The eco-friendly business sectors pave the way for promoting a green environment while encouraging job creation and economic growth. While green job growth has experienced periodic dips and setbacks, its overall trajectory is distinctly positive. This positive growth has resulted in exploding interest in college degrees and professional green careers in sustainable energy, agriculture, health, law and practically every other segment of the economy. Explore the nation’s top green careers and the road map to landing one.
Global investment in renewables rose from $55 billion in 2004 to more than $260 billion in 2014, with renewable power growing 85 percent to constitute 30 percent of installed capacity.
Source: Introduction to the International Renewable Energy Agency (2015)
Solar employment in the U.S. grew at a rate of more than 20 times that of the economy as a whole between November 2013 and November 2014.
Source: The Solar Foundation, National Solar Job Census 2014
Road Map to Green Job Success
When it comes to building a successful green career, the first step is understanding your specific interests in the field. From there, getting a college degree and strategically working towards your goals can set you up for success. The chart below suggests some of the steps you can take to fulfill your green employment potential.
1.Determine your interests
Sustainability careers today are everywhere, in every sector of the economy and every corner of the job market. And that means simply being interested in a “green job” is not enough. Start by exploring your particular interests and goals, and then take a look at the industries with the sustainability jobs that match those interests.
2.Go to college
Regardless of a person’s specific field of interest, don’t forget that a green career is, first and foremost, a career. And almost all high-paying careers today begin with a college degree.
Get involved in on-campus clubs and organizations whose environmental and career interests match your own. Remember, it’s not always who you know, but knowing the right people can really help.
There’s bound to be at least a few non-profit associations nearby that support green causes and could use your help. Putting in some volunteer time with one of these non-profits in a local office or at an event will help you get to know professionals in the green business world and, more importantly, allow them to get to know you.
5.Find an Internship
It may not sound like a particularly clever idea, but landing and completing an internship with a well-established or up-and-coming green company remains the most tried and true stepping stone into a great entry-level job.
6.Grad School or Work Experience
Most green careers will not require earning a master’s or doctoral degree, but some may find a graduate program helpful in advancing their careers into a management position. However, plan on gaining a few years of substantial work experience between your undergraduate and graduate degree pursuits.
Spotlight: Careers in Clean Energy
The cost of renewable energy technology is dropping quite substantially. Our knowledge about their use is growing substantially. The technology keeps getting better and better — more efficient and more reliable. And we’re seeing a substantial amount of growth around the world in renewable energy markets in the last few years, particularly in solar, that it has really become the lowest cost option in some places in the world for providing new electricity services.
Clean energy, simply defined, is energy that is produced and used without resulting in a negative impact on the environment. Clean energy includes any form that comes from a renewable source, such as solar, thermal, hydro and wind. It can also include biomass conversion and waste-to-energy conversion.
The market for clean energy workers is huge. According to its 2015 Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that 7.7 million people were employed in the renewable energy field (excluding large hydropower) directly or indirectly in 2014. Here are a few other facts and figures regarding clean energy jobs from the IRENA report and elsewhere:
The Federal Government has recognized the importance of job training in the renewable energy industry and has taken steps to help meet the need for skilled workers in the field, both now and moving into the future. A good example of the government’s participation is the Solar Ready Vets program, whose purpose is to provide veterans transitioning back into private life with the opportunity to learn about the solar energy industry through a five- to six-week course: Learn more about it.
Quick Facts on Eco-Employment
There has been an 18 percent increase in the worldwide renewable energy jobs sector since 2014.
The 10 countries with the largest employment of renewable energy workers were China, Brazil, United States, India, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, France, Bangladesh and Columbia.
Solar PV remained the largest renewable energy employer worldwide in 2014 with 2.5 million jobs, up from 2.3 million the previous year. Other top renewable energy sectors for jobs include: liquid biofuels (1.8 million jobs); wind power (1 million jobs); biomass (822,000 jobs); solar heating and cooling (764,000 jobs); and biogas (381,000 jobs).
250,000: Number of clean energy and clean transportation jobs that have been announced in the U.S. since Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) began tracking jobs in 2012.
Ecotech Institute’s Clean Jobs Index confirms the number of renewable energy jobs in the United States increased 16 percent in Q2 2015 over Q2 2014, bringing the total to more than 1.47 million jobs.
57,900: Number of job openings expected annually in the U.S. between 2015 and 2020 for graduates with bachelor’s or higher degrees in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources or the environment.
