In many ways, the greening of society seems to focus on restrictions by drawing lines around what we can and can't do and by outlawing activities that we once enjoyed or profited from. But one green trend is about opening doors and expanding opportunity. That's what is behind the rising interest in green careers and green employees. Ori Sivan knows this angle inside and out, having graduated in 2005 with a college degree in environmental engineering (a field in which he briefly pursued employment) before starting his own business, Greenmaker Supply, a Chicago-based sustainable-building-materials retailer. Today, he hires people who want to work for a green company.
In contrast to the worrisome forecasts and warnings often given by environmental observers, the green-career business is booming. "Absolutely bonkers," is the way Sivan describes it.
Working to Save the Environment: The Top Three Jobs
Expected job growth: 316 percent
Hazardous Materials Removal worker
Expected job growth: 312 percent
Expected job growth: 30 percent
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics www.bls.gov
The sector of environment-related professions has begun to emerge as one of the future's fastest-growing job markets. Granted, most of the 30 careers on the list of hottest occupations identified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics were computer- or health-related, but these three green gigs made the cut on this year's ranking byu merit of their projected percentage of growths from 2004 to 2014
Green careers aren't just for technically trained types like Sivan, either, says Marie Kerpan, a green-career consultant in Mill Valley, California. "All functions of business could be applied to a green career," she says. "You could be a marketer working in a business in renewable energy." Indeed, Sivan says that when he recently hired an accountant and a warehouse manager, he wasn't
looking for green credentials but for people who knew their jobs and were interested in working for a green company like his.
Credentials can’t hurt, however, and they are increasingly available. Many community colleges offer certificates and associate’s degrees in environmental science and technology, and the trend is reaching all the way up to graduate schools. Kerpan says that “Green MBA” degrees are now offered at a handful of universities, where students with interests in the environment and business can learn how to have a positive impact on both.
Not too long ago, having a green career meant working for a nonprofit group or a research organization. Nonprofits still represent a major career path, but increasingly, businesses of all types are interested in hiring people who can help them with their sustainability initiatives, Kerpan says. And many potential employers are popping up specifically to address problems and sell sustainability solutions, particularly in the hot areas of renewable energy, green building, and transportation. “Pretty much anything can be a green career if you do it in the context of solving one of these problems,” Kerpan says. You can identify green employers by using directories such as Co-op America’s National Green Pages (www.coopamerica.org) and by schmoozing at green-business conventions and checking sources like the Sustainable Business Institute’s list of green enterprises (www.sustainablebusiness.org).
The only bad news about green careers is that pursuing one may not pay very well — yet. “Unfortunately, all too often it means taking a little lower salary,” Sivan says. “There are lots of great opportunities right now to get in on the ground floor, but generally that comes with a pay cut and some risk.”