The success of the cleantech industry will ultimately be measured by two yardsticks. One, of course, is its ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deliver environmentally friendly and sustainable forms of energy. The other is its economic impact and its ability to generate new businesses and new jobs.
This second facet has become an increasingly important measure as the global economy struggles to recover from the economic downturn. My colleague Richard Martin has written about how this debate is evolving in terms of the industry as a whole and the likely impact on U.S. jobs.
A recent blog piece by Scott Nicholson, a data scientist at social media site LinkedIn, provides a different type of evidence for continued growth in cleantech jobs. LinkedIn was engaged by the White House Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) to help broaden the Council’s understanding of what’s happening in the U.S. jobs market as part of its annual Economic Report of the President.
LinkedIn currently has around 150 million members, but the study focused on U.S. members who have been part of the network since 2007 in order to avoid bias related to the rapid growth in membership in recent years. The study analyzed job movements of tens of millions of members between 2007 and 2011.
The analysis showed that the fastest-growing industry sector, based on members’ profile information, was Renewables and Environment at +49.2%, ahead of Internet (+24.6%) and Online Publishing (+24.3%). In comparison the fastest-shrinking industries included Newspapers (-28.4%), Retail (-15.5%), Building Materials (-14.2%), and Automotive (-12.8%). The study also looked at the volumes of job gains/losses by industry. Again Renewables showed one of the largest growth rates, alongside Internet, Hospitals & Healthcare, Health, Wellness & Fitness, Oil & Energy, and IT. Retail, Construction, Telecommunications, Banking and Automotive had the largest volume of job losses between 2007 and 2011.
The LinkedIn study is interesting in its own right – even if it can only give a very partial glimpse into what is happening in the jobs market. It’s also fascinating because it provides further evidence of how our connectedness in a global world is itself becoming an important means of understanding how the economy and our society are changing. That’s another reason why utilities, government and other organizations involved in the cleantech industry need to see social media as not only a communications platform but also a valuable source of insight in a complex world.