Mapping The Clean-Tech Economy

What’s up with all those green-collar jobs we keep being promised? A new report shows they aren’t necessarily where you would think they’d be. And, more crucially, there aren’t as many of them as there should be.

Brookings clean tech map


In the coming months, you’re going to hear candidates–and more often the President–talk about creating jobs in new, high-tech industries that also help wean our country off foreign oil. These are jobs like building wind turbines, or retrofitting houses. It’s a trope we’ve been hearing over and over for the past few election cycles (remember Van Jones, green job czar?), but has anyone actually done anything about it? After years of promises, where do we stand on creating these jobs and getting people into them?

A new report from the Brookings Institute has measured and quantified the clean economy, defined as “economic activity–measured in terms of establishments and the jobs associated with them–that produces goods and services with an environmental benefit or adds value to such products using skills or technologies that are uniquely applied to those products.”

Brookings has put the information in a helpful mapping tool, so you can see where in the country these jobs are being created. The report found that there are 2.7 million Americans working in clean-tech jobs, from renewable energy to sustainable agriculture. But where these jobs are located may surprise you. The South, for instance, has the largest total number of clean economy jobs (though the West has the largest number of clean economy jobs relative to its total population). And in the renewable energy sector, the metropolitan area with the most jobs is… Albany?

That’s right. New York’s capital is doing the most clean energy work, followed by San Jose and Greenville, South Carolina. If you look at the total clean economies of metro areas, the numbers become less shocking, with New York taking the top spot, followed by Los Angeles and Chicago:


If we look by state, we see a familliar pattern that we’ve seen when looking at electric car adoption, or any number of other forward-thinking environmental progress. There is a big gap in the mid- and mountain west:

So, how are those promises from politicians coming along? The clean economy grew 3.4% from 2003 to 2010, while the entire economy grew 4.2%. That’s not very encouraging (though many clean tech companies had more layoffs than average during the recession). But there is hope, especially if politicians realize these jobs do double duty as unemployment reduction and money saving environmental innovation. Oh, and the median income for clean economy jobs is 13% higher than the average in the country’s 100 biggest cities. This, then, is clearly an example of good policy also being good politics.

Morgan Clendaniel can be reached by email or on Twitter.

About the author

Morgan is a senior editor at Fast Company. He edits the Ideas section, formerly