March 24, 2009 | General

Editorial: How Many Jobs Per Ton?

BioCycle March 2009, Vol. 50, No. 3, p. 4
Nora Goldstein

While writing news items for BioCycle World and Regional Roundup this month, it became apparent that the “number of cars taken off the road” is becoming a universal measurement to quantify the benefits of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) reductions. Here is an example from the BioCycle World item on the dairy industry setting an emissions reduction target: “The dairy industry announced in February that it is committing to a 25 percent reduction in GHG emissions by the year 2020 – equivalent to taking more than 1.25 million passenger cars off the road.” Another example is from an item on job creation by the recycling and reuse industries in five Northeast states: “Each year, recycling operations in the five states … avoid almost 1.25 MTCE of GHG emissions – equivalent to taking 2.8 million cars off the road, according to an estimate.”
On the renewable energy side of the picture, it is common to hear the phrase, “enough to power ‘X’ number of homes.” Whether it is cars off the road or supplying power to homes, the takeaway message is that the environmental and economic benefits of alternatives that reduce GHG emissions, and a reliance on fossil fuel-based energy, has been boiled down to numbers that everyone can understand.
Recently, we were contacted by Michael Kinsley of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a well-known research and advocacy organization in Colorado, which has been promoting renewable energy, conservation and other climate- and earth-friendly alternatives for years under the direction of Amory Lovins. Kinsley was looking for any employment numbers available for composting. We explained that job creation relative to composting is dependent on factors such as type of technology used (more automated in-vessel systems versus open windrows), feedstocks being processed, etc. We added that any analysis of job creation related to composting should factor in compost use, including soil blending, bagging, land application, etc.
In a follow-up email, Kinsley suggested that the employment numbers “might be compost compared to landfill per ton, or maybe X number of compost jobs generated in a given city or state in Y year.” He explained that the purpose of these numbers “will be to add weight to the value of composting by showing its economic development potential. We will include these numbers in a report we’re providing to a small ag-dominated city in California…. In the report, we are suggesting about a dozen green economic development opportunities that the city should consider, among them a major composting program. The people who will read this report will not respond to composting for the reasons you and I do. But they will become interested when economic development numbers are provided.”
BioCycle is taking Kinsley’s data request as a Call for Action. We need to simplify the benefits related to composting organics versus disposal or combustion. Jobs per ton is one measurement that people will understand in these economic times. The key will be to narrow down the variables that get factored in so that the measurement is a universal number, free from the burden of caveats and references. We need our version of “cars off the road.” Nowhere do you see asterisks or footnotes in those citations. And goodness knows, we certainly drive more than one type of car!

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