Every month, the number of Americans employed in the clean economy increases. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) green jobs in the country now total 3.1 million. Nearly 1 million Americans are employed in the clean energy sector, with 46,000 clean energy jobs added in the first three months of this year. The green building sector boasts 661,000 jobs, constituting fully one-third  of the design and construction workforce in the US. Such strong green job numbers have left clean economy skeptics wondering: why does the green sector continue to grow despite a rocky global economy? Why do green jobs continue to increase?  

The Profitability in Going Green

Technological improvements, government policies, and concern over the environment have all contributed to an expansion in the green economy. Companies are incorporating sustainability in their business operations because it can both improve their corporate image and increase their bottom line. A new executive level position has even been created to manage environmental/social issues: the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO). As of 2005, 150 of the biggest corporations all have CSOs with the rank of vice-president or higher.

Furthermore, buildings are increasingly designed to LEED standards and net-zero construction is at the forefront of new building technology. Such an emphasis on sustainability and green infrastructure has created a demand for skilled workers with environmental backgrounds. Viewed in this context, it should come as little surprise that green jobs are on the rise. Despite an insecure global economy, the green sector is continuing to grow as companies look to maintain a green image and improve profitability.  

The Value of Green Jobs

Recent college graduates are beginning to see the benefits of incorporating some facet of sustainability in their education. But the great thing about green jobs is that they incorporate a whole range of skill-sets. Indeed, the label “green job” can apply to a number of different professions. According to the BLS, a green job is any form of employment that provides goods or services that help the environment or conserve natural resources. As a result, both environmental planning and solar panel installation are green jobs – however, they both require different educational requirements.

Therefore, green jobs are not some exclusive professions reserved for a select group of individuals. Green jobs are professions that cut through every income group and educational field.  

Although renewable energy will likely remain one of the strongest elements of the green economy (as fossil fuel prices increase and renewable energy technology gets cheaper), there are two other areas where green jobs are expanding.

In the green building sector, the focus is shifting from improving energy efficiency to creating net-zero buildings. Net-zero buildings require a more integrated approach to construction, as reducing the entire carbon footprint of a building requires different professions to work together towards the construction of the building. Although this may not require additional workers, it does necessitate additional environmental backgrounds and training.

Secondly, green infrastructure has shown a remarkable increase over the past few years as more and more electric vehicles hit the market. Although the EV market is still in its early stages, businesses in all sectors have been quick to provide EV infrastructure for their customers. EV charging stations are now featured in parking lots, office buildings, retail outlets, airports, and stadiums.

The expansion in EV infrastructure has also created a wave of new green jobs. And these jobs do not just include the installation of the actual charging stations. The EV economy has created a range of other jobs too, such as software developers for EV charging “apps” and marketing professionals. As the EV market continues to expand, so too will the number of green jobs in this area. Things are continuing to look up for the green economy as green jobs continue to increase. And as the US continues its economic recovery, green jobs will likely feature prominently in the country’s trajectory of development into the future.

Joseph Tohill is a freelance writer and online communications specialist for organizations in the sustainability sector. He has a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of British Columbia and spent most of his academic career studying sustainable urban development; namely the interdisciplinary relationship between built form and natural environment.