How can you find a career that tackles climate change?

Changing technologies, emerging environmental sectors and, of course, increasingly critical climate targets means that green jobs are set for a major boom in the coming years.

The UK government has set an ambitious target of creating two million green jobs by 2030, and we’re already starting to see the uptick in such roles on offer. The number of jobs in renewable energy, for example, rose again this year to 11.5 million worldwide, while listings for environmental jobs in the UK has increased by 91% compared to just five years ago.

According to the World Economic Forum, a transition to a greener economy could see 24 million jobs created worldwide – much of these driven by a global commitment to ‘build back better’ in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In the UK alone, the government has earmarked £134 million to help businesses put sustainability at the forefront of their operations.

What exactly is a ‘green job’?

At this juncture, there is no official classification for a ‘green job’ in the UK – indeed, the government has come under fire for its inability to provide a concise definition. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the US does a neat job of summing it up, stating that: “Green jobs are either: jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources, or jobs in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.”

It’s a broad definition, so a wide variety of jobs can be considered ‘green’. Even traditional jobs, such as law or finance, can be considered green if sustainability is at the heart of the role (for example, environmental law or ethical investment). There is no such thing as a single ‘green’ industry anymore. As businesses across the board seek to become more sustainable, green jobs are emerging in every sector, for every skillset all around the UK

How to secure a green job?

As the green jobs landscape develops, employers are particularly focused on transferable skills, rather than specific qualifications. According to Cedefop (the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) green skills are ‘the knowledge, abilities, values, and attitudes needed to live in, develop and support a sustainable and resource-efficient society.’

So as more and more companies turn their attention to environmental targets, there are increasing opportunities to work in the green arena without needing any specialist training. For example, a HR officer could use their existing experience to apply for a role at a green energy company, or an administrative assistant could use their skills to work for an environmental charity.

Even roles that require a particular level of expertise – for example, an engineer or designer – can apply their existing knowledge and experience to roles with a green focus.

Some roles, however, will require specific qualifications, particularly the more science-focused jobs that are right now most in demand. These include roles in areas such as the built environment, energy efficiency, carbon capture, renewable energy and clean technology.

Qualifications for green jobs

For roles that require more specific skills, there are a wide variety of training options available.

At the time of writing, WhatUni.com shows more than 40 universities offering 122 undergraduate courses related to sustainability, and more than 90 universities offering over 270 postgraduate courses. These courses cover everything from climate justice and sustainable development, to renewable technical skills and earth science. Many postgrad courses will accept applicants based on transferable skills and previous experience, rather than specific existing academic history.

Of course, a degree isn’t always feasible for those looking to move into a greener role, so a short professional course might be more suitable. The IEMA offers a wide variety of training programmes for existing professionals, such as certification in environmental legislation, sustainable procurement and environmental impact.

Other institutions offer their own accredited courses, such as the University of Cambridge’s Business Sustainability Management short course or the London Business School’s Sustainability Leadership course (both of which can be done remotely). Meanwhile, the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales offers short courses covering a range of issues, including renewable energy, ecology, woodland management and more.

Not sure whether studying is right for you? Why not have a look at our round-up of the top free online short courses in sustainability and test the waters?

Where to find green jobs

Most job sites these days have an ‘environmental’ filter, allowing you to search specifically for jobs in this area. However, there are a number of dedicated green jobs sites which show listings for environmental jobs across a range of sectors, from construction and communications to healthcare and hospitality. These include:

If there’s a specific company or organisation you’re keen to work for, be sure to check their careers pages, too, while Guardian Jobs has long been a trusted source of job ads for the environmental sector.

The bottom line

The climate conversation has never been more urgent, and we need to transition quickly to a much greener economy if we’re to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Doing so will create many new roles and transform many existing ones, so if you have an interest in working in a role focused on sustainability now’s a great time to explore your options in the fastest growing sector of the economy.

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