Good News for the Green Economy

Two government studies tracking the progress of the nation's green economy show that, while still small, it is poised for growth.

Although the studies found green products and services only comprise one to two percent of the nation's overall private business economy, the Executive Summary of the report (out of the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economics and Statistics Administration) begins with an auspicious statement: "The Administration is committed to fostering the development of a clean and energy-efficient economy; that is, a "green economy." Check out the full report here.

As we grapple with a climate bill and face increasingly clear signals that fossil fuels can no longer be burned with impunity, an official commitment to green the economy is long overdue. It is, perhaps, the magic feather industry needs to forge ahead with green products, a clear signal that "green" is a sound investment and the inevitable way of the future.

However, as a nation at the precipice of an industrial makeover, a long journey remains. For instance, the report "U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Intensities Over Time" measures emissions per dollar of economic output. While this measure, called "carbon intensity," has decreased over time, our total carbon output has actually increased. So while industry efficiency has gone up, production has grown even faster. Production per unit may be producing fewer emissions, but more production leads to more emissions. An overhaul of the current cycle of production, consumption and disposal will certainly play a large role in any national environmental improvement.

The reports also identified a shift in the sector producing the most emissions. While industry has gone greener, domestic emissions have grown. Weatherizing homes and buying efficient appliances are becoming mainstream activities, but many people remain bewildered by what exactly they can do to have the greatest positive effect. And inconsistent messages are no help -- a recent report out of the Government Accountability Office revealed that Energy Star labels are not nearly as stringent as they once were believed to be. The GAO easily got certification for fabricated and inappropriate products, and also found that once certified, manufacturers could download and print the Energy Star label with no further oversight. New rules and regulations for the Energy Star label were quickly promised, but there will no doubt be a backlash of consumer malaise and apathy stemming from the findings. Read another take on the findings on The Consumerist.

Overall, the Commerce Department's reports are good news, if for no other reason than they highlight investment in the green economy. It is also important -- and heartening-- to note that the findings were compiled using data from 2007. They do not measure improvements since the Obama Administration's commitment to green jobs.