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Green and Clean Employment in Minnesota: A Starting Point

By Molly Ingram
June 2024

Over the past two decades, policy discussions about green jobs, clean economies and economic sustainability have increased dramatically, along with increased commercial demand for green goods and services and increased funding to support this economic transition. Developing a cleaner and more environmentally sustainable economy will generate new jobs, change the skills required of existing jobs, and reduce demand for other jobs. Governments, education institutions, businesses, community organizations and individuals will all need a better understanding of this changing industrial landscape to determine how to best take advantage of current and upcoming economic opportunities and meet their desired climate goals.

Minnesota has accelerated its climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts over the past few years. In 2019, Governor Tim Walz established the Climate Change Subcabinet and Governor's Advisory Council on Climate Change, bringing together government, business and community leaders. The Subcabinet released the state's Climate Action Framework in 2022 to guide Minnesota's approach to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate, along with a list of state-specific actions.

The framework has six main goal areas:

  • clean transportation
  • climate-smart natural and working lands
  • resilient communities
  • clean energy and efficient buildings
  • healthy lives and communities
  • clean economy.

The framework also comes with some specific targets, including reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50% relative to the state's 2005 emissions by 2030, achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, and attaining 100% carbon-free electricity and 55% renewable electricity by 2040. In 2020, Minnesota emissions were down 23% from 2005 levels and approximately 30% of electricity was generated by renewable sources.

To support the Climate Action Framework goals, Minnesota is leveraging federal and private funding in addition to state funds. As of May 2024, the state of Minnesota has secured just shy of $3 billion for clean energy, resilience, and other climate-related investments from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) which were signed into law in 2021 and 2022 , respectively. This accounts for approximately 40% of all IIJA and IRA funds secured by Minnesota as of May 2024.

One source of funding is the planning grant that the state of Minnesota received from the Inflation Reduction Act's Climate Pollution Reduction Grant (CRPG) program, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This grant will support an update to the Climate Action Framework, as well as workforce analysis research by DEED's Labor Market Information office that contributes to the state's objective of completing "a clean economy workforce and economic development plan for the state that includes an assessment of future high-growth sectors and sectors at risk of job disruption, whether the jobs are inclusive of a diverse workforce, employers' workforce and skillset needs, and existing training resources, using an inclusive definition of clean jobs" (pg. 26).

Research is ongoing and the first full reports from the analysis won't be available until June 2025, but previews of the work will be shared in future Trends articles. This is the first article related to research supported by the CPRG to advance the Climate Action Framework goals. We begin by reviewing definitions of terms commonly used when discussing climate related topics and related statewide and regional employment measures.

Commonly Used Terms

There is no universal definition of the "green economy" or "green jobs", although there are some agreed upon components such as clean energy (however what employment counts as clean energy jobs can differ by institution or report). Because of the complex nature of transitioning to a clean economy, most reports focus on specific parts of the economy as opposed to the economy as a whole and thus define their area of focus on a case-by-case basis. Minnesota wants to take an inclusive approach to better understand the economy-wide impacts of climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.

The following definitions serve as building blocks for Minnesota's ongoing work to create a clean economy workforce and economic development plan. Unless otherwise specified, definitions are from Minnesota's Climate Action Framework glossary and list of acronyms.

Adaptation: Taking action to prepare for and adjust to both the current and projected impacts from climate change. For both natural and built systems, humans may intervene to help adjustment.

Biofuel: A fuel produced from biomass. These include first-generation biofuels such as ethanol from corn sugars and biodiesel from soybean oil, second-generation biofuels from an array of source materials including lignocellulosic feedstocks and municipal solid waste, and any biofuels that may be developed in the future.

Biomass: 1. The mass of all living things. 2. Renewable material that comes from plants or animals. This organic material can be used as fuel to produce electricity or heat. Examples are wood, energy crops, and waste from forests, yards or farms.

Carbon-free Electricity: Electricity generation that either does not use fossil fuels or does not emit carbon. Examples include wind, solar and nuclear.

