Green Jobs, Greenwashing, and the Importance of a Green Semantics

Joel Makower from asks an important question: "'Green jobs' has become a rallying cry for activists and politicians alike. They're soon to arrive, and in big numbers -- right?"

Everyone is waiting to unwrap the "stimulus package," hoping that inside they will find a financial solution just their size (and also the size of the national crisis), and they're envisioning it in the color green. But are we even talking about the same thing when we use the words "green jobs"? And what does language have to do with creating real solutions to the very real challenges our environment and climate face? Makower writes:

The ambiguity of language has long dogged the environmental movement. So many vague words and terms have been tossed around as if they have specific meaning and shared understanding, even within serious business, political, and academic circles. When such words are used commercially, they can lead, rightly or wrongly, to charges of greenwash. Along the way, well-intentioned organizations and activities can become tarred with the brush intended for the relatively egregious few.

Americans need something to trust in right now, but we also need to not feel we have been shortly betrayed. How will these green jobs be defined: a sector within an already-existing industry that is entrusted with performing "greener" those entrusted with creating greener cars? What about the staff supporting those people...their administrative assistants, the people using "old technology" like oil-based transport to create the new technology that will replace it?

Makower's article concludes with an interesting take on the green "G" that has become like a scarlet "A" among environmentally-minded folks:

Some, including me, have argued that the intense scrutiny of greenwashing has needlessly dampened the appetite of companies to talk publicly about their environmental goals and achievements for fear that doing so will open them up to unwanted (and often unwarranted) scrutiny and criticism.

When you're creating something new, new words are often created in the process. Language is created by the use, mis-use and re-use of words. I think what is necessary is that standardization is sought without dampening the flow of discourse about environmental issues. It is right to expect results from all this talk about green jobs, which will probably be more efficient if we are all talking the same language.

See the United Nations Environment Programme's treatment of the green jobs issue.

Tags: Bailout, Green jobs, Language, Policy

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