Green Jobs in the Louisiana Forest Products Supply Chain

Linda Benedict, Vlosky, Richard P.  |  9/27/2011 6:37:42 PM

Ryan D. Olson, Richard P. Vlosky and Paul Darby

Forests in the United States represent 751 million acres of private and public land. This figure has remained relatively stable since 1910. In Louisiana, forests cover 14 million acres, representing 50 percent of the state’s land area. The U.S. forest sector plants about 1.5 billion seedlings each year, including 128 million seedlings by industrial and nonindustrial Louisiana landowners alone.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines green jobs as those that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources or jobs in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.

For a particular job to be considered green, 50 percent or more of an employee’s time must be spent participating in one or more of seven green-jobs categories.

  •  Education, Public Awareness and Compliance
  •  Energy Efficiency
  •  Green Certification
  •  Greenhouse Gas Reduction
  •  Pollution Reduction and Cleanup
  •  Recycling and Waste Reduction
  •  Renewable Energy

Green jobs include employees who oversee reforestation and land management and the production and use of wood fuels along with recycling and waste reduction. Other green activities that have potential to create jobs are production of energy-efficient products, education and training, and green certification.

The nature of the Louisiana wood products supply chain suggests a high potential for employment across a variety of green job activities. The supply chain consists of foresters who manage forest resources, loggers, processors of wood into finished products and distributors. LSU AgCenter researchers sent a mail survey to all 4,968 known members of the Louisiana wood products supply chain. This was the first attempt to understand green jobs and their growth potential in Louisiana’s forest products industries. The survey did not include forest landowners; the supply chain began with loggers and ended with wood and paper products distributors and brokers.

To explore possible misconceptions about what constitutes a green job, each respondent was asked to identify specific green jobs across the seven categories within their company. Table 1 includes examples of what are and aren’t greenjob activity descriptions. Of the 166 unique green activity descriptions submitted by respondents, 81 percent were categorized accurately. Misconceptions exist not only in the reporting of green activities but also in reporting the number of employees whose primary job falls into a green-activity category. Misconceptions about green-job activities cause a dilemma because to participate in further development of green activities in the forest sector, companies must understand what constitutes a green activity and the effects green jobs have on society. Companies should be educated on green activities and their development. Without proper education and understanding, green remains just a word tied to feel-good emotions.

Survey respondents accurately reported a total of 667 green jobs. Divided by the total number of respondents, this represents an average of 2.7 green jobs per company. Extrapolating the number of green jobs per participating company by the total number of companies implies total green employment in the Louisiana forest products supply chain availis 13,199 individuals. Using an average green-job wage in Oregon’s forest sector of $18.73/hour as a proxy, an estimated $494.3 million in total annual wages can be attributed to all green jobs in the Louisiana forest products sector in 2011.

An understanding of what drives green-job creation is important for economic development and employee training. A scale was used to determine which drivers influence green-job creation. As seen in Figure 1, for respondents, the most likely drivers of green-job creation are increased profits and government incentives. They were followed in order from most likely to least likely by environmental protection, state regulations, federal regulations, creation of quality jobs, company values and public perception. The only driver that fell into the unlikely category was corporate mandate.

While companies like the sound of green, the nature of business is turning a profit and realizing the highest possible return on an investment. This is where public and government intervention comes into play. Without the public behind them and without governmental approval, companies will have a hard time realizing success in terms of profits. To determine attitudes toward specific green activities, survey respondents were asked seven questions pertaining to different green products and practices. Table 2 illustrates the responses to each of these seven questions.

When asked about sustainability, a term that is much more familiar and well-understood to members of the forest sector, almost every respondent expressed a positive attitude. Finally, when asked, “Do you believe green practices add value to your company?” a majority of respondents agreed. This offers confidence in the continued development of green activities in the Louisiana forest sector.

Among the conclusions that may be drawn from this study, education is necessary to convey an unbiased and accurate understanding of green jobs and the green activities that make them possible. It is promising that companies understand the value of green activities. However, if incremental costs are incurred to increase green jobs, there may be a negative effect on a company’s bottom line. Sixty-three percent of respondents are unwilling to incur these costs. Many people suggest that government intervention in the form of incentives and regulations may be necessary to realize substantial green-job growth in the future.

Ryan D. Olson, Graduate Research Assistant; Richard P. Vlosky, Crosby Land and Resources LLC Professor in Forest Sector Business Development; and Paul Darby, Research Associate, School of Renewable Natural Resources, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La.

(This article was published in the summer 2011 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)

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