Although the concept has gained a lot of momentum in the last five to six years, the conceptualisation of a green economy already started in the Brundtland Report (1987) which defined sustainable development as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs’. This focused attention on the economic, environmental and social dimensions integral to sustainable development. In 2008, following the global financial crisis, the green economy was re-conceptualised as a multi-pronged critical development path. To elevate the idea of the green economy as an economic driver, UNEP (2011) defined it as an economy that ‘results in improved human wellbeing and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities’. In many guiding frameworks the goal of a green economy is articulated as transitioning to a low carbon, resource efficient economy that is socially inclusive. Several terms have started to emerge linked to the idea of a green economy – green growth, a low carbon economy, a circular economy, greening the economy, green investments, green workplaces and a green labour market.

Isn’t the green economy just green washing? The term ‘green economy’ is used and interpreted in a variety of ways.  Some may regard the green economy as simply a ‘fringe’ activity that has little influence on mainstream economic activity, or even a dangerous diversion. Others may regard ‘green skills’ as the skills to simply present ‘business as usual’ in a better light.  However, if we are serious about a just economy, reversing negative impacts on the environment, and creating a decent amount of decent work in the process, we need to overhaul the economy as a whole and place it on a new, clean, ‘green’ and inclusive growth path.

Food for thought: In supporting her thesis that the green economy discourse is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing, the ‘wolf’ being green neo-liberal capitalism”, Jacklyn Koch (2012) argued that the emerging green discourse does not sufficiently engage with working class and justice issues, thus the evolving notions of justice are neglected or naïve. She also argued that there is a compartmentalisation in which the creation of green jobs is being viewed as something distinct, an add-on to the ‘real economy’.