Innovation, environment and employment: "Le travail au vert"

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Innovation, environment and employment: "Le travail au vert"

by Gérard Valenduc, Patricia Vendramin

Under the title " Le travail au vert, innovation, environnement et emploi ", the Work and Technology Research Unit of the Fondation Travail-Université (FTU) has taken up the challenge to analyse together the stakes of technological innovation, environment and employment. Each of these terms is an answer to current concerns. Taken two by two they refer to fundamental issues that put their mark on public policies and business strategies. As a trio they can offer several leads for the future. The project report was published in autumn this year. The project was realized within the framework of the Unit's programme EMERIT - Expériences de Médiation et d'Evaluation dans la Recherche et l'Innovation Technologique (Experiences in Mediation and Evaluation in Research, Innovation and Technology).
In a first chapter, the report considers what kind of technological innovations are likely to give structural responses to the environmental challenges, and what kind of changes can be induced in the field of employment. After that, it analyses the different employment issues linked to environmental activities and markets, looking for short-term and long-term trends. It then proposes an overview of the main policy tools that may be used in order to cope with the global environmental challenges and to stimulate structural changes in industry and economy. All these tools are related to employment aspects. Finally as conclusion the book sketches some key features of the relationships between technology, sustainability and employment.

1. Technology and environment

Environmental technology appears to be mainly problem-driven. An overview of what can be labelled "environmental technology" shows plenty of techniques, projects and small implementations of any kind, which are often designed as short-term operational solutions. In order to structure this wide spectrum, the environmental technologies are analysed with regard to their purpose. Six types of technologies are distinguished, related to six categories of purposes:

According to a recent study of the Office of Technology Assessment of the German Parliament (TAB), a distinction is introduced between add-on technology and integrated technology. This distinction appears as a transversal characteristic across these six categories. The book also puts forward the different roles allocated to each kind of technology.

2. Environment and employment

The total amount of private and public expenditures for the environment in the European Union is growing, but the question is: to what extent will market growth result in job creation? A first answer is that any growth in the market of environmental equipment and services will develop the environmental industry. As this industry is at an early stage of its development, market growth creates new jobs. Nevertheless other compensation or displacement effects may occur. A deeper analysis is proposed, based on a distinction between three levels of employment effects:

The book proposes some estimates made principally in France and Germany. It analyses the negative employment effects on "sensitive industries" and the balance between positive and negative impacts.

It also analyses another assumption related to qualitative growth that seems to be more important in the long term for the level and the quality of employment. In a perspective of sustainable development, prevention becomes a prevalent strategy. Waste and pollution processing should then decrease in the long term. These activities are labour intensive for low skilled workers but prevention activities and integrated technology are less labour intensive and they require higher professional profiles.

3. Overview of policy tools and their impact on employment

The way towards sustainable development, with ecological and social purposes, is not only a matter of technology. Different types of policy instruments can be implemented in order to cope with environmental challenges. Three of these instruments are analysed in this study:

An overview of these policy tools leads to the conclusion that there are no specific instruments particularly dedicated to foster both innovation and employment but rather a set of instruments that have to be applied in a global and coherent strategy.

4. Some conclusions and future prospects

All the elements that were discussed so far show that the relations between technological innovation, environment and employment are not only a question of adjusting or correcting existing economic mechanisms. In fact, they show that a new growth model and new patterns for the organisation of society are needed. In such new models, innovation can play an important role. In the conclusions of this book four points are developed.

4.1 A problem of diffusion for the environmental technologies

The objectives of technological innovation fostering environment are ambitious. On the one hand the purpose is to develop technical solutions in order to encounter concrete problems; on the other hand, it consists in creating new products and processes which can foster sustainability. Both additive technologies and integrated technologies can fullfil these purposes.

However, the environment is a field where there is an important gap between a technological potential that already exists - techniques and applications that are already ready for use in laboratories -, and the diffusion of integrated technologies into the economy. The book puts forward and analyses two components that can explain this lack of diffusion: an image problem and the need of interdependence between the various policy tools.

4.2 The need for sectoral dynamics in the environmental industries

The development of a "green or environmental sector" is now a reality. But it is rather difficult to point out exactly what are environmental industries and services. It is not only a problem of statistics for researchers. It is a constraint for industrial and employment policies.

Having an environmental sector that can be seen as an "actor" is a key factor to induce sectoral dynamics and to develop a set of favourable factors such as: a better knowledge of the markets, information and support for the enterprises, co-operation between enterprises, better access to exportations, and so on.

As regards employment policies, sectoral dynamics are also profitable. It favours a more open labour market and initiatives from public agencies in vocational training. It turns into reality a potential of job creation at a larger scale than at the level of individual initiatives from enterprises. It is also a reference for collective bargaining.

However, sectoral dynamics have to take into account the duality of the environmental labour market, for one part in the profit sector, and for the other part in social economy.

4.3 Some hopes for employment but no miracle solution

If all the scenarios show that all the policy tools in favour of the environment can have a positive impact on employment, for different reasons, this optimism has to be tinged with carefulness.

4.4 Towards qualitative growth

An analytic approach only of the relations between growth, productivity, ecology, technology and employment is not sufficient to understand a more fundamental trend in socio-economic development. The book therefore ends with a broader perspective compatible with a long term approach. The perspective is the one of sustainable development and qualitative growth.

The concept of qualitative growth leads to a revision of the growth theories. A classical approach of growth focuses on the increase of labour and capital productivity. The principle of qualitative growth puts the emphasis on natural resources productivity.

Nowadays the scientific and technical capacities that could allow a significant increase of the natural resource productivity is very high but not used in an efficient way. A growing natural resource productivity can become the future driving force of growth. In such a scenario, the pressure on labour productivity can decrease and have a positive impact on the level of employment. As the high pressure on labour productivity is a major source of unemployment, any decrease of this pressure can be a positive shift for employment.

However, with regard to employment, the implications of qualitative growth are more complex.

Qualitative growth modifies also the job characteristics. An economy based more on services, recycling and reusing, product quality, and on prevention requires higher qualifications and gives an important place to research activities, design, training, management of quality of life.

Even if the actual growth model is failing, qualitative growth and sustainable development can not be achieved from one day to the next. So, all the policy tools that have been considered are important in order to support a transition between problems in the short term and aims in the long term.

Bibliographic data

Valenduc, G., Vendramin, P.: Le Travail au Vert: Environnement, Innovation et Emploi, Collection EMERIT, Editions Vie Ouvrière, FTU, EVO Bruxelles, 1996. ISBN 2-87003-322-2


Patricia Vendramin
Gérard Valenduc
Centre de recherche Travail & Technologies
Fondation Travail-Université (FTU)
Rue de l'arsenal, 5, B-5000 Namur, Belgium
Tel.: +32 81 725122
e-mail: pvendramin∂
e-mail: gvalenduc∂