At the beginning of his first term, President Obama promised that we would see 5 million “green-collar” jobs within the next 10 years. The Obama administration has estimated that occupations in clean energy and sustainability will grow by a whopping 52% between 2000 and 2016, compared to the average growth rate of 14% during that same time period. Overall, the government has invested $90 million dollars in green economy, including for improving energy efficiency, incentives for renewable energy, green job training and clean manufacturing tax credits. Furthermore, the data provided by the Ecotech Institute Clean Jobs Index has revealed that 2014 is going to be a great year for green jobs.
But what actually are green jobs or green-collar jobs? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines green jobs for their data collection as either “Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources” or “Jobs in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources”. Typically, these occupations involve or address renewable energy, energy efficiency, pollution reduction and removal, green house gas reduction, recycling and reuse, natural resources conservation, environmental compliance, education and training, as well as public awareness.
The demand for green jobs is continuously growing as an increasing number of organizations, such businesses, government agencies and non-profits pursue sustainability. Sustainability encompasses a wide variety of green careers, ranging from managers and scientists to engineers and manufactures. The responsibilities of these professionals may vary from organization to organization, and some places might not employ specific sustainability professionals, but still strive for sustainability in general. Regardless, green careers are available for individuals with varying education and experience levels.
The most promising green jobs include:
- Solar Energy Systems Installer (median income $40,000; minimum education requirement High School or Associate’s degree)
- HVAC, Refrigeration Mechanic and Installer (median income $42,240; minimum education requirement Technical School training, with certification in EPA standards)
- Building Maintenance Engineer (median income $43,300; minimum education requirement High School or Associate’s degree)
- Energy Field Auditor (median income $48,500; minimum education requirement Bachelor’s degree)
- Wind Turbine Technician (median income $52,600; minimum education requirement Bachelor’s degree)
- Software Engineer (median income $65,500; minimum education requirement Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science)
Industries that hire sustainability professionals are numerous. There is the food industry, the car industry, the building industry, the utilities industry, and of course the government, just to name a few. Many schools and programs tailor their training towards the emerging green trends in these sectors. The Refrigeration School, for example, covers green initiatives in the HVAC industry, such as the improvement of environmental air quality and the reduction of energy consumption. A growing number of trade schools and colleges also offer renewable energy degree programs to meet the rapidly rising demand for sustainability professionals.
In conclusion, green jobs have a very promising outlook in the U.S., embraced both by public and private sectors. The solar industry alone, for instance, is at $13 billion now and added more than 15,000 jobs in 2013 while expected to increase hiring in 2014. Similarly, the energy efficiency retrofit industry is slated to see a significant leap this year. As “greening” becomes more widespread and mainstream across all industries, new opportunities to contribute to the field will arise as well. Green jobs benefit individuals, organizations and communities around the country as they pay well, promote new skills, tend to be local and obviously help the environment.