Go green for a better future

MASSIVE investments in clean energy promise to keep farmers, urban planners, and green-tech entrepreneurs in business for the next decade.

MASSIVE investments in clean energy promise to keep farmers, urban planners, and green-tech entrepreneurs in business for the next decade.

Here is a US guide to focused career paths to consider.


America has only two million farmers, and their average age is 55. Since sustainable agriculture requires small-scale, local, organic methods rather than petroleum-based machines and fertilizers, there is a huge need for more farmers - up to tens of millions of them, according to food guru Michael Pollan.

Modern farmers are small businesspeople who must be as skilled in heirloom genetics as marketing.

Related careers: urban gardener; farmers market and community supported agriculture coordinator; artisanal cheesemakers; and other food producers.


Modern forestry is a complex combination of international project finance, conservation and development. According to the World Bank, a staggering 1,6billion people depend on the forest for their livelihoods.

Foresters help local people transition from slash-and-burn to silviculture - teaching cultivation of higher-value, faster-growing species for fruit, medicine or timber, for example, while carefully documenting the effect on the environment. Deforestation, which causes about a quarter of all global warming, is also likely to be a leading source of carbon credits worth tens of billions of dollars.

Solar power installer

Making and installing solar power systems already accounts for some 770000 jobs globally. Installing solar-thermal water heaters and rooftop photovoltaic cells is a relatively high-paying job for those with construction skills.

Currently over 3400 companies in the solar energy sector employ 25000 to 35000 workers. The Solar Energy Industries Association predicts an increase to more than 110000 jobs by 2016.

Energy efficiency builder

Buildings account for up to 48percent of US energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings constructed according to Passivhaus and Minergie-P standards in Germany and Switzerland, respectively, use between 75percent and 95percent less heat energy than a similar building constructed to the latest codes in the US.

Greening the US building stock will take not only skilled architects and engineers, but a workforce of retrofitters who can use spray foam insulation and storm windows to improve the R-value (thermal resistance) of the draftiest old houses.

Wind turbine fabricator

Wind is the leading and fastest-growing source of alternative energy with over 300000 jobs worldwide.

Turbines are 90percent metal by weight, creating an opportunity for autoworkers and other manufacturers to repurpose their skills. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the industry employs some 50000 Americans and added 10000 new jobs in 2007. Their job board is an excellent place to start looking for opportunities.

Conservation Biologist

The granddaddy of diversity, EO Wilson, famously called conservation biology - a discipline with a deadline. The urgent quest to preserve the integrity of ecosystems around the world - and to quantify the value of - ecosystems services - leads to opportunities in teaching, research and fieldwork for government, nonprofit organisations, and private companies.

Green MBA and entrepreneur

The concept of the triple bottom line has migrated from the margins to the mainstream of the business world. A recent report by the US Conference of Mayors, Mayors Climate Protection Center found that business services such as legal, research and consulting account for the majority of all green jobs - over 400000. This includes everything from marketing to the LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) segment, to serving as a VP of sustainability within a large company, to piloting a green start-up like Method or Recyclebank.


Recent reports put the total number of recycling jobs in the US is at more than 1million. Although the market for paper and plastic has slowed down recently due to the economic downturn, demand for steel is still strong - 42percent of output came from scrap in 2006 - and recycling remains the economical alternative to high disposal fees.

Worldwide more than 200000 people work in secondary steel production, and the US is a major centre of production.

New laws and regulations are also creating a need for specialized companies that can close the loop by recycling and repurposing e-waste, clothing, plastic bags, construction waste, and other materials.

Sustainability systems developer

The green economy needs a cadre of specialized software developers and engineers who design, build, and maintain the networks of sensors and stochastic modelling that underpin wind farms, smart energy grids, congestion pricing and other systems substituting intelligence for natural resources.

Coders with experience using large scale enterprise resource planning have an edge here, as well as developers familiar with open source and web 2.0 applications.

Urban planner

Urban and regional planning is a linchpin of the quest to lower America's carbon footprint.

Strengthening mass transit systems, limiting sprawl, encouraging use of bicycles and de-emphasizing cars is only part of the job. Equally important is contingency planning, as floods, heat waves and garbage creep become increasingly common problems for metropolises.

Employment in this sector is projected to grow 15percent by 2016, and the jobs are mainly in local governments, which make them a slightly safer bet for the downturn. - fastcompany.com