The U.S. Council of Mayors projects a potential for 4.2 million new green jobs to be added to the nation’s economy by 2038, which would more than quintuple the total count and provide as much as 10% of new job growth between now and then.
One out of every 78 new jobs created in the U.S. in 2013 were created in the solar industry (1.3% of all jobs).
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Clean Energy Works for Us, Q3 2015 Jobs Report
Ecotech Clean Jobs Index
U.S. Council of Mayors, Current and Potenital Green Jobs
in the U.S. Economy
The Solar Foundation, National Solar Job Census 2014
Explore Top Green Careers
In-demand eco-jobs and how to get them
Just like any other sector of the economy, green jobs offer an almost countless number of occupations spread out over a wide range of industries and specializations. Finding the one that’s right for any individual will require making a personal inventory of his or her interests, goals and lifestyle preferences, followed by time spent researching and identifying those careers that fit that inventory. This section will help you learn about some green sectors and what careers are available within them.
Alternative Transportation and Fuels
Jobs in this area are concerned with new and efficient methods of transportation on all levels. Alternative fuels include ethanol, methanol, liquefied and compressed natural gas, bio-diesel, electricity, hydrogen and others. Geographic location of jobs depends on the location of the natural resources used to produce the specific fuels.
Biochemists and Biophysicists
Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical makeup of living things along with their associated biological processes, such cell structure and development, heredity, growth and disease. Most of their work involves research in a laboratory setting.
Chemical engineers apply principles of chemistry, physics, biology and math to help analyze, create and synthesize new chemical formulas. Chemical engineering employment requires a master’s degree at minimum. Chemical engineers work in all sectors of the economy.
Farm Products Buyers and Purchasing Agents
Involves the purchase and delivery of agriculture-related equipment and services. Buyers and agents evaluate products and suppliers and negotiate contracts with sellers. Entry-level positions can be found with a little as a high school diploma, but on-the-job experience is a necessity.
Clean technology, or clean tech, includes a wide range of subjects involved in reducing or eliminating waste and pollution primarily associated with production and manufacturing processes. Includes issues associated with renewable energy, recycling, waste management, lighting, green chemistry, and even information technology.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Analyst
GIS analysts work with mapping software and large databases to design and create maps and other programs to help manage a wide variety of projects, such as wildlife management, air pollution control, urban planning and more.
Mechanical engineers design, develop and build mechanical equipment and devices for companies in all sectors of the economy, including clean technology. Entry into the profession can be made with a bachelor’s degree in the subject. A state license is required for mechanical engineers who sell their services to the public.
Solar Photovoltaic Installer
Solar photovoltaic (PV) installers design PV systems to meet customer needs, install panels, modules and supporting structures, connect systems to the power grid, and perform maintenance on older systems. Entry-level positions can be found with a high school diploma and some work experience.
Conservation and Natural Resource Protection
This area focuses on the protection and management of all forms of natural resources on every geographic level, from local to global. Jobs in conservation and natural resource protection are often a good choice for those individuals who enjoy working outdoors in natural environments.
Conservation Scientists and Foresters
Conservation scientists and foresters manage conservation programs and activities in forests, parks, rangelands and related environments. They typically oversee the work of forest and conservation workers and technicians.
Wildlife biologists study animals and other forms of wildlife to better understand their natural habitats, behaviors and interactions with human beings. A bachelor’s degree is required for entry-level positions, although a graduate degree is typically necessary for high-level scientific work and research.
Forest and Conservation Workers
Forest and conservation workers perform a variety of tasks under the supervision of foresters and conservation technicians in order to develop, maintain and protect forests and other natural environments. This entry-level position typically requires only a high school diploma.
Energy efficiency is a blanket term for all technologies focused on making energy use more efficient and economical, regardless of its source. While energy efficiency concerns are found in all sectors of the economy, it is particularly important in regard to industrial energy use, primarily in manufacturing, which accounts for 85 percent of all industrial energy consumption.
Energy managers are responsible for designing, planning and monitoring general energy use on the facility or organizational level. They are often in charge of developing and implementing energy budgets and conservation plans to reduce utility costs.
Landscape architects design and often oversee installation of outdoor spaces such as parks, school campuses, corporate grounds, recreational facilities and private residences. A bachelor’s or master’s degree is typically necessary and most states require professional licensure.
Lighting designers work with architects and engineers in the design and installation of lighting systems in private and commercial building projects. A primary issue for lighting designers today is the effective employment of natural light as well as the efficient use of electrical resources.
