An overview of environmental careers experiencing growth
“April is the cruelest month,” T. S. Eliot wrote. Ha! What did he know? For environmental-job seekers in a host of fields, this April could almost be certified “cruelty free.” In no particular order, here’s a quick overview of green career areas experiencing growth right now:
Wind Power and Solar Energy
A 2007 report from Clean Edge predicts that wind-power revenues are expected to rise from $17.9 billion in 2006 to $60.8 billion in 2016. Solar-photovoltaic companies anticipate a similar steep increase from $15.6 billion last year to $69.3 billion nine years from now. Estimates from other analysts and associations suggest even bigger pots of money flowing into wind and solar.
It will come as no surprise that solar- and wind-power employers primarily need technical and business people. Requests for engineers, installation and maintenance technicians, “grid operation managers,” sales and marketing people, and manufacturing professionals (plant managers, quality assurance staff) dominate the wish list. An intriguing job title in the wind power industry is “wind resource assessor,” which involves determining whether proposed wind farm sites are good bets to keep those turbines spinning.
Of course, photovoltaics are only one sector within the solar industry, and wind and solar together are only a portion of the exploding alternative-energy industry. It also includes biofuels, hydrogen/fuel cells, efforts to reduce the impact of fossil fuels, and more.
Water Utilities/Wastewater Treatment Works
The indispensable Environmental Business Journal has reported that 286,200 people were employed by over 87,000 public and private water utilities and wastewater treatment works in 2005 — primarily at local governments. This small army of water workers was supported by $70.7 billion in revenues from rate- and tax-payers. Roughly 100,000 of these essential professionals are “certified plant/system operators.” Demand is expected to remain strong for many years to come. As water-quality management morphs into watershed management, there is also a rising demand for hydrologists.
Solid Waste Management/Resource Recovery/Municipal Recycling
In 1974, there was exactly one citywide curbside recycling program in the United States. In 2007, there are more than 10,000. Curbside recycling is just one part of a solid-waste/resource-recovery industry that supported some 411,000 people in 2005 at more than 15,000 entities that earned a whopping $47.8 billion, according to EBJ. With recycling rates stalled (or declining) in many parts of the country, the industry needs a new generation of creative recycling managers and coordinators. Without them, the growth will occur among the people who run landfills and incinerators. No one wants that.
Want to join a green industry that’s growing just about as fast as it can? Take a look at these numbers from the U.S. Green Building Council.
|Green Building Stats|
|Size of market||n/a||$12 billion and rising|
For architects, construction managers, landscape architects, and related professionals, green building is where it’s at. Since buildings are a big part of the climate-change problem, the need for green-building professionals is only going to grow as building codes change to require greener houses, offices, and factories.
In the most recent “census” (2005), the Land Trust Alliance reports that the number of land trusts in the United States grew to 1,667 — a 32 percent increase in just five years. The census also shows that the total acres conserved by land trusts doubled between 2000 and 2005, and the role of local and state land trusts relative to national ones accelerated rapidly. Good news! More importantly for job seekers, the professionalism of land trusts is increasing, requiring more executive directors, preserve managers, real-estate and tax experts, education managers, and fundraisers. There has never been a better time to launch a land-trust career.
Urban and Regional Planning
In 2007, the demand for planners is strong and steady, especially in areas of the country experiencing rapid population growth. Working from U.S. Department of Labor statistics, ECO estimates that there are roughly 34,000 planners out there, 70 percent of whom work in local government. While many planners have a specialty like transportation, housing, community development, or environmental protection, most work at the cross section among social-justice, ecological-health, and economic-security issues, putting them at the leading edge of on-the-ground sustainability action in many communities.
Political spinners love to claim that every crisis is really an opportunity, but in the case of our “brownfield” problem, it could be true. The U.S. EPA estimates that are at least 450,000 properties whose actual or perceived environmental contamination adversely impacts their redevelopment potential, sometimes leaving them abandoned for years. The National Brownfield Association claims that the number might be as high as 1 million. Nobody knows for sure. Successfully turning a brownfield into a park, shopping mall, parking lot, school, housing development, golf course, factory, or office building requires the talents of environmental remediation technicians, real-estate professionals, financial investors, and community-relations staff. No one knows how many people make a living from brownfield redevelopment (estimates run between 5,000 and 10,000), but everyone agrees that it’s growing quickly and will continue to grow.
Environmental Consulting and Engineering
The nation’s environmental-consulting firms are literally fighting each other for talent — especially engineers of all stripes, earth scientists, project managers, and information-technology types. There is genuine worry about where these professionals will come from to fill available jobs. After several years of lackluster performance and lots of mergers, environmental consulting and engineering is back on a growth path. The (still) indispensable EBJ estimates that some 220,800 people pulled down a paycheck at 3,650 firms on revenues of $22.4 billion in 2005. And they project the environmental consulting sector to have average annual growth of 5.5 percent through 2010.
ECO estimates that local, state, and federal government “environmental” agencies will employ an estimated 3 million people in 2007, some of whom are included in a few of the categories above. The average state government employee is over 44 years old, so huge numbers of these professionals are eligible to retire, or soon will be. I’m talking about tens of thousands of people retiring within a few years of each other. Large numbers of park rangers, foresters, fish and wildlife biologists, permit writers, food-safety regulators, lab technicians, contract managers, environmental lawyers, and agricultural-extension agents will be heading off to the golf course. Who will replace them? Why, you, of course.
There are plenty of other environmental careers experiencing growth right now. Here are just a few: organic food, carbon-management and -control technologies, energy conservation and efficiency, education, health, community organizing, and ecotourism.
Throughout the rest of 2007, I’ll explore some of these career areas, with details about specific job titles, employment trends, median salaries, qualifications needed, and profiles of people in the field. I’ll also share ideas about how to land the job that you really want. Most importantly, I’ll answer your questions, so log on and share your story.
Happy Earth Day!
Have a question for Remake a Living? Send an email to ,or post a comment below.
Kevin Doyle is the national director of program development for the The Environmental Careers Organization in Boston. He is coauthor of The ECO Guide to Careers That Make a Difference: Environmental Work for a Sustainable World and The Complete Guide to Environmental Careers in the 21st Century.