- The Washington Times - Friday, February 6, 2009

Consumers who may be blue over the deepening economic crisis remain loyal to purchasing green products as demand continues amid an emerging green jobs market.

A new study set for release on Friday at a first Greenwashing Forum at the University of Oregon, where green industry watchdogs from across the nation are gathered this week, found that four of five consumers continue to buy products that claim to be easy on Mother Earth. In a phone survey of 1,000 consumers, half said they purchased just as many green products as they did before the economy went into decline, while 19 percent say they are buying even more.

Green truth

Still, the study from the nonprofit, science-based research organization Green Seal and the Austin, Texas,-based, socially conscious marketing firm EnviroMedia found that about one in three consumers admit they don’t have enough education to tell whether green product claims are true. They say they rely on packaging and on brand recognition when making their purchases, with some going online for research to verify green claims.

“Advertising is not the silver bullet for green marketing,” said Valerie Davis, CEO and a principal at EnviroMedia. “But I do think it’s good news that there remains a great willingness among Americans to buy these products. Americans want to do better, and perhaps being green, as long as it’s easy and accessible and there is the infrastructure there to access it, Americans will do it. It’s almost as if it’s common sense and the innate desire for anyone to not be wasteful.”

Green jobs

As demand increases in the green economy, interest in related jobs continues to rise. The Green Jobs Expo was held Thursday at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in the District and featured more than 80 booths from vendors, including academic institutions, corporations and governmental agencies.

Environmental groups and nonprofit organizations sponsored the event, attended by many unemployed people hoping to discover job opportunities in one of this recession’s few growth industries.

D.C. resident Ella Haines went to the expo hoping to find a new employer after recently being laid off from her job at a Federal Emergency Management Agency’s library.

“The environment is something I’ve always been passionate about, which is why I’m here today,” she said. “It seems more people are here today to promote their economy ideas of going green, which frustrates me a little, because I just want them to take my resume.”

Hydrogen Energy International LLC, a joint venture of BP Alternative Energy and Rio Tinto, was one of the more popular booths. The Long Beach, Calif., alternative energy company is in the final stages of developing a hydrogen fuel facility and power plant in Kern County, Calif. Construction is expected to begin by 2010.

“If the California project were to come online in the near future, it would open up around 1,500 construction jobs and approximately 100 permanent operational jobs,” said Anthony Stewart, a Hydrogen Energy policy adviser.

Veterans Green Jobs provides green jobs education and career development opportunities for veterans.

“We’ve had a ton of positive feedback,” said Brett KenCairn, executive director of the group. “Veterans are a unique and valuable work force, as well as a leadership asset to our country.”

“Our program is designed to be a short-duration, high-intensity training that makes them immediately employable and then gives them the opportunity to branch out into green job fields.”

Mr. KenCairn described a “green job” as any job that reduced society’s dependence on fossil fuels and other nonrenewable energy sources and contributes to the restoration and sustainability to our environment.

One of the biggest users of energy in American society is the home, and how to make any aspect of the home more energy efficient can be a green job, he explained. A person who installs insulation may not realize it, but he has a very green job.

Another green jobs fair is slated for Feb. 27 in the Washington area, sponsored by the Virginia Sustainable Building Network.

In October, Forbes magazine touted Washington as among the nation’s busiest green job markets, but labor proponents have warned as recently as this week that green jobs of the future, some already being shipped to places with cheaper pay like Mexico and China, must pay a decent wage to make them good jobs for U.S. workers.

Whether the green jobs market can keep pace with the number of job applicants interested is uncertain, although growth has been reported among “corporate social responsibility” jobs in the financial sector as well as consumer products and in clean technologies like wind and solar energy. In Michigan, for example, Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, facing massive unemployment numbers, has gone after the renewable energy industry as the work force of the future. Her Michigan Green Jobs Initiative, part of the state’s No Worker Left Behind program, offers hope for some manufacturing sector workers who are out of a job in a state heavily dependent on the auto sector and other labor industries.

President Obama has also touted the creation of 5 million new jobs in alternative energy as a part of his goals to put the nation back to work while protecting and better utilizing the nation’s natural resources.

Green futures

Environmental activists are optimistic that with a demand for products, even in a recession, signals that the nation’s environmental temperature is rising, even as so-called global warming claims continue to draw great scrutiny.

“The green job market is absolutely viable,” Ms. Davis said. “I would especially say to that young person who is in college that this would be a very wise track to go down.”

She compared green jobs today to the IT market years ago. Often, the person in charge of internet technology was the person who had a knack for computers in today’s companies. The person in charge of sustainability also often has no real education but was thrust into the position because of other related job skills. Someone with an updated education today definitely has a place in the new green-collar corporate culture that recognizes the value of sustainability, she said.

With the desire for better products, the nation is recognizing green industry is here to stay. Consumers, she said of the study, need better education around “green claims” lest they fall prey to fraud.

Green research

One year ago, EnviroMedia along with researchers at the University of Oregon, launched the Greenwashing Index, a Web site where consumer advertising can be posted and scrutinized for honesty in green claims. So far, 170 ads have been posted with online visitors from over 138 countries, making the case that companies must be careful that they back up their green talk with how they market themselves to the world - lest they be discredited.

“Consumers are anxious about how they can make the environment better, but there is still a dearth of information about what is a green product,” said Arthur Weissman, president and CEO of Green Seal, which certifies that products live up to their environmental claims.

Still he remains heartened by the research that says consumers are committed to doing better and figuring it out.

“I don’t think the results of our study could have been much better, given the current economic conditions. We have seen a substantial growth in the green marketplace over the years, and I think this is a signal to everyone from manufacturers to the government to policymakers that the green economy is something consumers are very receptive to.”

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