Getting a Green Job

green jobs

Even when the economic climate is foggy, there’s reason to be hopeful for some sunshine: according to a 2010report published by Clean Edge, Inc. in partnership with Green America, there are several trends that suggest a bright outlook for green jobs in the future

The report focuses on clean-tech jobs—which utilize technology related to renewable energy, energy efficiency, and pollution reduction—but the trends are applicable to green jobs across the board. Many other green sectors are also expanding—organic food has grown to $35 billion industry by 2014, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. And Fairtrade International reported a 15 percent growth in the fair trade market from 2013 to 2014 alone, making it a $5.47 billion industry that year.

With Baby Boomers retiring in huge numbers, increasing concern about the high cost of energy, and green career training programs popping up across the country, there are more and more opportunities for people interested in employment that also makes a difference in the world.

What is a Green Job?

Before you start your journey to find a green job, it’s important to know what to look for. A green job is any job that supports environmental and social responsibility.

This includes solar panel installers and engineers, organic landscapers, holistic health care providers, advocates for social justice and poverty reduction, socially responsible investment advisors, community organizers, and more.

In addition to focusing on environmental sustainability, green jobs are often financially sustainable. Many of them—especially clean tech—are jobs that “pay well and provide job security,” says Todd Larsen, Green America’s director of corporate responsibility. They pay well because they require specialized skills, and they’re secure because many of the jobs can’t be outsourced overseas. As the Clean Edge/Green America report explains, it’s more cost-effective to manufacture products like wind turbines close to where they’ll be used, because of shipping costs due to the sheer size. Plus, jobs like retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient must be done where the building is physically located.

Where Do I Start?

There are many resources to assist you in finding a green job. The clean tech report lists the leading resources for green-job seekers in an index. Whether you’re new to the job market or are looking for a change of pace, there’s a tool out there to help you snag a green job.

Now is the perfect time to take advantage of college courses or training programs related to green jobs. In addition to the growing need for these jobs, many current employees—especially in the energy sector—will retire soon, according to the Clean Edge/Green America report. With so many people leaving the workforce while so much technological advancement is taking place, it’s the perfect time for job seekers to learn new green skills. Career training and educational opportunities are blossoming, even in the face of an economic crisis.

“Education booms when the economy goes bust, so this is a great time to go back to school and retool for the future,” says Jill Bamburg, a co-founder of the Pinchot University in Seattle (formerly Bainbridge Graduate Institute) and author of Getting to Scale: Growing your Business without Selling Out (Berrett-Koehler(m), 2006). Here are some different educational opportunities that will put you on the path to a greener career:

College degrees

Check out local community or four-year colleges, or graduate schools for green programs of study that interest you. These could range from sustainable agriculture to wind energy to green business degrees. Colleges like Pinchot also offer students a great network for finding a job after graduation, as well as what Bamburg calls “credential”—proof you are serious about green employment.

“The credential is a door-opener—something that appears on your resume and indicates that your interest in doing ‘green’ things has gone beyond the talking stage,” says Bamburg. “You’ve actually pursued training to make yourself useful to an employer—and it gives you something to talk about in an interview.”

Whether you’re headed to college or grad school for the first time, or going back to learn new skills and information, you’ll be ahead of the game by focusing your education on an environmentally and socially responsible career.

“Many of our students are mid-career professionals or people who are looking for a second career that is more aligned with their values than their first career was. They simply add their new sustainable business skills and credential to the rest of their resume,” says Bamburg.

RESOURCES: See below a list of colleges with a sustainability focus that are approved Green America Business Network™ members, and search "education" on GreenPages.org.

Certifications, Trainings, and Apprenticeships:

Whether you’re new to the workforce or a seasoned vet, certifications and training programs are valuable resources, and they are especially prominent and necessary in the energy sector.

When you complete a certification or training program, you learn skills directly related to energy efficiency and sustainability. You might learn how to install a solar panel, how to reuse or salvage construction materials, or how to sell a house and emphasize positive environmental attributes. There are plenty of sectors where knowledge about energy efficiency is becoming essential, so these programs are especially great for people who want to take a green step forward in their jobs.

On-the-job training is a great way to learn skills, and there are many apprenticeships available across the country.

RESOURCES: Visit Apprenticeship USA to search for apprenticeships by state, and look for apprenticeships that support environmental sustainability and social justice.

The Job Hunt

As the green job market grows, more job fairs, job boards, websites, and career centers are offering guidance toward green jobs. Here are some leading green job resources:

  • Job boards: There are many sites devoted to green jobs—Green Dream Jobs, Green Jobs Network, GreenBiz Jobs, Renewable Energy Jobs. Idealist and the BCorps jobs board are also full of nonprofit jobs that support sustainability and social justice, no matter what your field of knowledge may be.
  • Career centers: One-stop career centers offer a comprehensive set of resources for job seekers. At these centers, people can access a variety of work-related resources: resume writing guides, career counseling, the Internet and telephones, employer referrals, and more. Meet with a representative at the center to talk about how to accomplish green career goals.
  • Networking: Get your foot in the door toward a green job through networking. Key networking avenues are job fairs and green-job conferences, where you can meet employers and learn more about green jobs, and networking and social media sites, where you can connect with people online in the green marketplace. Don’t be afraid to contact people even if they can’t give you a job—having a quick chat with someone from a business or nonprofit you like could provide valuable information and contacts.
  • Volunteering is another great way to get acquainted with and make contacts in different green job sectors; prove yourself as a reliable, hard-working employee for possible job openings in the future; and help organizations support worthwhile causes.

RESOURCES: Visit Career One Stop for more information, and its Find Local Help tool to find a nearby career center. Also, try contacting a green career-consulting firm like Green Career Tracks or the Center for Meaningful Work to help you on your quest for a green job.

LinkedIn is a great social networking tool for job seekers who want to connect with people in the green job world. Aside from posting your professional experience for prospective employers to see, you can join LinkedIn groups specific to green jobs, such as: Green Jobs & Career Network, Cool Climate Jobs, Clean/Green Opportunity, Clean Edge Jobs, and Green Energy and Sustainability Careers and Jobs. LinkedIn allows job seekers to find employers, employers to search for possible employees, and people to make contacts in the green business world and learn more about green jobs.

Also check out Green Collar Jobs for a list of green job fairs held across the country. College campuses are popular places for job fairs, so check with your local community or four-year college to see when the next job fair will be. Job fairs don’t have to specifically be “green” for you to find plenty of jobs that fit the category.

Find volunteering positions at Idealist or VolunteerMatch.

Green Your Current Job

If you want a job that supports sustainability and social justice but don’t want to leave your current career, then green your current job instead of looking for a new one. Or, if you own a business, try greening that, too.

“It’s important to know you can do almost anything in a green way,” says Larsen. “There’s clothing that’s green, house cleaning that’s green, investors that are green—whatever your skills are, there are things anyone can do to contribute to a greener workplace.”

Whether it’s working to increase your workplace’s energy efficiency, starting a carpool at work, or looking at the core business and trying to make it more environmentally and socially responsible, you can also take steps in your current job to make it and your workplace greener.