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Not only green, but good

Not only green, but good

| Text and photo: Björn Lindahl

The Nordic countries and their companies will try to present themselves as environmentally friendly as possible during the Copenhagen Climate Summit. But what does it mean to be green? As huge investments are made in renewable energy, it’s important that other values are not sacrificed.

Media often portray oil companies as the bad guys and clean tech companies as ”clean”. But as green industries gain importance, some of the companies act more and more like other large corporations. This year the global wind energy industry will probably become larger than the Norwegian oil company StatoilHydro, the largest company in the Nordic region in terms of turnover.

All activities need checks and balances. But who controls the green companies? These are a few of the stories that have made the headlines in the Nordic countries over the past few months:

- Danish Vestas, the world’s leading supplier of wind power solutions, decided to close its blade factory on the Isle of Wright. 600 workers lost their jobs. A group of workers occupied the factory in August and managed to hold out for 19 days, despite difficulties in getting food supplies. The unions accused Vestas of trying to "starve" the workers out by using security guards to restrict their access to food and drink

- The Norwegian electrical car manufacturer Think decided at the end of August to move its production to Finland, closing its factory in Aurskog outside Oslo. The small company, with no more than 200 employees, will loose 600 million Norwegian Kroner this year (€70 million). Is that sustainable?

- The Swedish biofuel company Sekab promised in 2008 that it would be the first to sell sustainable ethanol in Sweden. The production would take ecological considerations into account and the company claimed working conditions on the plantations in Brazil were good. Civil society objected: ”The production in Brazil can hardly be called socially sustainable as long as the workers have to spend 10-12 hours a day in the fields, six days a week, to get a salary they can live on," reported SwedWatch in their report "A burning question".

What is a green job?

Everybody's talking about "green jobs", but what does it mean? 
According to UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) green jobs must be sustainable:
"Green jobs need to be decent work, that is good jobs which offer adequate wages, safe working conditions, job security, reasonable career prospects, and worker rights. People’s livelihoods and sense of dignity are bound up tightly with their jobs. A job that is exploitative, harmful, fails to pay a living wage, and thus condemns workers to a life of poverty can hardly be hailed as green," it writes in a report.

The UNEP defines a green job as "work in agricultural, manufacturing, research and development (R&D), administrative, and service activities that contribute(s) substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality. Specifically, but not exclusively, this includes jobs that help to protect ecosystems and biodiversity; reduce energy, materials, and water consumption through high efficiency strategies; de-carbonize the economy; and minimize or altogether avoid generation of all forms of waste and pollution."

How many green jobs will be created?

Estimates vary of how many green jobs will be created globally. It also depends heavily on the outcome of the negotiations in Copenhagen. No country can solve the challenges of climate change on its own.

The Climate Group in the UK claims to be the world’s first global non-profit organisation focused solely on solutions to climate change. In a recent report they presented the first estimate of global employment effects of climate change mitigation policies.

The greatest benefits for world employment would come from a global agreement with more stringent targets adopted by developing countries. That would create 10 million new jobs worldwide by 2020. If the EU or the US alone take climate action, the Climate Group predicts that around 1.1 million or 0.7 million new jobs will be created in these regions respectively, and up to 2.89 million globally, by 2020.

Green but not profitable

The Norwegian producer of electrical cars, Think, has never made a profit (picture above). Now the production will be moved from Aurskog , outside Oslo, to Finland.

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