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Beware the green jobs backlash: Why it will be tough to count the impact

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When it comes to green jobs, the place to start counting is with small businesses

Just came across this column from Newsweek, which I am betting will be used by every green and corporate sustainability naysayer who hopes to keep the status quo when it comes to the way we run businesses here in the United States. The title is simply this: "Growing Green Jobs: Beware politicians promising to put millions to work in a new 'green economy.' They can't deliver."

The columnist riffs on a new McKinsey Consulting study that researches where employment growth might emerge as the economy shifts back into growth mode. That study shows that so-called clean technology jobs account for only 0.6 percent of the American workforce. A teeny tiny number that is only slight more than those employed in the semiconductor sector.

Fair enough, and I respect McKinsey for taking the next step in its analysis, which is to point out that these numbers don't account for the thousands and millions of jobs that will be affected by green technologies or business and corporate sustainability practices.

Fact is, many of the companies who are charging forward with the green movement are small businesses or businesses inspired by advances in clean technology. Take the case of SolarCity, the innovative solar installer and financing company that I wrote about earlier this week. The company has roughly 530 employees, now, which is double what it employed a year ago. Technically, this is a small business. But when you consider that there are around 500 solar installers in California alone, the numbers start to add up.

In fact, I'll bet if you counted the jobs that have been created by all the carbon management and environmental software companies that have cropped up over the past year or those that are employed handling technology virtualization projects around the world, you would come up with thousands more. What about the corporate sustainability experts that are now on the payrolls of most major enterprise companies in the United States?

So, beware those who start using numbers like the McKinsey data to declare that the green economy is a figment of our imagination. Going back to that semiconductor employment number (which is less than 1 percent of the U.S. workforce) and think about all the jobs that have been created that are related to information technology. Now, dig deeper and think about the ways that sustainability philosophies are reshaping fundamental business practices, and I think you'll come up with a much larger number indeed.

Green jobs aren't a myth, they are just hard to count.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure