Green building will support 7.9 million jobs and contribute $554 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product over the next four years. Those are the findings of a new study by the U.S. Green Building Council and Booz Allen Hamilton, a strategy and consulting firm based in Atlanta.

“Clearly the momentum for green building is growing,” said Jason Hartke, director of advocacy and public policy for the Council, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that promotes sustainable building. He spoke at a press conference during the organization’s annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, a three-day event that began Wednesday in Phoenix and has attracted more than 25,000 attendees.

The Green Jobs Study examines green building construction jobs and other occupations tied to the LEED rating system. To estimate jobs linked to the green construction market, Booz Hamilton relied on McGraw Hill’s 2008 estimate of the total value of the green construction market, released prior to the global financial meltdown in September last year.

McGraw Hill based its calculations on the actual value of buildings it considered green, including those built to LEED standards or an equivalent certification program. The figures were also based on projects that incorporated several elements across the standard’s five major areas: energy efficiency, water efficiency, resource efficiency, responsible site management and improved indoor air quality.

“Our goal is for the phrase ‘green building’ to become obsolete by making all building and retrofits green and transforming every job in our industry into a green job,” said Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council.

The estimated $554 billion economic impact of green building through 2013 is based on three criteria. The first two include the direct effect of work by general contractors and others who construct green buildings, and the indirect effect of economic activity generated for downstream businesses that provide raw materials such as steel and lumber. The third economic contributor is induced effects, which capture the impact of increased income of households directly or indirectly affected by green building expenditures.

The last category is an umbrella that not only includes direct and indirect economic effects, but also the income of employees, which is used to purchase products and services from food and gas to health care and education.

Waiting for the green bonanza

Of the 7.9 million green jobs projected to be created over the next four years, 229,850 will be directly attributable to the LEED rating system, which will add $12.5 billion to GDP over the same period, according to the study.

When will the green job bonanza become apparent? It’s difficult to pinpoint, because opportunities are still emerging and many jobs will be created through existing occupations, for instance, as engineers retrain to do their jobs in a greener way.

Hartke points to a recent White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) report that forecasts environment-related occupations will experience a 52% growth rate between 2000 and 2016 versus a 14% growth rate for all other occupations.

The White House report acknowledges that “green” jobs are currently difficult to classify in current occupational definitions. As a result, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has begun to consider a new classification system that would allow researchers to track changes.

Still, Hartke maintains, “Green building is at the nexus of saving energy, saving money and creating jobs.”