By popular opinion, it would seem that there are three types of green jobs: those who are making or installing solar and wind energy systems, and those who are building the electric cars of the future. But in fact, popular opinion is wholly misinformed as green jobs are represented by a huge variety of occupations and industries.
One of the problems in seeing and counting those green jobs, however, is that relatively few of those occupations or industries are all-green. Most green jobs are part of occupations that – to varying degrees – include both green jobs and non-green jobs, as well as jobs that are somewhere in between. Likewise, most industries include green organizations and non-green organizations, as well as organizations that are somewhere in between.
Because green jobs are often hard to see, it is good to know what to look for. My research has now identified over 300 occupations that include green jobs and green career opportunities. O*NET, the Occupational Information Network, divides the world of work into about 1,000 occupations. So this means that almost one out of three occupations include green jobs. Sounds like a lot of green jobs out there, right? Wrong. Although it’s a growing field, green jobs still comprise a relatively small percentage of all of our jobs. Depending on how you define green jobs, they may be anywhere from 2% to 5% of all of our jobs. In some towns and counties, there may not be a single green job to be found. In other areas, especially where there is a lot of clean technology (cleantech) activity, the percentage of green jobs may be as high as 10%.
So where do we look to find most of those green jobs? Here are 20 green job sectors to consider:
1. Air Quality Management
This sector includes activities designed to monitor or improve air quality in areas where it does not meet accepted standards. This sector employs, for example, air quality engineers, scientists, analysts, and managers.
2. Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Alternative Fuels
This sector includes low or no emission vehicles designed to run on alternative fuels such as electricity, biodiesel, compressed natural gas, ethanol, and hydrogen. It also includes the development and distribution of those alternative fuels, including bio-diesel. This sector employs vehicle designers, engineers, service echnicians, and sales reps, among others.
3. Ecotourism and Environmental Education
Ecotourism is tourism focused on environmental protection and preservation, social justice, and education; Environmental education is teaching about how natural environments function and how humans can manage their behavior and ecosystems in order to live sustainably. This sector employs eco-tour guides and operators, environmental educators, and naturalist guides and interpreters.
4. Energy Efficiency
This sector includes all efforts to reduce energy waste and improve energy efficiency, including the development of energy efficient appliances, equipment, vehicles and buildings. Even weatherizing a home or building, or installing or updating an HVAC system, is all about energy efficiency. This sector employs, for example, energy auditors, building performance analysts, various types of engineers, HVAC service technicians, and weatherproofing specialists, among others.
5. Environmental Health & Safety and Regulatory Compliance
Environmental Health & Safety includes all efforts to improve the health and safety of the workforce; Environmental Regulatory Compliance is all efforts to ensure acceptable standards regarding environmental requirements and regulations. This sector employs, for example, environmental health & safety engineers, specialists and managers; also regulatory compliance officers, analysts, managers, and lawyers.
6. Environmental Services, including Engineering and Science
This sector includes land and water management practices that help preserve natural resources or ecosystems, or that help mitigate or repair environmental problems. This sector employs environmental engineers and scientists, geologists, and environmental and hazardous materials technicians, among others.
7. Environmental Law and Land Use Law
Environmental Law is concerned with federal and state statutes, regulations, and common-law principles concerning air pollution, water pollution, hazardous waste, the wilderness, and endangered wildlife; Land Use Law is concerned with zoning and public regulation of the use of land. This sector employs, for example, environmental project coordinators, environmental consultants, and paralegals and lawyers.
8. Green Business and Product Certification
This sector includes any public or private organization that operates a green business or product certification program that intends to assure us of the environmentally responsible nature of those businesses or products. This sector employs certification program analysts, researchers and managers, among others.
9. Green Building and Sustainable Design
Green Building is a new approach to designing, building and renovating homes and buildings; it incorporates a) sustainable design, b) green building practices, and c) sustainable building materials. This sector employs green building project managers, architects, civil engineers, and landscape architects; many of the skilled trades, such as carpenters, electricians, and plumbers; even realtors and property managers.
10. Green and Clean Technology and Product Development
This sector, known as “Cleantech,” includes the development of new technologies and products that help solve energy and environmental problems. This sector employs various types of engineers and technicians, directors of business development, product managers, marketing specialists, sales reps, and customer service reps, among others.
