Green and Growing: Environmental Jobs

Green and Growing: Environmental Jobs

What’s the good news for green job seekers? Environmental career opportunities are thriving in numerous sectors and around the globe. Why is the environment driving so many jobs? In a word: Mainstreaming.

Once thought of as more “crunchy granola” than “big business,” green products and services are becoming a significant part of the mainstream economy in agriculture, transportation, energy, consumer goods -- you name it. Even traditional business careers like sales and marketing take on a green hue when the product is wind energy or organic food.

Are you looking to get in on some of the environmental action? If so, you’ll want to check out the five growth areas below, as recommended by Kevin Doyle, coauthor of The ECO Guide to Careers that Make a Difference and national director of program development at the Environmental Careers Organization, a nonprofit started in 1972 that features a wide variety of environmental internships and fellowships. “These opportunities are just the tip of a massive iceberg of jobs,” says Doyle. “And unlike our real icebergs, this one isn’t threatened by global warming. It’s fed by it.”

Wind Power

This industry has been around since the ’70s, but it’s just now hitting the market in a bigger way, given the rise of energy costs. A 2007 report from Clean Edge finds wind power revenues expected to rise from $17.9 billion in 2006 to $60.8 billion in 2016.

Wind power jobs are not your father’s environmental career. From wind resource assessor (the person who finds windy locations) to wind turbine installation and maintenance personnel (those who keep the propellers turning), these jobs were way under the radar screen until recently.

And then there is the science behind the technology, including atmospheric physics, climatology and meteorology. A background in these disciplines is useful, particularly if you have a master’s degree in meteorology, because it could lead to jobs in wind power meteorology (scientists who map out atmospheric models) and wind power forecasting (another term for wind resource assessor).

If you have a degree in engineering, grid integration positions (people who connect wind energy to the overall energy grid) are an option. Training in mechanical or electrical engineering will allow you to parlay your skills into wind power with minimal additional education or simply through on-the-job training. Or, you can find a certificate program at a growing number of local colleges.

For more information on wind power opportunities, check out the American Wind Energy Association.

Financing Alternative Energy

Green energy isn’t only blowing in the wind, of course. Solar power, carbon management, hydrogen, fuel cells, energy conservation and biofuels are quickly becoming household names, and money is flowing into all of them. If you’re fresh out of business school and looking for opportunities that are green in both the environmental and the economic sense, there’s no better place to go than alternative energy.

Well-known investment houses like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs have placed big green energy bets, and they are joined by independent venture capitalists and specialty hedge funds. These jobs attract folks who are concerned about the environment and have the analytical skills and industry knowledge needed to put billions of dollars on the line.

One good source for tracking these investments is the Clean Tech Network.

Green Building

Green building practices are a global phenomenon; Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building practices are now accepted worldwide. According to the US Green Building Council, the number of accredited professionals in this country alone has grown from 527 in 2001 to more than 43,000 today. The Council says that market rate homes with green features now represent a $36 billion a year industry.

Not surprisingly, the green building industry is affecting the education of architects. Most of the best architecture degree programs offer a green focus. But the green building industry has opened doors for other professionals as well, including construction managers, landscape architects, materials engineers and more.

Since buildings are an important contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the likely passage of federal GHG emission reduction legislation will drive the already rapid growth in green building into hyper mode. Those with the right backgrounds and certifications will be in serious demand.

Urban and Regional Planning

Sustainability is at the center of the environmental movement, and urban planners are smack in the middle of our global push for a more sustainable society and economy. Planners do it all -- they coordinate building permits, ally key stakeholders, organize resource analysis, etc. Although many planners have technical specialties, the field ultimately requires a savvy understanding of how economics, politics, science and design must work together.

Environmental studies majors are often planners at heart, and an interdisciplinary undergraduate degree can certainly get you started. However, if you’re serious about rising in the field, you’ll probably want to get a master’s degree in planning. For more information, visit the American Planning Association.

Land Trusts and Brownfield Redevelopment

Land trusts primarily seek to protect ecologically sensitive places, like forests, beaches, wildlife habitats, wetlands and open spaces, that continue to be lost at a rapid pace. Brownfield redevelopment, meanwhile, mainly looks to reclaim contaminated and/or abandoned properties, such as old industrial sites in cities and abandoned mines in the countryside. Brownfield professionals transform these liabilities into usable community assets that can reinvigorate sagging neighborhood economies.

Job opportunities in both areas have exploded over the past decade, and include executive directors, preserve managers, real estate and tax experts, education managers, fundraisers, environmental clean-up specialists and community coordinators.

For more information, visit the Land Trust Alliance and the National Brownfield Associations.

Additional Articles in This Feature

Learn more about energy careers.

Learn more about environmental careers.