By Amy Resnic
Green careers are very attractive to job seekers, many who desire meaningful work for the environment, and others motivated based on increased employment opportunities. President Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package enacted in February of 2009 confirmed his environmental focus on the economy. This package earmarked approximately $40 billion to be spent on the creation of green jobs, viewed as a key opportunity to put people back to work and help pull the Unites States out of its worst economic downturn since the Depression.
Evolving Definition of a Green Career
The definition of a green career continues to evolve. Job searchers looking for "green careers" on the Web will quickly learn that what defines a green job varies depending on the source. In fact, there is quite a bit of controversy surrounding what is and what isn't a green job, with many "shades of green".
However, green careers are widely considered to be those that demonstrate an association with improving the environment, which can be done by producing products and services that:
- Reduce green house gas emissions and pollution
- Provide energy efficiency
- Create renewable energy solutions
- Conserve energy, water, and natural resources
- Protect biodiversity and restore ecosystems
- Remove toxic materials
- Reverse or minimize human impact on the planet
In addition, most agree that a green job must be "good" for the worker, achieved by being available to a diverse workforce, incapable of being outsourced, and paying well with good benefits. To those that have lost jobs in recent years, these are very attractive qualities.
Educational Requirements for Green Careers
Most people assume green careers require advanced education such as a law degree or a PhD, but there are a wide variety of career options for all levels. Many traditional jobs such as electricians and construction managers can be retrained, resulting in green career opportunities for every worker. If an individual's interest lies in a field requiring postsecondary education, new green college programs are popping up at both community colleges and four-year universities around the country.
With the support of President Obama's $12 billion community college campaign announced in July of 2009, new offerings such as sustainability courses are being offered at these institutions. For example, Kalamazoo Valley Community College in Michigan has launched a 26-week course, Wind Turbine Technician Academy, for the purpose of training technicians for the operation and maintenance of Wind Turbines, which they expect to be in demand given the current pattern of industry growth.
Four-year colleges are offering new degree programs as well. For example, The State University of New York (SUNY) College of Environmental Science in Forestry, allows both undergraduates and graduates to choose majors such as forest ecosystem management, paper and bioprocess engineering, construction management and wood process engineering.
For more information on community colleges, see CTI's article "Community Colleges: An Important Part of Higher Education".
For more information on career degree options, see CTI's article "Schools Expanding Green Career Degree Options".
Examples of Green Careers
With the belief that one must have an advanced degree, people often think that one has to be a scientist or a biologist, for example, to have a green career. The industries that are thought of when thinking "green" are renewable energy and energy efficiency. While it is true that many green jobs are found in these two industries, opportunities for a green career exist in virtually every industry and will continue to increase as more companies are making it their mission to going green. Green jobs cannot be identified just by their title. Professions such as electricians, lawyers, architects and engineers, are being transformed to be careers of the future.
Below are examples of some green careers, showing the wide variety of jobs available to the workforce:
- Architects - energy-efficient buildings
- Environmental lawyers
- Engineers - problems varying from recycling to pollution
- Environmental consultants
- Construction workers & Electricians - capitalizing on the demand for green buildings
- Traders/Emissions Brokers- trading on an exchange of economic incentives for reducing pollutants
- Printers - using non-toxic inks and dyes
- Sustainability coordinators - job managing practices such as recycling, energy use, etc., at a company
- Sales - selling eco-friendly products to consumers
- Public relations - promoting green companies
- Mechanic - workers can specialize in saving energy and meeting new environmental standards
- Ecology tour guide - travel to unpolluted, natural areas
- Social responsibility officer - environmental impact of company operations
- Household and commercial cleaning - focusing on non-toxic
- Parks and open space expansion
- Public transit jobs - drivers, maintenance and repair
- Solar installer - systems that use solar energy
- Environmental meteorologist - concerned with weather and pollution
- Garbage consultant - waste strategies
Growth of Green Careers
Numerous reports predict greater job growth in green industries than other areas of the economy. In June of 2009, the Pew Charitable Trust reported a study that the number of green jobs in the United States grew 9.1 percent between 1998 and 2007 to 777,000 jobs, about two and a half times faster than job growth in the economy as a whole. The report also predicts that the clean-energy economy is poised to grow significantly with financial support from the public and private sectors.
The Environmental and Energy Study Institute reported in 2008 that as many as one out of four workers in the United States will be working in renewable and energy efficiency industries by 2030. Nationally, the American Solar Energy Society estimates that renewables and energy efficiency have the potential to generate up to 40 million jobs by 2030, and not just in engineering-related jobs, but in other areas such as construction, accounting, management and manufacturing.