Timber: the original green industry


It feels like all we hear about these days is green. Green business, green cars, green energy, green building. It’s the hot new thing, and also a very real part of our economic future, as the world responds to the threat of climate change.

And yet, as a new Washington state report shows, the timber industry has been green for decades, long before it was cool. In Washington, 10 percent of timber industry jobs are green, as opposed to just three percent of all jobs statewide. (The state’s definition of green jobs is where “workers are helping to increase energy efficiency, produce renewable energy, or prevent, reduce or clean up pollution.”)

The Daily World in Aberdeen, Wash., just took a deeper look at this trend, profiling local timber workers and companies to discover why “green” is flourishing in the industry. The answer: the timber industry has long been green, has taken major steps to become more green and is well positioned to take advantage of the growth of “green” in our economy.

“For the forest products industry, we’ve been leaders in the green economy since before it was even called the green economy,” said Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, who has worked as a contract forester as well as an environmental specialist.

The geography of the green jobs is also compelling, state officials said:

Dave Wallace, acting chief economist for the state Employment Security Department, said the new report was prepared at the direction of the Legislature and included several findings seen as surprises. One of those was the high percentage of green jobs in the forest industry and the fact that rural communities often had higher percentages of green jobs than in larger metropolitan areas such as Seattle and Tacoma.

“It’s hard to project green job growth because it’s so new,” Wallace said.

Another key finding is that the green jobs have been growing steadily without much of a coordinated effort by the state to promote them.

“One of the interesting things we’re finding…is that it’s somewhat happening organically, regardless of what we do,” Wallace said.

Timber industry leaders say that the future is only getting greener, with sustainable forestry practices in everything from logging to sawmills, and the development of micro-products from trees. Forestry students are also excited to start sustainable work, and companies are focused on green jobs.

“This (state) report seems to be saying, ‘Keep up the good work and how can we help you do what you’re doing to get more people back to work,” said (David Quigg of Grays Harbor Paper), noting that many green jobs in his company don’t take much specialized training. “We’re always looking for people who are simply willing to learn and work hard.”

As an unabashed cheerleader for all things green, Quigg says being part of the green economy is no longer seen as a hippie pipe dream from the 1970s.

“Being sustainable is not a political movement,” he said. “The average American recognizes it’s not a hippie movement, it’s a reality.”