What are green jobs? It’s fair to say that there’s no one globally accepted definition of ‘green’ or ‘green collar’ jobs. But when people talk about green jobs, they usually mean jobs in sectors of the so-called green economy – jobs that can have a positive and vital impact on the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions or preserving and restoring nature. Think sustainable construction, organic agriculture, renewable energy, recycling, waste and water management, or sustainable transport.
Green jobs represent huge potential in an uneven global economic outlook. While over a hundred million people lost their jobs in 2020 as the pandemic hit economies around the world, many governments and international organizations worldwide are calling for a green recovery, pointing to evidence of faster growth opportunities.
The goal is that green jobs will offer the dual benefits of both good jobs and new ways to tackle climate change and nature crises. These hopes are inextricably linked: the ILO estimates that while 24 million jobs can be created from the energy transition and the circular economy, another 72 million could be lost by 2030 due to heat stress. Numbers like these show that we must transition to a green economy to prevent future job losses as well as to safeguard the future of our planet.
A just transition
Most experts believe the net-zero transition will lead to net job creation of decent jobs paying a living wage. However, not all green jobs are not created equal. Some are high-skilled, highly paid, and require advanced degrees. Take, for example, an environmental engineer optimizing processes in a recycling plant, or an environmental scientist testing pollutant levels in a wastewater treatment plant, or a green tech entrepreneur. Others are lower-skilled and lower paid such as an installer of vehicle charging points, insulation, or solar panels. For all of these jobs, the pay scales and growth rates vary widely by country and region, particularly based on things like the speed of roll-out and adoption of the green tech, product, or service.
The ILO and other organizations are calling on governments and industry to come together to ensure that the net-zero transition is a ‘just transition’ – that the shift to a low carbon, sustainable growth model is equitable for workers. Our challenge then, is to create infrastructures that can get as many under-resourced workers into green jobs as possible, and then build the industry to be as fair and beneficial to workers equitable as possible thereafter.
The good news is, opportunities – and particularly opportunities for low-skill, entry-level jobs in the green economy – are coming up in sectors from forestry to conservation and from recycling to renewable energy. These entry-level jobs include conservation workers who plant trees, recycling workers who collect and sort materials before they enter reuse processes, and technicians for HVAC and wind turbine installations.
The role of reskilling
Given the wide range of jobs that can be considered green, there’s also a wide range of skills needed to succeed in these jobs. Think of the difference between what’s required to shine as a wastewater treatment plant operator, a founder of solar company, an HVAC installer, or an environmental advocate.
Another piece of good news is that it is possible to chart a green job career path without a university degree. In the US, there are dozens of national training and certification programs for green jobs such as a green plumbers certification for journey-level plumbers and an urban forestry paid summer apprenticeship for high school students in Washington, DC.
Rapid reskilling works best when supported by cross-sector collaboration between business, governments and NGOs. Pioneering public private partnerships are sprouting up around the world to mobilize green skill development through certifications, apprenticeships and on the job training. For example, in India, the central government launched the Skill Council for Green Jobs in 2015 with the mandate of upskilling India’s workforce to fill the 50+ million anticipated green jobs by 2030.
That said, there are a handful of non-technical, critical skills that will help a transition to any green job:
- The first is being conversant in the main drivers of climate change and what can be done to turn things around.
- Second, a working knowledge of how to use basic digital tools and technologies which underpin much of the innovation happening in the green economy.
- Third, the ability to communicate well, including on the phone and by email, is invaluable particularly given the rise of remote working.
- Finally, professional skills to be able to go through a job search, work well in teams, and manage your time are critical.
If we can empower workers with these skills, we can empower them to enter the green economy.
A greener future
While the green economy is flourishing, it’s not only jobs that are strictly within the green economy that can contribute to a greener future. There’s a school of thought that says that any job can be a green job, or at least a ‘greener’ job, if we consciously consider how to do what we are doing in a way that can have a more positive environmental impact.
The way to take control of our own personal green journey is to first understand what the biggest drivers of environmental impact are and how my job might directly or indirectly contribute. When thinking of big environmental problems like nature and biodiversity loss, we can start by trying to break down the problem into its component parts. There are a handful of things that lead to nature loss ranging from climate change itself, to pollution, to invasive species. These are huge, global challenges that none of us can tackle on our own, but there are ways that we can take micro actions to make a difference, however small. For example, if we are focused on air pollution and we are driving a truck for deliveries, we can look for ways to optimize our route saving cost on fuel, time and also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
As for the future of green jobs, the prevailing wisdom is that the future is bright. Green jobs have been on the rise in many countries for years with no sign of a reversal. In the US, for example, E2 reports that jobs grew in the clean energy sector – in areas like solar and wind energy, clean vehicles, and grid modernization – each of the past five years.
This trend will only accelerate as governments in many parts of the world call for a green recovery or to ‘build back greener.’ For example, NextGenerationEU is framed as a once in a lifetime chance to ‘make Europe greener, more digital and more resilient.’ In the UK, if the government adopts the Climate Change Committee’s Sixth Carbon Budget, estimates are that 1.7 million new green jobs could be created by 2030.
These exciting signs of growth indicate that reskilling workers for green jobs provides a long term to care for our economy and for Earth, but importantly, it also holds abundant opportunity for workers, too.
Learn more about how XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling can help upskill workers for the green economy here.