Americans put themselves on the path to green careers.
Interest and job openings grow in a variety of eco-friendly fields.
Kathleen Loa first began thinking about pursuing a green career while she was a student at Oberlin College. Now, armed with a degree in chemistry, she is taking the first step in that direction. She’s serving as an intern at the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy in Washington, D.C. After earning a master’s in energy policy, she’ll find a job.Skip to next paragraph
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That goal puts her in the vanguard of one group seeking eco-friendly jobs – students and recent graduates who hope to join the green boom at the beginning of their careers. A second group includes people in midcareer who want to parlay their current skills into green jobs.
“It’s an exploding field,” says Matthew Wheeland, managing director of GreenBiz.com. “It can be anything from a very technical job of manufacturing solar panels to the sustainability officer of a Fortune 500 company.”
Yet defining just what constitutes a green job remains a challenge.
“A lot of groups around the country are thinking about green jobs, but there’s no clear consensus about what they are,” says Julian Alssid, executive director of the Workforce Strategy Center in New York. Nor are there reliable figures about the number of green positions.
Some eco-friendly jobs are newly created. Others require new skills for existing jobs. “I kind of chuckle when people talk about green jobs,” says Richard Stuebi, a fellow at The Cleveland Foundation in Ohio. “In many ways they look like traditional jobs, just repositioned to sustainable products and services.”
As one example, he points to the burgeoning demand for machinists, fabricators, and welders associated with wind turbines. “That’s now being called a green job,” Mr. Stuebi says. “But the job itself doesn’t look a whole lot different from those in the auto industry 20 years ago. Solar-panel installers are doing a lot of the same things electricians and roofers have done – running wire, drilling holes in roofs. And people who can operate cranes and do onsite pouring of concrete can erect and install wind turbines.”
Some eco-friendly positions deal with energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings and in transportation. Others involve energy generation, such as wind turbines and solar power. Industries offering green careers range from utilities and construction to manufacturing.
Energy auditors and air-quality auditors represent key emerging occupations. Energy auditors identify cost-effective investments that owners and tenants can make to reduce heating and air-conditioning bills.
Legal services offer other green opportunities. These range from helping companies create voluntary carbon programs to assisting with contracts for green real estate developments, says Larry Ostema, an attorney with Horack Talley in Charlotte, N.C.
“In the last 12 months, there has been an explosion of firms advertising the abilities of their lawyers to assist clients with issues associated with climate change,” says Mr. Ostema, who heads his firm’s Green Initiatives group.