Carbon-neutral: Achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions at a global scale through the balance of residual carbon dioxide emissions with the same amount of carbon dioxide removal.

Carbon Sequestration (biological )): The process by which atmospheric carbon dioxide is taken up by trees, grasses, and other plants through photosynthesis and stored as carbon in biomass (trunks, branches, foliage, and roots) and soils.

  • The place sequestering the carbon, such as a forest, grassland, wetland, body of water, soil, etc. is often referred to as a carbon sink. It is important to note that sequestration is not permanent. Wildfires, harvesting of materials, and the natural decaying process all release the stored carbon back into the environment. This is one reason Minnesota is encouraging the use of more long-lived wood products and alternative disposal methods.
  • Another type of carbon sequestration is geological, which involves compressing carbon dioxide into a liquid and injecting it into rock formations. Although it may not be feasible or cost-effective based on Minnesota's geology.
  • There are also technological methods of removing and storing carbon, such as graphene production which is used to make smartphone screens. Researchers are working to develop better methods and uses for technological sequestration.
  • Carbon sequestration, biological or otherwise, is one component of the "carbon cycle". Inevitably carbon is stored in trees, fossil fuels, the ocean or through other means and that carbon will also be released back into the environment by natural or human-assisted processes. What is important for understand emissions relationship to the climate is the time scale on which the carbon is stored and then released. For example, carbon stored in and released from biomass such as leaves, trees or natural lands occurs over the time period of months or several years with or without human activity. In contrast, the natural cycle for carbon stored in and released from fossil fuels happens over millennia, and human use of fossil fuels speeds up the release portion of fossil fuels natural carbon cycle.

Clean Economy: An economy that is low-carbon and that produces goods and services with an environmental benefit.

Clean Energy: Energy generated from renewable or carbon-free sources, as well as energy saved through energy efficiency measures.

  • The examples that may first come to mind are energy generated from wind, solar and water which are renewable and carbon-free sources. Biofuels are considered clean because they are derived from renewable sources; they can in-theory be carbon-neutral, where the carbon generated in production and use is offset by the carbon absorbed by the biomass feedstocks used as production inputs (e.g., corn for ethanol), but they are likely not as low-carbon as one might hope. The flip side of this is nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is clean under this definition because it is a carbon-free source, but it is not renewable because it depends on a limited supply of uranium.
  • Energy efficiency is often grouped with clean energy because, even though the energy need not come from a renewable or carbon-free source, improving efficiency reduces the amount of energy required and thus emissions generated. Energy efficiency covers a wide range of activities; common examples are household and building features such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, insulation, appliances and electronics.
  • The Department of Energy (DOE) produces national, state, and county level data on energy and clean energy jobs. The Energy and Employment Jobs Report began in 2016. Jobs are reported by technology (solar, coal, biofuels, smart grids, etc.) and by sector. Sectors are grouped into three traditional sectors and two key end-use sectors: 1) Electric Power Generation, 2) Fuels, 3) Transmission, Distribution, and Storage, 4) Energy Efficiency, and 5) Motor Vehicles. Because the technologies and sectors of interest to DOE do not perfectly align with the industry definition by which employment data is organized, the DOE uses survey data to estimate what share of industry employment corresponds to their technology and sector definitions.
    • The DOE defines clean energy jobs as jobs in "net-zero emissions" technologies (see carbon-neutral) "including those related to renewable energy; grid technologies and storage; traditional electricity transmission and distribution for electricity; nuclear energy; a subset of energy efficiency that does not involve fossil fuel burning equipment; biofuels; and plug-in hybrid, battery electric, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and components" (pg. 8). Nationally, 3.1 million jobs were considered clean jobs by this definition in 2022, representing 40% of all energy jobs.
    • Distinctions that can be made in national data regarding clean energy efficiency or transmission, distribution, and storage jobs are not feasible with state level data, so the DOE provides estimates of clean energy jobs by state but doesn't not indicate how they are split across technologies, sectors, or industries.
    • Clean Jobs Midwest and Clean Jobs America generate clean energy job numbers by state based on the state and technology specific employment estimated by the DOE. Clean Jobs Midwest reports that there were approximately 60,000 clean energy jobs in Minnesota in 2022.

