Green Pathways to Greenbacks

Identifying current and future trends in the environmental profession

The unprecedented scientific consensus regarding climate change has revitalized a green movement in our country. A number of states are demanding reduced emissions and more renewable energy, many consumers want environmentally friendly products and services, and businesses are competing to satisfy this response. This green economy has created new jobs and career paths for environmental professionals. With all this excitement, finding eco-friendly employment is becoming much easier.

Five Hottest “Green Collar” Industries

1. Zero waste recycling
2. Energy auditing and retrofitting
3. Green auto service (service on hybrid and future green vehicles)
4. Solar panel installation
5. Reforestation

(Source: Natural Resources Defense Council)

Green Collar Jobs
The demand for renewable energy, such as solar and wind, has created a new breed of jobs called “green collar” jobs — and business is good all across the country. In Silicon Valley, the solar industry currently employs an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 people and is growing at 35 to 40 percent a year, according to a SolarTech white paper released in June. Another 10,000 to 20,000 solar workers are expected to join the field over the next decade. Of these, approximately 60 percent of the jobs will be in manufacturing and installation, 20 percent in sales and marketing, and 20 percent in engineering. Massachusetts’ clean energy industry is the fastest growing sector (ranked the 10th largest cluster) in the state.

The industry can expect 30 percent job growth in renewable energy firms and 25 percent for energy efficiency firms over the next year, according to a state survey conducted in August. Maryland PIRG, a nongovernmental public interest organization that strives to protect consumers and promote good government, reports developing wind energy resources in the mid-Atlantic would create more than 11,000 jobs in wind turbine manufacturing and installation, and more than 700 jobs in wind farm operation and maintenance by 2014. US PIRG reports expanding Colorado’s renewable energy standard would add 4,100 jobs through 2020. The initiative requires the state’s largest utilities to obtain 3 percent of their electricity from renewable energy resources by 2007 and 10 percent by 2015.

With all these available jobs, the industry lacks the skilled workforce to fill these positions. So, in August, the U.S. House of Representative approved the Green Jobs Act of 2007 to help train American workers for jobs in the renewable energy and energy-efficiency industries. The act approved up to $125 million to establish national and state job training programs, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Watchdogs
With ever-changing environmental laws and regulations to adhere to, “companies are growing teams focused on environmental issues—teams that are more cross-organizational with a strong strategy component,” said Emma Stewart, director of environmental strategy for Business for Social Responsibility. These environmental compliance teams help companies plan, develop, execute, and monitor environmental projects to ensure compliance with federal, state, and local environmental laws. Big firms are recruiting visible, high-level managers to lead these teams and to develop strategies to mitigate their environmental footprint. In the private industry, the number and rate of government regulations and policies passed is directly proportional to the employment growth for compliance professionals.

Keeping Score
The government is not alone in keeping tabs on a company’s environmental footprint. Many financial firms are hiring sustainability analysts to examine and rank the sustainable practices of companies. These analysts gather data on companies, review, and interpret the information to provide analysis on a scorecard for the holdings. Dow Jones hires

Fastest Growing U.S. Jobs

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Labor compiled a list of the fastest growing occupations from 2004 projected to 2014. These three environmental jobs ranked within the top 50 listings. No. 1 on the list was home health aides.

No. 24: Hydrologists
Increase1: 31.60%
Income: $43,605 and up
Number in 2004: 8,000
Projected number in 2014: 11,000
Education required: master’s degree

No. 26: Hazardous materials removal workers
Increase1: 31.20%
Income: $28,590 to $43,604
Number in 2004: 38,000
Project number in 2014: 50,000
Education required: moderate on-the-job training

No. 29: Environmental engineers
Increase1: 30%
Income: $43,605 and up
Number in 2004: 49,000
Projected number in 2014: 64,000
Education required: bachelor’s degree

sustainability analysts with a variety of backgrounds, though in-depth knowledge of finance and sustainability is a must. A good time to apply for these positions is April through August, when the majority of the index analysis is conducted. Goldman Sachs released a report at the UN Global Compact Summit in July stating that companies considered leaders in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) policies also are leaders in stock performance — by an average of 25 percent.

The Business Angle
“Stakeholder expectation for corporate environmental performance is a rapidly changing landscape,” says Stewart. Today, it is necessary to align environmental responsibility with business success. For this reason, Stewart notes an increasing number of companies seeking guidance from environmental professionals who also have business savvy.

“A major change within the profession will be an increased need for multidisciplinary professionals with business knowledge and environmental expertise. The majority of companies need candidates who can navigate a profit-and-loss statement and present to senior executives in their language, as well as understand the environmental science, the credible players, and the stakeholder trends,” said Stewart. These multidisciplinary professionals are able to see “the big picture” and are better equipped to solve real-world problems.

Product Development
The verdict is in—the burning of coal and oil has increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere and now the race is on for companies to create new products and services to mitigate our dependency on these resources. A report by Riedel Marketing Group, entitled HomeTrend Brief: The Environmental Movement Past, Present, and Future, predicts the market for environmentally friendly products will grow significantly over the next four years as more Americans recognize the need to protect the environment on an individual basis.

As an example of companies’ commitments to developing eco-friendly products and services, GE has already doubled its budget to $1.5 billion for technology research and development to reduce energy consumption and waste. The company’s Ecomagination products generated $10 billion in revenue in 2005 and are forecast to exceed $20 billion by 2010.

