business

What are green jobs anyway?

‘Green jobs’ is a phrase that’s hard to escape. It’s at the heart of many countries’ plans for a ‘green recovery’, or the green new deal, or green growth. And rightly so – one of the key elements of the transition to a sustainable economy is the switch from jobs that destroy the natural world to those that restore it.

Keeping an eye on jobs one way of making sure that the transition to a sustainable economy is about people, not just about technology, or nature. Creating employment opportunities can ensure that fossil fuel extraction zones aren’t abandoned, as many coal mining communities have experienced in Wales or the north of England. It can train up young people or retrain those moving sectors, building the skill base that we will need for a low carbon economy. And through wages, the benefits of a greener economy can be shared with more people – including communities at the margins or those who have previously found themselves excluded.

But what do we mean by a ‘green job’? If you had one, what exactly would you be doing all day?

Definitions vary, and sometimes it’s hard to know where to draw the line as we back up through management or finance. But as a general introduction, here are some examples across six different sectors of the economy:

Jobs on the land – let’s start with the land, because a sustainable economy will see the transformation of land use. Forestry is one important area, with lots of jobs in tree planting, forestry management, tree nurseries, and in woodworking and timber.

Some of this agroforestry and forest management will cross over into farming, because farmers look set to play a vital role in shifting land use from pasture to woodland. Farms will also host a variety of new jobs supporting more sustainable farming, from organic growing to high tech agriculture.

We can expect jobs in land restoration too, with biologists, soil scientists, conservationists and horticulturalists needed for rewilding, peatland and wetland restoration. New reserves, on land and on sea for that matter, will need rangers and managers. The mounting pressure of climate change is going to create jobs in adaptation too, such as flood engineers.

Utilities – perhaps the most iconic ‘green job’ is the solar panel installer, but that’s the tip of the iceberg. A full decarbonising of our way of life will take tens of thousands of engineers working in solar, heat pumps, domestic energy storage, new boilers, local heat networks. Behind them will be a further host of people working in co-ordinating that work, surveying properties and planning the work, and providing maintenance or customer service.

There are jobs in wind power, marine energy, hydropower, and improvements to the grid – both the hands-on work and the designing, planning, modelling and software developing. As with many of these categories, there are jobs around the funding of those projects, and managing budgets and accounts.

Transport – as the biggest slice of the United Kingdom’s carbon emissions, there’s no sustainable future without a complete overhaul of the way we travel. That starts with reducing the need to travel in the first place, and jobs in broadband and tele-conferencing. Active transport comes next, with jobs in pedestrian and cycle infrastructure, bike retail and maintenance, cargo bike leasing.

Public transport will expand and improve, with new jobs on trains and buses, and in the management and organisation of those facilities. As these things electrify, there will be jobs in charging or battery swapping.

Logistics is a whole category of transport, with many roles in more sustainable supply chains, deliveries and warehousing.

And yes, there are electric cars to factor in too. They would include design and manufacturing, leasing and retail, maintenance, and driving.

Manufacturing – naturally, all these solar panels, electric cars or efficient appliances need to come from somewhere. At the moment the majority of them are likely to come from overseas, particularly China. But re-localising production is an important part of reducing emissions and taking responsibility for the impact of global supply chains. Hopefully there will be more manufacturing opportunities serving the transition. That could vary from wind turbine manufacturing at the largest scale, to specialist skills in cars, to more basic things such as the pipes needed to move the gas grid towards hydrogen.

Services – the circular economy is an important part of a sustainable future, so we should expect to see more jobs in repair, refurbishment and remanufacturing. Whether it’s bikes, computers or appliances, there’s a massive skill shortage in repair at the moment, after being neglected for a couple of decades. Some of this is going to be engineering and working with machines. Some of it is going to look more like craft, with jobs in sewing, refurbishing or upcycling.

Waste is another important sector, and there are going to be more jobs in recycling. Some of these will be very specialised – such as processing batteries or dismantling solar panels. Work on preventing or remediating pollution would fall in the waste category too.

Construction – this is going to cross over with the utilities sector mentioned above, but with lots of specific construction jobs too. All of Britain’s housing stock will need to be net zero, either built to that standard as new, or refurbished. The industry has nowhere near enough skilled people to do this at the moment.

There will be traditional building jobs, and I suspect an increasing number of roles off-site, in modular and pre-fabricated buildings. We’re going to need architects trained in low carbon construction, who can design homes for a net zero future. We’re going to need specialists in insulation and ventilation, carpenters, roofers, electricians. As before, there will be an army of planners and managers and customer service people behind all of those on-site jobs.

Beyond homes, there will be construction jobs in a range of specific areas – electrifying railways, for example. Or fitting the charging infrastructure for electric car charging.

There’s a lot more I could add, including a whole world of science and education, ethical investment, work in charities and in government, in food or in fisheries. Exactly why qualifies as a green job is going to be a matter of debate, so consider this a starting point. To look into the question further, take a look at some of these links:

  • The categories above are drawn from the recent Friends of Earth report on green jobs for young people, which is a great place to learn more about using the transition to net zero to support youth employment.
  • The Local Government Association has mapped green jobs across England, and breaks down how many jobs are already ‘green’ and in what sectors.
  • If you’re looking for a green job yourself, have a look at this online jobs board, which also demonstrates the breadth of different opportunities.

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