Climate-smart: Aiming to increase climate resiliency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Green: Contributing to preserving or restoring the environment.

  • A clean economy is a specific type of green economy. The green economy includes the production of good and services that contribute to preserving or restoring the environment (see green jobs for examples of how), while the clean economy all focuses on production being low-carbon .

Green jobs: Jobs related to preserving or restoring the environment.

  • There is no universally used definition, but most often studies use the definition developed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (or one very similar, like this MN green jobs report from 2011). It states:
    • Green jobs are either:
      • Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.
      • Jobs in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.
    • BLS classifies industries (and the associated employment) as green if they fit into one or more of the following five categories: producing energy from renewable sources, improving energy efficiency, preventing and cleaning up pollution and greenhouse gases, conserving natural resources, and facilitating environmental compliance, education and training and public awareness. BLS found 325 industries meeting this definition. Because not all establishments within a given industry may produce green goods or services (GGS), the BLS collected data from business and government establishments to estimate what share of employment within an industry was green.
    • Although the BLS numbers are outdated, last reported for 2011, it's still the most comprehensive industry-oriented view of green jobs currently available. Just over half of all green jobs were in industries where all jobs counted as green (i.e., directly associated with the production of GGS). The remaining jobs were in industries where establishments produced some or no GGS and green jobs accounted for approximately 20% of those industries' total employment.
  • An alternative to classifying green jobs by industries is classifying them by occupation. The U.S. Department of Labor has a list of "greened" occupations.
    • The "greening" of occupations refers to the extent to which green economy activities and technologies increase the demand for existing occupations, shape the work and worker requirements needed for occupational performance, or generate unique work and worker requirements. (pg. 4)
    • Based on this definition 64 occupations were labeled "green increased demand" occupations, 62 were labeled "green enhanced skills" occupations, and 91 were labeled "green new and emerging" occupations.

Greenhouse Gas (GHG): Gases in the earth's atmosphere that trap heat, produced both naturally and through human activity. Excess GHG emissions cause climate change. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary GHG emitted through human activities, such as burning fossil fuels. Nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4) are also potent greenhouse gases emitted through human activities.

  • Note GHG emissions are also referred to as climate pollution.

Low-carbon: Causing or resulting in only a relatively small net release of carbon dioxide or other GHG into the atmosphere.

Mitigation (of climate change): A human intervention to reduce emissions or enhance the removal of a GHG from the atmosphere (e.g., afforestation to increase carbon sequestration in plants).

Renewable Energy: Energy generated from resources that are naturally replenished on a human timescale . Examples include wind, wood, solar, hydropower and geothermal energy.

Renewable Materials: Products that can be replenished or regenerated after use.

Resilience (to climate change): The capacity of individuals, communities, businesses, buildings, infrastructure or the natural environment to prevent, withstand, respond to and recover from disruptive events and continue to perform despite persistent stresses imposed by climate change. Both mitigation and adaptation are necessary for long-term resilience.

Reskilling: Learning a new skill to do a different job or training people to do a different job.

Upskilling: Improving existing skills or learning additional skills to better perform a current job.

Zero Waste: The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse and recovery of products, packaging and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water or air that threaten the environment or human health.

State and Regional Employment

Green Jobs

Using the BLS definition of green jobs, Table 1 provides estimates of green employment in 2022 for all of Minnesota, the metro region, and Greater Minnesota. The estimates are generated using the GGS employment shares reported by the BLS for 2010 (in the second column). The share of green goods and services produced within an industry has likely increased since 2010, so these numbers should be thought of as a conservative estimate of green jobs in Minnesota.