Using research from the Natural Resources Defense Fund’s Creating the California Cleantech Cluster, as companies continue to invest in new products and

Hot Jobs

Emissions brokers: Since 2003, brokers have been able to trade greenhouse gas emission credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange. These brokers identify projects that are eligible for receiving carbon credits and help buyers and sellers connect. Global carbon credit trading doubled to $28 billion from 2005 to 2006 and the market could be worth trillions of dollars over the next decade if the U.S. adopts a mandatory emissions credit trading system.

Biomimicry engineers: This field studies naturally occurring processes in animals, plants, and microbes to solve human problems. For example, architects and engineers built a mid-rise building in Harare, Zimbabwe that has no air conditioning, yet stays cool thanks to a self-cooling, termite-inspired ventilation system. The UltraCane was inspired by how bats navigate in darkness. The cane uses ultrasonic signals that bounce off objects and alerts users to obstacles.

Green architects: With an increasing demand for energy-efficient buildings, green architecture is becoming mainstream. A growing number of architects are obtaining certification to go green.

Green lobbyist: Environmental advocacy groups have become bigger and better funded in recent years. Companies rely on lobbyists to represent their needs in these changing times.

Renewable fuels engineer/biologist: The ethanol industry is growing at a rapid rate. EPA’s Renewable Fuel Program will increase the volume of renewable fuel required to be blended into gasoline to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012, and as a result, the program will create new markets for farm products, increase energy security, and promote the development of advanced technologies.

Climate risk analyst: Many insurance companies are now offering policies to promote energy efficiency and help reduce global warming. Climate analysts provide the industry with information to determine the risks associated with extreme flooding, storms, or temperature changes.

Ecological economist: These economists determine the value of the environment and the naturally occurring services it provides, like flood control, soil formation, pollination, and food production.

Environmental scientists: The job outlook is expected to grow due to stricter environmental regulations and an increased public awareness of the environment. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) expects the strongest job growth to be in privatesector consulting firms.

Environmental engineers: Employment is expected to increase much faster than the average through 2014. More environmental engineers will be needed to comply with environmental regulations. An increase in public health concerns also will spur demand for environmental engineers.

Urban and regional planners: Most new jobs will be in local government, as planners will be needed to address problems with population growth, especially in affluent communities.

Conservation scientists/foresters: As Baby Boomers retire, the need for these professionals will increase. The BLS forecasts that most new jobs will be in state and local governments and in private sector forestry and conservation consulting.

Environmental lawyers: The Environmental Careers Organization forecasts steady growth for environmental law opportunities, with a majority in private practice. Sources: and

services, the job market should rise. Cleantech products and services offer forms of energy generation that don’t produce pollution. According to the research, California companies created one job for every $56,700 of venture capital invested in cleantech products and services. Each dollar also yielded an average of $3.12 in revenue. By using these numbers, conservative calculations indicate an investment of $3.2 billion in California cleantech would create 51,517 jobs and $11.2 billion in revenue by 2010.

The Water Industry
The water industry’s infrastructure is in need of serious attention and repair. Over the next two decades, the water industry must invest in infrastructure rehabilitation for a sustainable network. The Water Infrastructure Network estimates that this need will exceed $1 trillion by 2020. As the dollars begin to flow in, professionals in the water and wastewater industry with creative and efficient management ideas will be in high demand, as will technicians, engineers, and laborers.

Ten Expanding Professions in an Eco-Economy

Wind meteorologists
Recycling engineers
Aquacultural technicians
Ecological economists
Geothermal geologists
Environmental architects
Bicycle mechanics
Wind turbine engineers

(Source: Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth—Norton, 2001)

Let’s use the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority (GEFA) as a case study. To date, the GEFA has approved $2.1 billion for infrastructure projects in water, wastewater, solid waste, recycling, and land conservation loans and grants, and as a result, Georgia created an estimated 30,000 jobs.

Help Wanted
Those concerned with protecting the health and well-being of a community and the environment will have no problem finding jobs, especially in the public sector. The number of available jobs for environmental health professionals far exceeds the number of qualified applicants. A recent report to Congress concluded that the United States will need up to 137,000 additional environmental health professionals over the next few years. Accredited undergraduate programs currently graduate only 600 students annually, and new undergraduate enrollment in environmental health is low.

The Pew Environmental Health Commission found that federal government agencies involved in air quality/radiation, water quality, solid waste, and pesticides/toxic substances all lack sufficient qualified personnel to address health issues related to environmental exposure.

GIS Skills in Demand
In our complex, high-tech world, information is power. Information arrives from many different sources — government agencies, satellites, monitoring stations, surveys, reports, laboratories — and knowledge of geographic information systems (GIS) is critical for success. No longer a unique tool for specialized industries, GIS is rapidly becoming a tool used by a number of disciplines—real estate, remediation of contaminated sites, public health, crime mapping, national defense, sustainable development, natural resources, landscape architecture, archaeology, regional and community planning, transportation, and logistics. The vast majority of available jobs are with engineering, architectural, and technology firms, but any field that has a geographical reference can benefit from someone with GIS skills. For environmental professionals, GIS skills rank up there with Microsoft® Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The U.S. Department of Labor identified geographic information technology as “one of the three most important emerging and evolving fields, along with nanotechnology and biotechnology. Job opportunities are growing and diversifying as geospatial technologies prove their value in ever more areas.” It’s an exciting time to be in the environmental field. What’s going on in the industry can be reminiscent of the tech boom in the 1990s, but with one major difference—this is no trend, nor bubble. The mindset of environmental responsibility is not going away and the field can expect a period of job growth for at least the next decade.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

About the Author

Sherleen Mahoney is a Web managing editor at 1105 Media.

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