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The Next Frontier For States and Cities: Building Clean Energy Industries and Green Jobs

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Receives NSF Grant To Develop National Study That Identifies the Best Practices and Policies of States and Cities Focused on Businesses That Create Green Jobs

Today, as state and local governments seek to integrate environmental and energy policies with job creation, a first-of-its kind national study has found that only a few states and cities have policies in place to create green jobs.

Developed by a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute professor and a team of eight graduate students from several U.S. universities, the full report – Building Clean-Energy Industries and Green Jobs, was released on August 1.

“Today’s policy-makers are increasingly driven by a new question: how can environmental and energy policies be configured to create new businesses and generate green jobs with maximum impact and minimal expenditure?,” said David J. Hess, professor of science and technology studies at Rensselaer.

Hess’ research focuses on the social and policy studies of science, technology, health, and the environment, with an emphasis on the role of civil society and social movements. His interest in localism is prompted by his earlier research on the relationships between social movements and industrial innovation.

“There are many studies of state and local government energy policy that focus on policies that drive ‘demand’ for energy efficiency and renewable energy products,” Hess said. “This research report is different because it looks at the emerging suite of ‘supply’ policies needed to create the businesses that will provide green jobs.”

Hess received a $249,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to support a 10-week graduate training seminar and additional research sponsored by the organization’s Science and Technology Studies Program. Eight graduate student assistants were recruited from around the country to participate in the seminar. Each student conducted interviews and field research to develop a detailed case study of a city and state. Based on a survey of 30 state governments and 25 cities, the study identifies 15 best practices and policies for each of the states and cities.

The study explores the full range of green jobs, from weatherization jobs to manufacturing to research, development, and business start-ups. It also focuses on policies that help to promote five clean-energy industries: bio-fuels, smart-grid and buildings technologies, solar, transportation and energy storage, and wind.

The Results
According to the study, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and Ohio are among the states that have a strong set of policies that support green-business creation. The findings also feature the cities that have sought to create a full range of green jobs, including jobs in manufacturing and technology. Examples include: Austin, Texas; Boulder, Colo.; Cleveland, Ohio; Los Angeles, Calif., and the San Francisco Bay area cities; and Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. Additionally, Newark, N.J., and several cities in California including – Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco – have been successful in creating green jobs that provide living wages.

“Many cities and states are claiming to become the ‘capital’ of green technology, but only a few really have strong, proactive policies in place to make that claim stick in order to create the highly paid green jobs,” Hess said. “During our research, we found that only some states and cities were able to bring together the research and innovation side with support for funding, technology transfer, business development, and green jobs training.”

“Every state and city is different. They all have their unique industry strengths, socioeconomic concerns, and geographical constraints. But some have done better at addressing their needs than others,” said Jaime D. Ewalt, a researcher on the team and Ph.D. candidate in the chemistry and environmental science department at New Jersey Institute of Technology.

“Already we are seeing that some states and cities have moved ahead to become leaders in the new industries,” Hess said. “Our findings suggest that if policymakers are serious about getting and keeping the upper-end green jobs in manufacturing and innovation, they need to be serious about the suite of policies that need to be in place.”

“We have some of the best students of the next generation of environmental studies and policy that have worked with me to develop this study,” Hess added. “Our research provides successful examples of existing initiatives that may offer other state and city governments with potential ideas that they may consider when implementing their strategies in order to connect energy policies with job creation and business development.”

In addition to Ewalt, the graduate students involved in project are: David A. Banks, Joseph Datko, and Logan D.A. Williams from the science and technology studies department at Rensselaer; Bob Darrow from the science and technology studies department at Virginia Tech; Rebecca Gresh from the sociology department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Matthew Hoffman from the sociology department at Loyola University; and Anthony M. Sarkis from the environmental studies department at Antioch University New England.

Throughout the summer and into the fall, Hess and several of the students will be presenting their findings to state and city governments and at advocacy organizations. They have already delivered presentations in New York and Pennsylvania with additional presentations planned for New Jersey, Ohio, and Vermont.

Connecting the Dots: Research Intersections
Hess has been working on a multi-volume series that explores the intersections of social movements, industry, sustainability, and justice in the United States. According to Hess, the specific problem is to find points of entry where countervailing forces exist to the “brown” industries, that is, industries that actively attempt to delay the policy transition to a greener economy.

Hess is working on the third volume. The book examines state and local government policies that are encouraging the development of clean tech and green businesses. Preliminary finding suggest that the growing clean-tech sector promises to provide a third counterweight in favor of more rapid policy transitions to a greener economy.

In 2007, Hess published the first volume, Alternative Pathways in Science and Industry (MIT Press). One of the central arguments of the book is that social movements play a generative role in scientific and technological change, rather than merely a role of opposing some new forms of technology or demanding access to others. He also explored the limitations of social movements and the tendency for the movements for sustainability and/or justice in the United States to achieve partial victories.

In 2009, he published the second volume, Localist Movements in a Global Economy: Sustainability, Justice, and Urban Development in the United States (MIT Press). The book examines the social and environmental aspects of the “localist movement” of advocacy for increased local ownership, such as in “buy local” campaigns. The book also examines the potential of the green small business sector as an additional counterweight to the political power of the anti-environmental industries. The first two volumes were completed with support from the Science and Technology Studies (STS) Program of the National Science Foundation.

Jessica Otitigbe
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Troy, N.Y.
Office: (518)276-6050
Mobile: (518) 466-3907
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Jessica Otitigbe | Newswise Science News
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