Thousands of careers forced to change and adapt in the new energy economy

"Green jobs" Come in Every Shape and Size

Contributed by | Ecotech Institute

Everyone is talking about “green jobs.”  While many people are eager to become employed in the sustainability sector, there are naysayers who don’t believe that they actually exist.  As part of the ongoing, healthy dialogue about what and where green jobs are, it’s important to make an important distinction.  While there are bona fide positions that can be appropriately defined as a green job, there are thousands of other careers that are simply changing in the new energy economy.  The truth is, workplaces are shifting to more sustainable models, with or without the catchy phrase.  

According to the Colorado Cleantech Action Plan, “Cleantech is growing in Colorado and creating thousands of jobs.”  Citing the Pew Center’s report, The Clean Energy Economy:  Repowering Jobs, Businesses, and Investments Across America, “Between 1999 and 2009, Colorado’s cleantech industry grew at an annualized rate of 18 percent, more than twice the rate of the Colorado economy as a whole (8 percent).”  

And Colorado isn’t alone.  However, while wind, solar, energy efficiency and additional sustainable fields are rapidly growing, they are not the only industries presenting green jobs to the workforce. Many career paths are taking a turn, requiring new thinking and skill sets to keep up with the changing environmental landscape.

Architects, engineers, electricians and machinists will continue to be in demand, yet their job descriptions may be continuously altered. Electricians will need to understand the new utility landscape; machinists will be required to install and maintain new technologies; engineers across all industries will be asked to channel their knowledge towards designing sustainable systems.

Here are some examples of changing industries outside of the traditional cleantech sector:

Utility companies.
“Powerful trends are transforming the U.S. utility sector, including climate change, energy security, and energy price volatility concerns; increasing deployment of alternative resources like energy efficiency and renewable energy; and shifts in natural gas and other fossil fuel industries. Utilities that respond most effectively to these key trends – and whose regulators and legislators support them in doing so – will be best positioned to succeed in the 21st century.” (The 21st Century Electric Utility: Positioning for a Low-Carbon Future, a Ceres report published by Navigant Consulting. 2010.)

Real Estate.
From architects to real estate appraisers and agents to top executives, real estate professionals are under pressure to recognize efficient building techniques, gain awareness of green design elements and effectively value and incorporate them in today’s marketplace.

Corporate real estate executives are illustrating commitment to making sustainable decisions within their real estate portfolios, which requires knowledge of Green Building certifications, Energy Labels, the costs and benefits of retrofitting buildings and much more.  According to the third annual CoreNet Global and Jones Lang LaSalle sustainability survey conducted in September and October 2009, research shows that sustainability remains a key agenda item for corporate real estate executives.

The report states, “Sustainability is a critical business issue today for 70 percent of respondents and 89 percent consider sustainability criteria in their location decisions.”

Law firms.
With an influx of sustainable activity, there will inevitably be legal issues.  Well-prepared law firms have lawyers and paralegals on staff who have the knowledge and confidence to perform highly complex environmental legal research; draft, analyze, and manage complex legal documents and correspondence about environmental topics; and prepare environmental filings, reports; real estate documents and more.

While windmills have been used on farms for decades, farmers and the overall agriculture industry are taking great strides that are good for the earth, crops and business.   Farming is actually among the original green jobs, but new technologies are coming to market, requiring agricultural business leaders to sell, install and maintain systems that keep our food supply moving and meet consumers’ desire for a sustainable food system.

In Workforce Management magazine, Raquel Pinderhughes, a professor of urban studies at San Francisco State University, “identified 22 economic sectors with green-collar opportunities, including food production (using organic agriculture), manufacturing (making energy-efficient and recycled products) and auto repair (servicing alternative-fuel vehicles).”
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics hasn’t yet defined “green jobs,” there are businesses, HR directors, career services departments and educational institutions invested in fostering sustainable careers across all industries.

Whether a career is given the term “green job” or fits within the confines of the green landscape, changes are inevitable.  They are already beginning to be reflected in educational and job training options.  For example, Ecotech Institute, based in Aurora, Colorado (a suburb of Denver) has opened its doors as the first and only institution solely focused on renewable energy and sustainable design.  Launched in April 2010, future graduates are already in demand according to the college.
“We’re consistently receiving phone calls from businesses who can’t wait for our first graduating class,” said Alison Wise, Director of Career Services for Ecotech Institute.  “We speak with representatives from a wide range of industries, all seeking people who can serve as the future leaders of their changing workforce.”
For more information on how Ecotech Institute sees the future of green jobs and education, visit

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