In basic terms, green building refers to the design and construction of environmentally conscious and resource-efficient structures, as well as the processes and products used in those structures. Green building doesn’t stop once construction has finished, though. Operation, maintenance, renovation and demolition also fall under the green building heading.
Green architects design homes, commercial buildings, industrial facilities and other structures using the latest energy efficient materials and methods. Green architects generally need to earn a bachelor’s degree and obtain necessary certifications and licensure.
Building inspectors are employed by local and state governments to ensure that construction projects are carried out in compliance with zoning regulations, architectural specifications and building codes. This occupation normally requires a high school diploma combined with substantial construction experience.
A construction manager is commonly the on-site supervisor of a construction project. He or she is responsible for planning, coordinating and budgeting, as well as hiring, scheduling and monitoring of work done by subcontractors.
Pollution Reduction and Recycling
Closely associated with clean technology. Pollution reduction is concerned with just that: reducing the types and amounts of pollutants humans are putting in the air, water and Earth on a daily basis. Recycling plays a key role in effective pollution reduction efforts.
Environmental engineers employ engineering, soil sciences, chemistry and biology principles to a number of issues including air and water pollution, public health and waste management. Entry-level employment positions require a bachelor’s degree at minimum.
Hazardous Material (HazMat) Removal Worker
Hazmat workers identify and remove a number of hazardous materials, typically from homes, public places, commercial buildings and industrial sites. Employment requires a high school diploma, but HazMat workers must complete 40 hours of training in compliance with OSHA standards.
Recycling managers are responsible for overseeing the recycling operations at local centers or, in some cases, for an entire community. Recycling managers coordinate pick-up and drop-off programs and supervise community awareness events and education projects.
As discussed above, renewable energy is energy that comes from natural sources that can be constantly, consistently and sustainably replenished. Common renewable energy sources include solar, wind, biomass, biogas, geothermal, hydropower, and offshore wind, wave and tidal power.
Geoscientists study the structure, composition and processes of the Earth in order to solve issues regarding natural hazards, energy resources, meteorology, the environment and many others. Most jobs in the field require a bachelor’s degree in geoscience or a related field such as physics, chemistry, biology or engineering.
Hydrologists work in both the public and private sectors to study the movement, availability, and conservation of water resources. Tasks include locating, investigating and testing natural water sources, and analyzing and forecasting the water needs of agriculture and for human consumption.
Wind Turbine Technician
Wind turbine technicians install, inspect and maintain wind turbine systems and equipment. They typically work outdoors, often in difficult geographic and weather conditions and at great heights. A college degree is rarely required for this job, but technical training at a vocational school may be necessary.
Urban Planning and Sustainable Development
The field of urban planning and sustainable development focuses on issues of land use in the light of sustainable growth and environmental protection. Areas of responsibility include urban design, land resource management, sustainable infrastructure and green architecture.
Geographers commonly work for or consult with local government agencies and developers on issues such as topography, climatology, economic feasibility and more regarding land use and development. Geographers assess geographic conditions and create maps and graphs to present their findings to their employers and clients.
Land surveyors are responsible for conducting precise measurements primarily for boundary surveys and construction sites. Land surveyors record their measurements and prepare plots, maps and reports for their employers and clients. A high school diploma and work experience is normally sufficient for entry-level positions.
Urban planners are employed to analyze the issues involved in the creation, development and revitalization of cities and suburban communities, taking into account economic, environmental, social and regulatory issues. Employment as an urban planner typically requires a master’s degree.
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Payscale.com
The main challenge is to get utilities to understand how to incorporate variable renewable energy into their electricity systems. That’s kind of a big area of research right now, that and energy storage technologies to help balance the flow of electricity from variable energy sources.
How Much Green Can You Make?
Where any particular profession or job title falls along the salary spectrum depends on the same factors as those in the wider economy. In short, it’s all about the market supply and demand, the education and skills required, and the location. The jury is still out on how green salaries compare to salaries overall, mainly because it is often hard to tell green jobs and “regular” jobs apart. In other words, many occupations within green companies come with the same job descriptions as their non-green counterparts. In those cases, one should expect similar compensation regardless of whether the employer is designated as “green” or not.
