Green jobs

The greening of industry is creating a slew of new careers, and they’re not everyday forestry professions.

In 1999, as the dot-com boom reached new heights, environmental journalist Joel Makower launched an online publication covering business and environmental interests – two areas he believed would become more connected.

The tech bubble burst, but boomed. Providing news and analysis, it’s the flagship publication for Greener World media, a for profit company he created last with associate Pete May. As the greening of business expands it is filtering into all procurement to marketing to human resources activity.

According to president of Green Economy, a Boston-based firm promoting an environmentally healthy workforce, the green industry in the US in 2005 was about $265 billion employing 1.6 million people in an estimated 1.6 million people in an estimated 118,000 jobs. This information was adapted from the Environmental Business Journal and does not include the organic industry.

Green businesses have also been growing at a rate of about 5% annually during the last three years. Two particularly hot areas are global carbon credit trading, which doubled to $28 billion from 2005 to 2006, and construction and services associated with “green buildings” that meet industry standards set by the US Green Building Council. Today, the green building industry is worth $12 billion; 10 years ago, it was unquantifiable.

The greening of industry is creating a constellation of new careers. Many of them are environmental twists on old professions like law, or in Makower’s case, journalism. Others are engineering careers tied to research in renewable technologies like wind energy and ethanol production.

Corporations assume that at some point in future, governments will put a price on waste. So it’s better to invest now in clean technologies than to lose money if new regulations come into play.

Conversely, companies see new revenue streams in green technologies and social responsibility. Goldman Sachs, for example, has invested heavily in the wind industry. Earlier this year, Tyson Foods and ConocoPhillips jointly announced plans to make diesel fuel from chicken fat. And Silicon Valley venture capital firms, like Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers are shoveling money into development of clean technologies.

Universities – particularly business schools – also see opportunity. Schools such as Stanford, University of Michigan, University of North Carolina and University of Michigan offer joint MBA/environmental science masters degrees. Derrick Bolton, director of admissions at Stanford’s Graduate School of business, as many students are taking positions with corporations that have a commitment to environment. They’re what I call the ‘and’ generation. They don’t want to make money or support the environment. They want to do both.

Students in Michigan’s dual degree program are encouraged to intern with both a non-governmental organization and a business while in graduate school. Students coming in are very aware of the sustainability program, says dean of the school of Natural Resources and Environment at Michigan.

It’s really just a matter of time before we’re going to start valuing carbon and valuing pollution. Makower’s advice to students pursuing a green job is to learn all they can about business.

The most exciting things are happening is product design, research and development, manufacturing and buildings and grounds. Expect green business to grow even more over the next decade and a new generation of green careers to blossom with it.