The term "green-collar job" has been around since the late 1990s. The nonprofit organization Sightline Institute helped coin the phrase. In 1999, its director, Alan Durning, wrote a book of the same name investigating the changing job market in the Northwest.
The term "white-collar jobs" was introduced in the early 20th century to describe salaried professionals who work in an office or sales job. The idea of blue-collar jobs came along after the post-World War II industrial boom to describe more manual jobs.
The description of a green-collar job falls somewhere between that of white collar and blue collar. Some positions are manual -- for example, constructing the steel blades used in wind turbines. Others are managerial or scientific -- such as designing energy-efficient buildings or planning out green space for a city.
Any of the following can be considered green-collar jobs:
- Designing "green" buildings
- Retrofitting homes and office buildings to make them more energy-efficient
- Producing biofuels or working in a biofuel station
- Manufacturing nontoxic cleaning products
- Designing and maintaining parks
- Recycling and composting
- Manufacturing environmentally friendly products, such as hybrid cars and wind turbines
- Installing solar panels
- Working on water conservation projects
- Growing organic food on a sustainable farm
Determining whether a job is green-collar can sometimes be fuzzy, because some companies are involved in making both traditional and environmentally friendly products. Take, for example, people who work in a mill that produces steel for both big SUVs and wind turbines. Are they green-collar or blue-collar workers? Do the lawyers who work for a biodiesel company have white-collar or green-collar jobs? The answers depend on how you look at the job and its responsibilities.
Proponents of green-collar jobs say they're ideal for people with limited education and skills. Most of these jobs don't require a four-year college degree, certification or licenses. Yet one study found that green-collar jobs sometimes pay higher than most traditional manufacturing jobs -- between $12 and $22 an hour, compared with $8 or $9 an hour in the traditional manufacturing sector [source: Porter]. What's more, green-collar jobs can be an entry point to higher paying, more skilled professional jobs.