There was a time, not that long ago, when earning a paycheck and helping the environment were two separate activities.
Now that the world has woken up to the economic impact of climate change and is making the shift to a low-carbon economy, it’s possible to have a career and protect the planet, no matter what your interests and skills might be. (Though we think Greta already has a social media manager, fyi.)
The good news for green job hunters is that many of these gigs already exist — and more are being posted every day.
According to The Sierra Club, nine million green jobs could be created every year in the U.S. for the next decade. These are in areas such as clean transportation, clean energy, energy efficiency and upgrading infrastructure for clean water.
Thanks to policy proposals like the Green New Deal, which are aimed at addressing climate change alongside other goals like job creation and reducing economic inequality, the best jobs for the future are expected to be green-collar jobs.
What are some of these green gigs and how can you get one? Here are 10 expected to be in high demand in the coming years.
According to The Sierra Club, nine million green jobs could be created every year in the U.S. for the next decade.
1. Nuclear power plant safety inspector
Job description: It's a lot more complicated than Homer Simpson makes it look in The Simpsons, with much less margin for error (and probably fewer doughnuts). A nuclear power plant safety inspector, or nuclear technician, makes sure plant systems are working properly. The role includes investigating, measuring, collecting samples, maintaining equipment and educating staff.
Educational requirements: An associate degree in nuclear science or technology is typically required, though those with military experience and training in nuclear energy are also candidates.
What it pays: The median annual income (half are above, half are below) is about $80,000.
Why it’s needed: Nuclear power is a controversial source of renewable energy, but it’s becoming accepted as necessary to the global transition to a low-carbon economy. The 96 nuclear reactors in the U.S. currently produce approximately 20 percent of the nation’s electricity.
2. Wind turbine service technician
Job description: If hanging hundreds of feet in the air is your kind of fun, being a wind technician could be the perfect career. It’s one of the fastest-growing professions in the country, full of thrill-seekers and do-gooders. Also known as windtechs, these workers do installations, inspections and maintenance and are called on to diagnose and fix any problem that could cause a turbine to shut down unexpectedly.
Educational requirements: Most windtechs have an associate degree, which takes about two years to complete.
Why it’s needed: Wind is a key source of renewable energy and has fewer effects on the environment than many other sources. In 2020, wind turbines were the source of about 8.4 percent of total utility-scale electricity generation in the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration.
If hanging hundreds of feet in the air is your kind of fun, being a wind technician could be the perfect career.
3. Solar panel installer
As the cost of solar power systems drops and the need for renewables rises, so too will the demand for installations.
Job description: Also known as solar photovoltaic installers or PV installers, these professionals work with solar panels and systems that convert solar power into electricity. The job includes mounting panels on roofs or other structures and, in some cases, connecting the panels to the power grid, as well as maintenance.
Educational requirements: High school diploma or GED and on-the-job training, apprenticeship or post-secondary training program.
Why it’s needed: As the cost of solar power systems drops and the need for renewables rises, so too will the demand for installations. Solar energy contributes toward reducing pollution and GHG emissions, helping to combat climate change.
4. Environmental engineer
Job description: Environmental engineers help come up with solutions to environmental problems that can affect the safety and natural integrity of air, water and land. Responsibilities range from pollution control and solid waste management to hazardous materials control. Given the number of legal issues involved, environmental engineers must be familiar with relevant laws; many are practicing attorneys.
Educational requirements: Environmental engineers require a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering or a related field, as well as practical experience.
What it pays: The median annual salary is about $92,000.
Why it’s needed: Engineers help to protect the environment as well as support and maintain public health standards.
5. Environmental lawyer
Job description: The work may not be as sexy and instantly satisfying as Julia Roberts and her team make it look in Erin Brockovich, but it can be just as fulfilling. Environmental lawyers specialize in areas such as clean energy and technology, water law, climate change law and land management. They work in private firms, government and education.
Educational requirements: You (perhaps obviously) need a law degree for this job and will need to cut your teeth on a few environmental cases to build your expertise in environmental law.
What it pays: The average annual salary is about $145,000.
Why it’s needed: As the world becomes more environmentally conscious, the market for environmental lawyers will continue to grow.
6. Conservation scientist
Conservation scientists help create a “symbiotic relationship” between humans and nature.
