Green and Sustainability Jobs and Career Resources
By Debra Rowe
Student interest in creating a greener and more sustainable future has never been higher. Our urgent societal employment and environmental challenges have fueled this student interest. In response to student demand, Princeton Review now ranks colleges on their green and sustainability initiatives. Green and sustainability focused curricula are showing up as new majors, minors, degrees, certificates, and continuing education programs in higher education. Over 1800 interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability programs now exist in higher education within the United States, according to a study recently conducted by the National Council for Science and the Environment. Furthermore, according to the college graduate-focused job resource, MonsterTRAK (now MonsterCollege), 80% of young professionals would like to work in a green job. Career development professionals are uniquely well positioned to respond to this increasing demand.
Green and sustainability jobs go beyond the solar designer or the wind generator installer that many people characterize as a green job. Green jobs are defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as jobs…that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or use fewer natural resources. This means that any job where the people are making decisions about what resources to consume are green jobs, from simple items like ordering office supplies to complex product development.
Green jobs are a subset of sustainability jobs. Sustainability jobs and careers are about implementing the “triple bottom line of sustainability”. The triple bottom line is often described as “people, planet and prosperity” or “environment, equity and economy”. Whatever the choice of words, sustainability is about making smarter decisions so our society can have healthy ecosystems, improved quality of life, and vibrant economies. Sustainability jobs span all types of companies, non-profits and government entities, and encompass a very large realm of environmentally and socially responsible professional career pathways.
Students need information about both career pathways and job openings. Three networks, the Higher Education Associations Sustainability Consortium (HEASC), the Disciplinary Associations Network for Sustainability, and the US Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development have worked with multiple HEASC Sustainability Fellows to compile a listing of resources. These networks are made up of over 42 national higher education associations and all have been requesting quality information on green and sustainability career pathways and job openings. The Fellows have therefore compiled a listing of over five dozen sources of information for use on campuses across the country. These resources will be also updated regularly. This easy to read document includes both job boards and career pathway resources that can help students explore which green and sustainability careers they are interested in, what competencies are desired for different career pathways, and what jobs are presently available both locally and nationally.
This resource can be shared prominently in your career center. The logos of the above organizations can be used as graphics/poster materials to raise student awareness when they enter the career center. (Many more images are free and downloadable from the web or can be taken from the set of sites on the list.) Career professionals on campus can take the lead to share these resources with the following target audiences on campus:
- career center staff,
- academic advisors in all areas,
- faculty in all departments,
- student life and residential life staff.
The national trend in higher education regarding sustainability has made clear that each academic discipline has a unique and important perspective to bring to the creation of solutions to our shared sustainability challenges. There are career pathways in sustainability from each academic area so it is important that faculty and academic advisors are aware of these sustainability resources. Oftentimes they are the ones who have to first respond to a student’s interest in sustainability. Academic associations have recognized this (see Participating Associations at http://dans.aashe.org/content/participating-associations) and are increasingly posting sustainability resources on their own sites, but the career resources are often overlooked, so sharing them internally on campus with faculty and staff can be very useful.
Furthermore, student life activities and residential life activities are often related to sustainability (see the resources page at http://heasc.aashe.org/content/heasc-resource-center), yet the career resources are often not connected, so sharing this link with student life and residential life staff could be very helpful.
A partial list follows of the hundreds of careers/jobs where green and sustainability competencies are increasingly valued:
- Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Products Financiers, Manufacturers, Distributors, Contractors, Retailers, Salespeople and Installers
- Energy/Sustainability Policy Analysts and Advocacy Specialists
- Non-Profit Sustainability Related Educator/Program Manager
- Greenhouse Gas Analyst/Broker
- Brownfields Real Estate Developer
- Environmental Economist
- Sustainability Entrepreneur
- Socially Responsible Investment Advisor
- Sustainability Related Social Media Specialist
- Sustainable Neighborhoods Community Organizer
- Environmental Journalist
- Permaculture Designer/Contractor or Sustainable Landscape Architect
- Climate Change Risk Assessor and Mitigation Expert
- Sustainable Transportation Planner
- Federal, state and Local Energy and Other Sustainability Related Staff (e.g. economic development, workforce development)
- Corporate Social Responsibility Staff
- Corporate Sustainability Staff
- Small Business Buyer/Manager
- Sustainability Oriented Purchasing Agent and Business VP
- Energy Manager
- Facilities Director/Maintenance Staff
- Materials Scientist
- Environmental Engineering Technician
- Biomass Plant Designer, Manager, Technician…
- Utility Plant Operatives
- Heating and Air Conditioning/ Building Automation Technician Controls Specialist
- Refuse & Recycling Worker
- Sustainable Agriculture: farmer, distributor, marketer…
- Risk Assessor
- Property Assessor
- Building Codes Inspector
- City/Community Manager
- Operations Manager
- Energy Storage Specialists (e.g. Smart grid, hydrogen, batteries, and compressed air)
- Water Reservoir and Watershed Engineer/Technician
- Green Building Designers, Distributor, Installer …
- Energy Statistician
- Recycling Director
This listing provides just a partial introduction to the many sustainability jobs presently in the marketplace. Job searches regularly provide hundreds of openings in any given region, and some of the more exciting sustainability jobs (e.g. ride sharing platform designers, local currency and time banks, deconstruction business owners, micro-financing developer) are being created by graduates as they see the community’s needs. Career advisors are uniquely suited to help students in any academic discipline envision and find pathways to a more sustainable future for all.
Debra Rowe, Ph.D., is the President of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development. She is also co-founder of the Higher Education Associations Sustainability Consortium, founder/facilitator of the Disciplinary Associations’ Network for Sustainability, Senior Fellow at Second Nature, and Senior Advisor to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. She has also been professor of energy management, renewable energy, and sustainable products for over 30 years at Oakland Community College in Michigan. Debra presently chairs the Technical Advisory Group and the Green Jobs Policy Community of Action for the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), where she is also a U.S. Designee to the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics’ for their international sustainability group. She is often a keynote speaker at national and international education conferences and is the author or editor of numerous publications. Debra may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.