Cornell University

January 28 2014

Disabilities and the Green Economy

Hiring people with disabilities would benefit industries in emerging economy: new report

WindmillsGreen_200x200Green economy jobs hold promise for people with disabilities and inclusion practices would also improve the outlook in this growing sector, according to new research from ILR's Employment and Disability Institute.

A focused effort to engage and train people with disabilities in green fields would bring "a diverse, talented and largely untapped portion of the U.S. workforce" into the emerging economy, the report says.

In "The green economy and job creation: inclusion of people with disabilities in the U.S.A.," ILR Associate Dean Susanne Bruyère, the institute's director, and researcher David Filiberto detail steps industry and others could take to help level the green employment field.

An increase in green occupations was spurred by the financial crisis that began in 2008, by climate change awareness and by the trajectory to develop jobs in the anticipated low-carbon economy, the researchers said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines green jobs as positions in which workers' duties involve making an establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly and less dependent on natural resources.

According to a 2013 analysis by the bureau, there were 3.4 million green jobs in the United States in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Twelve percent of Americans report one or more disabilities, and only one in about every three Americans with disabilities is employed.  

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funded Pathways out of Poverty grants and the Energy Training Partnership grants. Both programs provide green job training for individuals with disabilities, displaced workers and others, the researchers said.

According to the Bruyère and Filiberto study, misconceptions about the capabilities of people with disabilities are often cited as the reason that employers don't hire those with disabilities.

Efforts to make the green careers available and accessible to people with disabilities will ultimately benefit not only the employee, but also their employers, according to the report.

Employers would be "expanding their pools of talent, skills and creative business solutions," Bruyère said.

New markets become accessible when people with disabilities are employed, and research has proven customers prefer to patronize businesses that employ people with disabilities, she said.

Recommendations by Bruyère and Filiberto for inclusion of more people with disabilities in green occupations include:

  • the application of strict standards for funding green industry training providers;
  • creating an inventory of current training programs in order to address potential gaps;
  • development of a federal partnership with green industry employers which includes hiring agreements and career advancement options;
  • tools and training manuals to provide funders, counselors and people with disabilities better information about the green industry job market.