near miraculous, though, to do so during the worst recession since World War II, when nearly one worker in ten can't find a job.

The clean energy sector is just getting started. While traditional industries shed jobs, in fact, we're leading our economy into a future ripe with promise.

Just a few years ago, the wind energy sector barely existed. Now it employs 85,000 Americans, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These are good jobs. They typically pay anywhere between $41,500 a year for a machinist to $95,000 a year for a top engineer. And they're not just in states like Texas, Iowa and California, the leaders in wind energy production. Americans are making wind turbines in South Carolina, blades in South Dakota, steel for towers in Indiana, electrical components in Ohio. Workers in other states across the country produce the concrete, aluminum, fiberglass, rubber, generators, gears and other materials and equipment that go into making wind turbines.

Other examples abound:

  • Just outside of Pittsburgh, 150 laid-off workers at a once-shuttered factory have gone back to work, making energy-efficient windows for offices and homes.
  • In Caledonia, WI, contractors have refitted an old radiator factory to produce bricks that require one-tenth the energy to produce as conventional bricks.
  • Brightsource Energy, an Oakland, CA solar energy company, is creating thousands of construction jobs in the Southwest to build a series of state of the art solar farms that will supply neighboring states with clean energy."

The clean energy sector has created entire professions that didn't exist just five years ago. Chief sustainability officers are in demand at Fortune 500 companies. Production managers are being hired to oversee biofuels production, cogeneration operations and energy efficiency accounting.

Met any solar energy systems engineers or fuel cell engineers lately?

You will. And they're making between $77,000 and $89,000 a year. How about environmental economists? There were 15,000 of them two years ago; there will be 5,000 more by 2018, and they're earning, on average, $87,000 annually.

Despite these gains, some of our oil and gas companies have joined smokestack industry to try to bridle future progress and hamstring job growth, all in the name of preserving their profits.

Here in California, oil companies like Texas-based Valero and Tesoro have joined forces with the likes of Koch Industries, the coal producer based in Kansas, to spend more than $10 million trying to turn back the clock on our clean energy economy. They're behind Proposition 23, the pernicious effort to thwart California's progressive climate change laws.

Similarly, the oil and gas lobby has spent more than $1 billion over the past decade -- including a record $168 million last year alone -- on a legion of Washington lobbyists 700 strong. They've devoted themselves to trying to block the kind of comprehensive energy and climate legislation we need to make the most of a clean energy future we know can generate another 2 million American jobs.

The national, non-partisan community of business leaders who belong to E2 still believes in the huge potential of this clean energy future. More than that, we now stand on a record of policy of successes, the results of which have put half a million Americans to work already.

We won't stop there. We can put 2 million more back to work in industries that can make our country more secure, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and create a healthier future for our children. And that's what we intend to do.

In the meantime, E2 will celebrate a decade of solid results by standing up for American workers, speaking out against those who would hold back the tide of progress, and investing in the clean economy of the future that we all deserve. For more of a view on E2, its history, accomplishments and our commitment to the future, please see The E2 Legacy paper.