Ten Best Green Jobs for the Next Decade
By: Anya KamenetzTue Jan 13, 2009 at 6:00 PM
“It’s time to bail out the people and the planet,” says Van Jones, author of The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems. We agree, and this guide to to sustainability-focused career paths will help retrofit and solar-charge your work life.
America has only two million farmers, and their average age is 55. Since sustainable agriculture requires small-scale, local, organic methods rather than petroleum-based machines and fertilizers, there is a huge need for more farmers — up to tens of millions of them, according to food guru Michael Pollan. Modern farmers are small businesspeople who must be as skilled in heirloom genetics as marketing.
Schools: University of Vermont: Center for Sustainable Agriculture; Stone Barns Center For Food & Agriculture in New York State; University of Oklahoma: Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture; Evergreen State College: degree in Sustainable Agriculture.
Related careers: urban gardener; farmers market and CSA coordinator; artisanal cheesemakers; and other food producers.
Modern forestry is a complex combination of international project finance, conservation and development. According to the World Bank, a staggering 1.6 billion people depend on the forest for their livelihoods. Foresters help local people transition from slash-and-burn to silviculture–teaching cultivation of higher-value, faster-growing species for fruit, medicine or timber, for example while carefully documenting the impact on the environment. Deforestation, which causes around a quarter of all global warming, is also likely to be a leading source of carbon credits worth tens of billions of dollars.
Schools: Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies; Duke University: Nicholas School of the Environment; University of Michigan: School of Natural Resources & Environment.
Companies/organizations: The Nature Conservancy; New Forests Inc.
Solar Power Installer
Making and installing solar power systems already accounts for some 770,000 jobs globally. Installing solar-thermal water heaters and rooftop photovoltaic cells is a relatively high-paying job–$15 to $35 an hour–for those with construction skills. And opportunities are available all over the United States, wherever the sun shines. Currently over 3,400 companies in the solar energy sector employ 25,000 to 35,000 workers. The Solar Energy Industries Association predicts an increase to over 110,000 jobs by 2016 — even more if anticipated tax credits are accelerated.
Companies: Akeena Solar; Sungevity; Sunpower; Full list at SEIA.org.
Energy Efficiency Builder Buildings account for up to 48 percent of US energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. LEED, the major green building certification, has over 43,000 accredited professionals. But the cutting edge in efficient buildings goes far beyond LEED. Buildings constructed according to Passivhaus and MINERGIE-P standards in Germany and Switzerland, respectively, use between 75% and 95% less heat energy than a similar building constructed to the latest codes in the US. Greening the US building stock will take not only skilled architects and engineers, but a workforce of retrofitters who can use spray foam insulation and storm windows to massively improve the R-value (thermal resistance) of the draftiest old houses. A study by the Apollo Alliance recommended an $89.9 billion investment in financing to create 827,260 jobs in green buildings — an initiative supported by the Obama stimulus package, which specifically mentions energy retrofits.
Schools: Arizona State University School of Architecture: Energy Performance Climate-Responsive Architecture; University of Michigan: Alfred A. Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning; The Earth Institute at Columbia University.
Wind Turbine Fabricator
Wind is the leading and fastest-growing source of alternative energy with over 300,000 jobs worldwide. Turbines are 90% metal by weight, creating an opportunity for autoworkers and other manufacturers to repurpose their skills. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the industry currently employs some 50,000 Americans and added 10,000 new jobs in 2007. Their job board is an excellent place to start looking for opportunities.