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Green Jobs - What and Where Are They?

Businesses and government agencies engaged in well-defined, environmentally related sectors create green jobs

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Green Jobs and a Sustainable Economy

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Before there were "green jobs" in a "sustainable economy," there were businesses and government agencies engaged in well-defined, environmentally related sectors. Surprise! The "old" environmental industry is still very much alive.

2007-2010 Green Job Estimates by Sector

The December issue of the Environmental Business Journal provides the 2006 revenue and projected annual growth (2007-2010) numbers for the following sectors:

  • Wastewater Treatment -- $37.49 billion -- 4.6 percent
  • Solid Waste Management -- $50.60 billion -- 4.2 percent
  • Remediation/Industrial Service -- $11.55 billion -- 4.4 percent
  • Consulting and Engineering -- $23.98 billion -- 5.2 percent
  • Water Equipment/Chemicals -- $26.11 billion -- 5.6 percent
  • Water Utilities -- $36.61 billion -- 4.4 percent
  • Resource Recovery -- $24.13 billion -- 15.0 percent
  • Hazardous Waste Management -- $ 8.99 billion -- 2.2 percent

More importantly for job seekers, the companies and government agencies in all of these sectors report that "... finding, attracting, recruiting, hiring, training, and retaining qualified people ..." was the biggest issue affecting the industry's future and the most frequently mentioned concern affecting the growth potential of individual employers.

Environmental Industry Seek Qualified Employees

Environmental industry executives are deeply worried about where the next generation of qualified employees will come from. Government and corporate environmental officials are equally concerned, since a big part of their future personnel strategy involves outsourcing work to firms in these sectors while limiting the growth rate of government employment. With greater and greater frequency, working for "the government" means working for its contractors.

The EBJ numbers are supported by last year's review of the top 200 environmental firms in Engineering News Record. ENR's analysis showed a 12.5 percent gain for the top 200 over the previous year, pushing total revenues for the big guys to $42.2 billion.

In a confirmation of our hopes for job creation in the clean energy and green building sector, EBJ reported that its definition of that industry grew a whopping 11.8 percent in 2006 to total revenues of $24.90 billion, with expected growth at 11.4 percent annually. Meanwhile, ENR has begun tracking the top "green contractors" in the nation.

The Environmental Careers Organization of Canada

What kind of people do traditional environmental firms and agencies need? The answer comes from The Environmental Careers Organization of Canada, which reports that the "top ten green jobs" up north are:

  • Environmental engineer
  • Environmental technologist
  • Conservation biologist
  • Geographic Information System (GIS) analyst
  • Air-quality specialists
  • Environmental communication officers
  • Stewardship coordinator
  • Environmental specialist
  • Research coordinator
  • Environmental coordinator

With minor changes, these are exactly the same professionals that the U.S. environmental industry is searching for -- and for the same reasons: growth (the environmental sector in Canada is growing at a rate that is 60 percent faster than the overall growth rate of Canada's workforce) and aging (54 percent of environmental employees in management positions are 45 years of age or older).

Corporate Social Responsibility Jobs are Sustainable

A December study (PDF) from recruiter Ellen Weinreb and the business-student-focused nonprofit Net Impact reported that while corporate social responsibility and sustainability job postings were growing by up to 37 percent per year, the number of MBA-types seeking these positions was growing even faster, creating serious competition. The study analyzed both U.S. and European job postings, and the U.K. was by far the biggest marketplace for CSR-type positions.

So what?

What does this all mean for you, dear job seeker? Here are two takeaways for February:

Sometimes, the truth isn't out there (yet)...

New Industries, New Jobs, New Type of Responsibilities in Green Jobs

The slow move to sustainability -- and especially the climate change challenge -- is creating whole new industries, new jobs, and new types of responsibilities within existing jobs. It's happening in fits and starts, and we're making it up as we go along. It will take a while for things to shake out, for people to agree on common job categories, and for useful year-on-year data to emerge.

You can't always wait for hard data, agreed-upon job standards, certification requirements, accepted college degree programs, and so forth. Sometimes, you need to go with what you've got -- and what you've got is people.

Green Job Examples

So if your interest has been piqued by emerging job titles like campus sustainability coordinator, wind-energy installer, ecosystems management specialist, green-product marketer, conservation biologist, or sustainable-fisheries activist, make it your business to meet as many people as you can who are doing that work and learn from their stories. By the time the studies and statistics are good enough to tell the story, it may be your story they'll be telling.

Find your own definition of "green"

A great deal of ink and electrons are being spilled (do electrons spill?) trying to figure out what counts as a "green" job and what doesn't. For policy makers, activists, academics, and job-training professionals, that debate is essential. If people in the corn-based ethanol business or in "clean coal" get counted as "green," for example, then jobs in those industries will start showing up in "green jobs" counts and may become eligible to receive programs and subsidies in the name of green economic development.

As a citizen, an environmentalist, and a thinking person, -- and as a job seeker, consider the debates on Grist about our various energy, policy, and consumer choices and whether they are -- or are not -- really sustainable. There are some super-smart people in those debates and they often disagree. That disagreement isn't going to end anytime soon.

So develop a working definition of what kind of work counts as green for you; then get to work and watch as the green economy develops around you.

SOURCE: Kevin Doyle, Grist

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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