Did your high school guidance counselor ever tell you that you could become an environmental economist? How about a biomass plant technician? Or a wind energy operations manager?
Those careers, which once seemed a bit idealistic, reserved, say, for tree huggers or granola chewers, are now part of a whole slew of good paying “green jobs.”
Today’s transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy requires systemic changes that will result not only in new products and services but also in changes in production processes, business models, skills required, and tasks involved in existing occupations. Green jobs need green skills — those attributes that comprise the knowledge, abilities, values, and attitudes needed to live in, develop, and support a sustainable and resource-efficient society.
Never before have these green skills been so imperative. The need to transition towards more environmentally sustainable modes of production and consumption have spurred whole new jobs in areas like pollution mitigation and waste prevention, environmental remediation, sustainable procurement, and energy generation and management.
Green Careers Are Finally Taking Center Stage
According to the government-run occupational database O*NET, the median annual pay for a worker in one of the green jobs is $76,530 — some 31% higher than a national median salary of $58,260.
The World Economic Forum says decoupling from fossil fuels is more important than ever. And it’s happening — solar and wind have expanded by orders of magnitude and now make up more than 10% of global electricity. That also means that these two technologies need to scale up market share by several factors — as the electricity system as a whole grows, too — in order to decarbonize power substantially. To do so, these and other renewable industries need to attract a new workforce.
A new analysis from Promoleaf reveals a number of optimistic and useful findings regarding the green jobs sector. What sectors now require green workers? Occupations include those that either directly contribute to studying, protecting, and improving the environment or are performed with significant regard for the environment and its effect on the job or industry in question.
- Renewable energy, such as wind energy engineers;
- Sustainability, such as sustainability specialists;
- Agriculture, such as agricultural engineers;
- Nature protection, such as foresters;
- Environmental science, such as biologists and environmental scientists;
- Teaching, such as environmental science professors;
- Pollution mitigation, such as environmental compliance inspectors; and,
- Waste management, such as recycling and reclamation workers.
The 50 jobs that fell under the definition of “green” employ as many as 875,000 across the US. At that number, they account for about 0.6% of the US workforce, a statistic Promoleaf attributes less as an indication of how widespread green jobs are and more of a testament to how many more of them are needed.
- Green jobs are set to grow at a rate of 8.6% over the next decade, with a predicted 114,300 new jobs to be added to the green workforce in that time.
- Eight out of 10 top-paying green jobs offer salaries of $100,000 or more per year.
- Topping the list are natural sciences managers – a shorthand occupation for managers of scientific labs and R&D departments in companies — with a salary of $137,900 per year.
- With the exception of wind energy engineers ($107,800) and environmental economists ($105,630), the top 10 green career list is largely composed of occupations associated with the management and development of renewable energy operations.
- Wind turbine service technicians and solar photovoltaic onstallers ranked as the top two jobs set for the greatest growth rates over the next decade.
- Among the green jobs with the highest number of postings as of May, 2022 are occupations in environmental science, occupational health & safety, and recycling.
- The overall growth rate for green jobs higher than for the overall workforce is +7.7%.
- The top green career states are California and Texas, and the top green career cities are Los Angeles and Chicago.
- Alaska, Colorado, and Washington have green jobs that are nearly at 1% of the workforce, or ≈ 40% higher than expected based on the national average.
- Iowa makes the top 10 list of states, with an estimated 12,100 workers (0.8% of the workforce) in green jobs. The most common green job in the state is “wind energy development manager,” which aligns with the fact that 57% of Iowa’s electricity is generated by wind turbines.
- States like Arizona and South Carolina only offered green jobs at 0.4% and 0.3% of the labor force, a very low concentration compared to the national average of 0.6%.
Case Study: An Environmental Economist
Environmental economics is concerned with the study of the economics of natural resources from both ends of the supply chain spectrum – their extraction and use and the waste products returned to the environment. They also study how economic incentives hurt or help the environment and how they can be used to create sustainable policies and environmental solutions.
Environmental economists may study or develop policy recommendations relating to:
- Externalities, or unintentional effects on the environment or human health resulting from economic activity;
- Permit trading, also referred to “cap and trade,” is a policy tool to address release of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming;
- Cost-benefit analysis of environmental regulations;
- The economics of biofuels, waste management, land cleanup, and other environmental technologies and industries; or,
- Valuation, which aims to assign dollar values to natural resources and deals with nature-provided ecosystem services such as erosion prevention by trees or water filtering by plants.
As environmental economists conduct analyses related to environmental protection and use of the natural environment, such as water, air, land, and renewable energy resources, they evaluate and quantify benefits, costs, incentives, and impacts of alternative options using economic principles and statistical techniques.
Want to learn more about the field of environmental economics?
- The Association of Environmental and Resource Economists holds its next annual convention in Maine in 2023.
- The Harvard Environmental Economics Program has awarded 3 prizes to Harvard University students for the best research papers addressing a topic in environmental, energy, or natural-resource economics; each prize was accompanied by a monetary award.
- The European Award for Researchers in Environmental Economics under the Age of Forty in 2022 went to David Hémous. He has made significant contributions to the economic analysis of the role of technological changes to the dynamics of the economy and of climate change. He emphasizes the importance of a balanced growth path and shows that the lack of such a path is closely related to the slow development of green technologies and to growing inequality in labor economics.
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