11. Natural and Land Resources Management
This sector includes the management of natural resources such as land, water, soil, plants and animals, with the focus on the quality of life for both present and future generations. This sector employs, for example, natural resources specialists, advisors, and biologists; water resources managers, engineers, and scientists; park rangers; soil conservationists; GIS analysts; foresters; archeologists; and rangeland managers.
12. Public Transportation
This sector includes using buses and rail to move people around, especially in urban areas; in addition to providing needed transportation services, public transportation also saves significant amounts of fuel and reduces carbon dioxide emissions. This sector employs transportation planners, transportation/public works managers, transportation engineers, and transportation security officers, among others.
13. Recycling and Waste Management
Recycling is the collection and processing of used materials or waste into new products; Waste Management is the collection, transport, processing, disposal, and monitoring of waste materials. This sector employs recycling collectors and sorters, coordinators, program managers, and account executives; also waste management material handlers, drivers, specialists, engineers, and customer service reps.
14. Renewable Energy:
This “Clean Energy” sector includes the generation of energy from natural resources that are naturally replenished over a short period of time; includes solar and wind energy, biofuel and biomass energy, hydro energy, and geothermal energy. This sector employs various types of engineers; energy analysts, specialists, and managers; wind farm engineers and managers; wind turbine service technicians; solar panel installers and technicians; marketing specialists, sales engineers, sales reps, and customer service reps, among others. Some experts draw a line between “small hydro” and “large hydro,” believing that small hydro is clean energy and large hydro is not. That’s because, while the energy from large hydro may be clean energy, it nevertheless comes at the price of a significant environmental impact (where, in comparison, small hydro does not).
15. Socially Responsible Investing
This sector includes investment strategies that seek to maximize both financial return and social good; socially responsible investing favors corporate practices that promote environmental stewardship, consumer protection, human rights, and diversity. This sector employs socially responsible investment analysts, advisors, and brokers, among others.
16. Sustainability Advising and Coordination
This sector includes helping businesses and organizations to become more sustainable and more environmentally responsible by adopting more sustainable methods and practices. Green business practices typically include the following commitments and activities: conserving energy and water; preventing air, water and ground pollution; managing waste, including recycling; generating and using renewable energy; and measuring and managing an organization’s carbon emissions. This sector employs, for example, sustainability consultants, coordinators and officers; also carbon analysts, advisors, and traders. At the highest level within an organization, this would typically be a chief sustainability officer.
17. Sustainable and Organic Agriculture
Sustainable Agriculture is using agricultural methods that attempt to ensure the profitability of farms while preserving the environment; Organic Agriculture is the process of producing food naturally without the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers and genetically modified organisms. This sector also includes locally grown foods such as those sold through farmer’s markets, local stores and food coops, and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs. This sector employs farmers and growers; farm managers, advisors, and consultants; also farm workers; and community supported agriculture program managers.
18. Sustainable Development in Third World Countries – This sector includes the development of economic resources in countries that will provide a greater quality of life without harming the environment. This sector employs sustainable development engineers, scientists, and project managers, among others.
19. Sustainable Landscaping and Habitat Restoration
Sustainable Landscaping involves practices that address environmental issues related to the design, construction, implementation, and management of residential and commercial landscapes; Habitat Restoration involves practices that return a degraded or former habitat to a healthy, self-sustaining condition resembling its previous state. This sector employs sustainable landscape architects, habitat restoration specialists, horticulturists, and landscape workers.
20. Water Treatment and Management
Water Treatment is the treatment processes used to make water more acceptable for a desired end-use, such as drinking or agricultural use; Water Management is the activity of planning, developing, distributing, and managing water resources under defined water policies and regulations. This sector employs water treatment engineers, plant operators, and managers; also water resources managers and desalination engineers, among others.
Green jobs don’t begin and end with these 20 green job sectors, either. For example, consider pesticide services that use organic pesticides; or janitorial services that provide green, toxic-free cleaning; or clothing and accessories industries with products made from organic or recycled material. The list goes on and on. In the final analysis, whether a job is green or not depends on that job’s relationship to the environment.