There’s been a lot of talk about green jobs over the past few years. Not all the hype has panned out, but there has also been real progress.
The following are some of the hottest green jobs around:
The power of the sun is growing green jobs for installers, salespeople, and entrepreneurs looking to tap into a renewable energy market that is dramatically outperforming the economy at large. As the price of this green power source continues to drop, more businesses and individuals may be encouraged to install their own arrays.
The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy organization for the industry, reported that during 2011 solar job growth boomed at nearly 10 times the rate of overall employment gains. And while sunny (and incentive-friendly) California is the top solar state, the technology is spreading far and wide, with less-obvious locations like Pennsylvania and New York both ranking in the top five in terms of solar employment.
“In spite of the recession we’ve seen surprisingly robust growth,” said David Foster, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, a national partnership of labor unions and environmental organizations dedicated to the green economy. “Renewable energy production in this country has doubled in the past 5 years, and in solar and wind we’ve increased the number of jobs by 70,000, while other parts of the economy were losing jobs.”
The automobile industry doesn’t have a very green reputation, but it’s a top success story in green job growth according to BlueGreen Alliance’s David Foster. (The organization counts United Auto Workers among its members, along with environmental organizations like the Sierra Club.)
“The Obama Administration’s three-pronged attack of stabilizing the U.S. auto industry, introducing fuel economy rules, and targeting tax assessments around advanced auto manufacturing has demonstrated how taking an important step towards solving climate change can also have a beneficial job creation rate,” Foster said.
“And a sector of the economy that had historically been very opposed to embracing a clean economy is now seeing a resurgence and the creation of tens of thousands of jobs for exactly that reason.”
These are bad times for many builders but one segment of the industry has been upbeat—engineers, contractors, and other professionals working to build and upgrade buildings to greener LEED standards.
“The continuing interest in energy savings has been very helpful and the growth of green architecture is an area of great interest,” said Foster. “There is value in real estate investment that is directly associated with green standards.”
Numbers from a McGraw-Hill Construction study unveiled at the National Association of Home Builders show earlier this year back up that assertion—and project even greater gains in the future. Green homes comprised 17 percent of the residential construction market in 2011, the report stated, and will reach between 29 and 38 percent of the market by 2016. Older homes are getting greener as well; 34% of all remodelers said they expect to do mostly green work by 2016. That’s a 150% jump over 2011 levels.
We all have to eat, but feeding Earth’s 7 billion (and growing) people is taking an ever-greater toll on the planet’s natural resources. That’s why sustainable farming continues to gain traction, producing more healthy foods while using less of everything from pesticides to energy.
The Organic Trade Association’s 2011 industry survey showed a nearly 10 percent jump in U.S. organic sales from 2009 to 2010, continuing the trend of an industry that soared from sales of $1 billion annually in 1990 to nearly $27 billion in 2010.
And organic experts expect these trend to continue. The Organic Farming Research Foundation projects that the number of organic farmers in the U.S. must triple by 2015 to meet demands for organic foods. That should provide rewarding green jobs for those who like to get their hands dirty.
Some of the greenest jobs available involve helping existing businesses, from across the economic spectrum, operate as responsibly and sustainably as possible. That’s where the growing ranks of sustainability professionals come in, armed with sustainable or “green” MBAs and other degrees or concentrations from universities dedicated to educating the next generation of green decision makers.
It’s a rare business that isn’t focused on making money. But each day more corporations are embracing the “Triple Bottom Line” of Profit, People, and Planet, no matter what type of widget they produce. And the growing industries and businesses overtly dedicated to the green economy are also in search of leaders who understand how to create synergy between environmental responsibility and economic success.