Not surprisingly, the most in-demand, highest-paying jobs in the sustainability field are either in management or highly skilled engineering or scientific positions. There are also plenty of construction and technician jobs that offer a sound paycheck, but with substantially lower salaries than their managerial and scientific counterparts. Examples include:
If salary is a person’s one-and-only priority, then he or she may want to consider becoming a Chief Sustainability Officer, or CSO. CSO is one of the highest paying occupations falling under the green jobs heading. A CSO is an executive-level position whose job is to oversee a corporation’s environmental or sustainability programs. There are as many ways to become a CSO as there are CSOs, but expect to need, at minimum, a master’s degree (MBA is likely) and spend many years acquiring work experience.
As with all corporate executive positions, compensation is substantial but varies widely depending on the size of the company. Notwithstanding, a salary in the mid-100,000s is not unusual.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Highest Paying Environmental Jobs
Geographic location also plays a key role in establishing a career in the sustainable realm. Job seekers have strong preferences when it comes to where they live, and that is just as true for green job seekers. However, depending on the specific industry or job title, green professionals must be willing to go where the jobs are. For example, the vast majority of solar energy related jobs are currently found in Southern California, the Sun Belt, and along the Eastern Seaboard. By comparison, wind energy jobs are mostly located in the middle corridor states of Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Minnesota and the Dakotas.
Source: Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2): Clean Energy Job Announcements Across the US.
The bottom line is that [renewable energy] is a rapidly evolving field and young people especially who want to get into it will have to be pretty flexible in terms of where the opportunities might lie. And the opportunities are there.
Green Your Resume
There are two important keys to help land the best green jobs. First, an applicant must have the right education and experience to impress potential employers. Second, the applicant must submit a resume that best represents his or her accomplishments and commitment to a cleaner and more sustainable future in a way that makes them stand out from all other applicants. Here are a few resume tips to help do just that:
The earlier a student decides on their area of interest, he or she should try to tailor a degree major, minor and/or concentration to that area of interest. Employers will likely favor job seekers with educational backgrounds that best match the job description.
Many degree programs require successful completion of a relevant internship program. Whether required or not, students should seek out internships, preferably with companies or organizations that specialize in the kind of work the student is most interested in pursuing after college. Remember, employers often hire workers who have previously interned with them.
Clubs and Activities
Almost every college with green-related majors has one or more student clubs associated with those majors. Regardless of whether a club is nationally affiliated or specific to one school, the key is to get involved. School clubs are great networking sources and membership looks great on a resume.
Join a local sustainability-related group and volunteer for local green events. Community involvement is another excellent networking tool and illustrates your commitment to environmental issues.
Consider taking a local vocational or community college class in a subject related to your career interests. Another option is to earn a green certificate to enhance your job skills. This can be done before, during or after one’s college career, but is most likely to be pursued after graduation.
Be sure to include any and all education and other experiences that an employer will be drawn to. Use specific language regarding sustainability-related activities, but stay away from generalized or cliche-laden phrases like “green job” or “eco-friendly.”
The younger generation especially, sees the potential consequences of climate change and that some action really needs to be taken. Plus they understand that fossil fuels won’t be around forever and that there is extraction and utilization going on that is costing the environment. So, I have a lot of optimism about the upcoming generation.
Below are some sample resume entries (for someone seeking employment as a solar energy systems designer) offered to show how a job seeker can enhance his or her resume for green employment:
Green Resumes: Before & After
Before Green Skills
After Green Skills
To find a job that allows me to apply my education and skills.
To find a job that allows me to apply my education and skills in solar energy systems design to affect positive change to energy production and the environment.
B.S. in Electrical Engineering; emphasis in Electrical Systems
B.S. in Electrical Engineering with concentration in Sustainability. President of university’s Renewable Energy Student Association. Student Member of American Solar Energy Society. College summer internship with sustainable development non-profit.
STEM teaching assistant: K-12. Assist teachers in developing activities and events to teach students about science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Volunteer – Local Earth Day event.
Volunteer teacher for local watershed non-profit. Travelled to local middle and high schools and presented lectures on watershed issues. Organized volunteer clean-up events.
Volunteer with national environmental group to plan and conduct E-Recycling Day free public e-waste disposal.
Excellent oral and written communications skills.
Solid problem solving and leadership skills.
Strong computer skills. Experience in web design, Microsoft Word and Excel.
Excellent communications skills developed through college writing and speech courses, as well as working as volunteer STEM teaching assistant.
Solid problem solving and leadership skills gained by directing projects as part of my internship and as President of Renewable Energy Student Association.
Strong computer skills. Experience working with Microsoft Word and Excel, as well as programs specifically designed for solar and wind technologies.