Job description: A conservation scientist manages the quality of land, forests, parks and other natural resources. They work with landowners and governments on using and improving land in a way that protects the environment, sometimes with a specialty such as land manager, range manager or soil and water conservationist.
What it pays: The median annual salary is about $64,000.
Why it’s needed: Conservation scientists help create a “symbiotic relationship” between humans and nature. They help landowners figure out the best way to use land and water and their work can help lessen the impact of natural disasters such as fire and floods.
7. Hazardous waste manager
Job description: Hazardous waste managers manage and dispose of the toxic elements in industrial waste. The job can be done in a lab, a landfill or an office. Several federal agencies deal with hazardous waste, as do many private organizations.
Educational requirement: A bachelor’s or master’s degree in chemistry is usually needed, with specific knowledge of geology and areas of environmental chemistry, such as soil or water chemistry and the chemistry involved in biodegradation.
What it pays: The median annual salary is about $110,000.
Why it’s needed: Managing hazardous waste is critical to protect the planet and our health, given the dangers posed by toxic chemicals and other dangerous substances. Managing hazardous waste will be even more important given the shrinking number of disposal sites and the rising costs of getting rid of this waste.
8. Climate change analyst
Job description: Also known as climatologists, these scientists use statistical models and weather dynamics to monitor climate trends. They study temperatures, polar ice caps, ocean conditions and greenhouse gases over time, and use math models and data to predict future climate conditions and collaborate with climate scientists.
Educational requirements: A minimum bachelor’s degree in environmental science, climatology, hydrology, meteorology or other related science; however, a master’s degree is usually preferred.
What it pays: Average salary is about $77,000.
Why it’s needed: Climate change analysts help turn climate data into policy suggestions and goals. Their data and predictions are often used to make recommendations for environmental practices and propose new policies in alternative fuels, transportation, and other factors related to climate change.
9. Environmental assessor
Job description: An environmental assessor investigates hazards on land and water including lakes and streams, manufacturing and production facilities and private residences, to ensure laws are followed and environmental impact is limited. They often travel to sites and work with teams to survey the environment.
Educational requirements: Most positions require a bachelor's degree in environmental science or a related engineering discipline. Students often major in environmental management, which focuses on toxicology, hazardous waste and air pollution, as well as environmental regulations and risk assessment. Some employers may also look for certain qualifications, such as an asbestos certification.
What is pays: An average of about $68,000 a year.
Why it’s needed: Fighting climate change is more critical than ever. Environmental assessments are needed to ensure land and water is protected, particularly with new developments. For instance, environmental assessors review the impact of new mines that are needed to produce the metals and minerals required to build out the low-carbon economy.
10. Sustainability manager
Job description: A sustainability manager makes sure their organization sets and meets its environmental goals. They develop policies and programs to encourage employees to reduce energy, water and waste and are usually in charge of reporting progress to various stakeholders, including customers, employees and investors.
Educational requirements: Most sustainability managers have a bachelor’s degree, often in business or science, with a minor related to sustainability. There are also graduate-level sustainability programs. Some may choose to obtain a professional certification from the International Society of Sustainability Professionals.
What it pays: The salary is roughly $82,000 a year.
Why it’s needed: More customers, employees and investors are looking for evidence that the companies they buy from, work for or do business with are proactively working to reduce their carbon footprint. Sustainability managers help to create more good corporate citizens.
Feel-good jobs for the planet and its people
The rapidly moving transition to a low-carbon economy has supercharged the need for these green-collar jobs.
Many people are concerned about climate change and want their work to contribute to the global effort to protect the environment. Thankfully, this rapidly moving transition to a low-carbon economy has supercharged the need for these green-collar jobs.
McKinsey says a low-carbon recovery has the potential to significantly cut carbon emissions and “create more jobs and economic growth than a high-carbon recovery would,” which is more good news for green-job seekers.
The new green economy is also expected to create opportunities for women and people of color, who are “consistently underrepresented” in many occupations, according to a Brookings Institution report.
It says the “timing is ideal,” with workforce development considered a top priority for a growing number of public and private organizations. “The key will be seeing clean energy as more than just a way to combat a scientific phenomenon, but also an economic opportunity, and one that can benefit the labor market by promoting economic inclusion,” the report states.
In other words, green jobs aren’t just good for the planet but also for the people who live here.
So, while you might think fighting climate change includes nothing but sacrifice, a green economy is full of possibilities.
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