In 2010, BLS found 3.1% of all Minnesota employment met their definition of green jobs. Government employment and private sector employment from seven industries had shares of green employment greater than the economy wide share. From largest to smallest green employment share, the seven industries with above average shares were:

  • Transportation
  • Construction
  • Utilities
  • Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
  • Professional, scientific, and technical services
  • Manufacturing
  • Waste management and administrative services
Table 1 Green Employment by Industry in 2022
Industry Green employment share State Green Employment Metro+ Green Employment Greater MN+ Green Employment
Total Employment 3.1% 87,868 53,227 32,134
Total Government 4.3% 16,011 8,571 7,385
Total Private 2.9% 71,170 43,859 25,014
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting, private 7.4% 1,710 260 1,436
Mining, private 0.0% 0 0 0
Utilities, private 7.8% 965 462 492
Construction, private 11.4% 15,204 8,549 6,286
Manufacturing, private 6.0% 19,578 10,559 8,957
Wholesale Trade, private 1.4% 1,869 1,111 555
Retail Trade, private 0.7% 2,090 1,142 933
Transportation and Warehousing, private 13.3% 12,871 8,802 3,814
Information, private --* - - -
Finance and Insurance, private --* - - -
Real Estate and Rental and Leasing, private 0.0% 0 0 0
Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services, private 6.8% 11,306 8,579 1,555
Management of Companies and Enterprises, private --* - - -
Administrative and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services, private 5.0% 6,696 4,646 1,379
Educational Services, private --* - - -
Health Care and Social Assistance, private 0.0% 0 0 0
Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation, private --* - - -
Accommodation and Food Services, private 0.0% 0 0 0
Other Services (except Public Administration), private 1.4% 1,242 766 444
* Suppressed in BLS GGS data
+ Differences in green jobs by region are due to differences in total employment and industry shares, not difference in the share of green jobs, which BLS only provides at the national and state levels.
Source: BLS Green Jobs and Minnesota Quarterly Census of Earnings and Wages

Clean Energy Jobs

Using the energy employment data generated by the U.S. Department of Energy and the clean energy jobs categories reported by Clean Jobs America, Figure 1 reports jobs by energy sectors and Figure 2 reports clean energy jobs sector and by industry (e.g. construction, manufacturing). All numbers are for statewide employment in 2022. Clean energy jobs account for 49% of all energy jobs in Minnesota and are most prevalent in the construction and transportation industries, covering 79% and 72% of all industry energy jobs, respectively. Clean energy jobs are also well represented among wholesale trade and manufacturing energy specific employment, 42% and 37% respectively. The largest clean energy jobs sector is energy efficiency constituting 73% of all clean energy jobs in Minnesota. Energy efficiency is followed by power generation (15%), motor vehicles (7%), transmission, distribution, & storage (5%), and fuel production (1%). Download a detailed table of clean jobs in Minnesota.

Jobs by Energy Sector

Clean Energy Jobs by Industry

Conclusion

In the U.S., and globally, climate-related concerns are changing how people work, whether that be through the creation of new jobs or by changing the processes or focus of existing jobs. Current discussions suggest that the demand for climate-related jobs and skills is growing, but information is not systematically available in a way that state, tribal and local governments or community organizations can easily use to inform their economic and workforce development efforts in regard to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Governments, businesses, community organizations, education institutions and individuals will need to weigh in on whether non-standardized definitions and intermittent collection of labor or economic data hamper their ability to meet their planning needs, and if so, how to address such challenges.

Over the next year, DEED's Labor Market Information office will compile and analyze existing climate and economic data to identify how Minnesota's economy and workforce has adapted to past climate change initiatives and technological shifts and to suggest how Minnesota can move forward to achieve its climate, economic and equity goals. As illustrated by the above tables, some industries, such as construction and transportation, play a large role in Minnesota's clean economy workforce, but the ongoing analysis seeks to improve our understanding for how climate action activities involve and impact Minnesota's economy and citizens beyond the currently defined clean or green industries and jobs. If you have questions related to Minnesota's economy, workforce, and climate change, feedback regarding what is or is not consider green/clean, or any other comments related to this topic, they can be sent to molly.ingram@state.mn.us.

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