Communicating Green Jobs: “If You Translate the Value of Those Jobs With The Other Benefits, You’ve Got To Win”

The political conversation around green jobs has been about counting specific job numbers and using those figures to determine if clean energy is a good thing or a bad thing. Given that President Obama made green jobs a central part of his political platform, counting those job numbers is very appropriate.

And as we’ve pointed out again and again on Climate Progress, federal and state programs have created and saved hundreds of thousands of good jobs. In some cases, however, jobs haven’t been created as quickly as hoped — opening the entire concept of clean energy investments to political criticism.

But these criticisms ignore all the other value that clean energy projects bring to communities.

John Williams, an expert on sustainable communities and clean energy with HDR, believes we need to get back to the basics on messaging. Speaking to Climate Progress at the Greenbuild Conference in Toronto, Williams argues that we need to get beyond the “campaign” stage of promoting green jobs, and back into the “transformational” stage of talking about the immense economic, environmental and societal value through a business lens.

Here’s the video interview:

Williams: We really need to be asking a lot of questions, and certainly the jobs question is an important one. How does one project provide greater benefit than another project from a jobs point of view. But I’m for asking even more questions: Tell me about the jobs, tell me about the social benefits, the environmental benefits, the economic benefits. Tell me about resiliency benefits, and tell me about how that investment will enhance competition….  The more questions we answer, the better off we’ll all be.

CP: So if folks can better communicate the economic, social and environmental value rather than talk about specific job numbers necessarily, do you think you neutralize much of the political debate around this sector?

Williams: The reality is, we need jobs now. There’s no doubt about it. So we can’t overlook that conversation. But if you can translate the value of those jobs along with the other benefits, I think you’ve got to win.

Williams has certainly walked the walk. In order to give a better framework for evaluating all these benefits, he created a “Sustainable Return on Investment” model, which has helped leverage billions of dollars in capital from financial institutions for clean energy projects.

This is something I’ve argued for a lot in the past. Obviously, the high-level messaging on green jobs is important. But by talking about clean energy investments from a business perspective — clearly articulating how specific technologies and projects can create different types of value along with job creation — the political “argument” against green jobs becomes moot.

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