Future of Manufacturing Lies with Green Technology

Solar panels

I recently read an article written by former G.M. vice chairman Bob Lutz in which he espouses the comeback of auto manufacturing in the United States. Weakened unions and leaner production, Lutz argues, spells an “opportunity to regain strength and jobs in manufacturing.”

It’s hard to share Lutz’s optimism, especially since last month manufacturers recorded their slowest growth since 2009. But what Lutz fails to mention are the new opportunities in green technology and renewable energy, not just for the auto industry, but in manufacturing as a whole. Surely this is a place where the US can and should lead the way – because it’s the responsible thing to do, both for the environment and the economy.

According to a recent report from the Brookings Institution, jobs in green technology and renewable energy—think solar, wind, energy efficiency, waste water recycling and public transportation—are on the increase. Brookings reports that the “clean economy” outperformed the national economy during the recession and that from 2003 to 2011 half a million green jobs were established. Green jobs involving solar power and the smart grid grew at the fastest rate.

There are now more jobs available in the green technology and renewable energy industries—2.7 million—than in the fossil fuel and bioscience industries, and the clean economy has more manufacturing jobs than the rest of the U.S. manufacturing workforce, according to Brookings, with “26 percent of clean energy green jobs having to do with manufacturing, compared to 9 percent for the rest of the U.S. job market.” Examples of clean energy manufacturing include the production of electric cars, bio chemicals, and LED lighting.

Further, green jobs offer opportunities and potentially higher wages to traditional blue-collar workers, who we’ll now refer to as “green-collar workers.” A clean economy will offer green-collar jobs such as installing solar panels, working in factories producing green technology products, and doing home retrofits.

The Brookings report states that although the lion’s share of clean economy jobs still reside in public services such as wastewater processing and mass transit, jobs in the solar, wind, fuel cell, smart grid, biofuel, and battery industries continue to grow quickly because of imminent fuel shortages and the need to develop alternative energy.

In the auto industry in particular, pressure continues to mount around greener products. In July, President Obama announced an agreement with thirteen major automakers to increasing fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light-duty trucks by 2025. Looks like green policy is taking a foothold.

Lutz says there are only three ways to add value in an economy – drill it, grow it, or make it. Lutz’s argument is outdated. Drilling is passé and growing represents less than 1 percent of US GDP. Drilling and growing will continue of course, but the true growth potential lies in inventing, designing, conceiving, and then manufacturing new green technology here in the US.

Photo: Installing solar panels by Oregon Department of Transportation on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

About Nancy Pardo

Nancy Pardo is a Seattle-based writer and editor. She holds an MA in Professional Writing. She began her career as a Washington DC-area reporter, moving on to become an editor and contributor for several top industry magazines in the U.S. and the Middle East. Nancy currently works for PTC as content marketing director and manages the company's award-winning blog Product Lifecycle Stories.
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