Granted, I will be the first to admit that I’m an idealist, and can proceed naively at times; nodding as the politicians tout the benefits of green investment in their campaign promises. Who wouldn’t want to see a future where we create real manufacturing jobs domestically, become more energy independent, and return the economy to steady growth, all at the same time?
For those planning their careers or pondering a mid-career switch, there is a lot of upside to going green. Green collar jobs are proving to be a smart choice for many individuals that want their work to have a positive environmental impact, and giving a much-needed boost to the overall economy.
So, how do you define a green job, and will I be able to pay my mortgage if I have a green career? The Brookings Institution has just released a comprehensive study on how jobs in this diverse group fit into the big picture. The summary of the study can be found here, Sizing The Green Economy.
They broadly define “green collar” jobs as those that produce goods or services with an environmental benefit. This encompasses virtually all sectors of the economy. The study concluded with these major findings:
There is currently 2.7 million green collar jobs
These jobs are mainly in mature sectors like waste management, and transportation. A smaller proportion are in alternative energy occupations. It is interesting to note that the green sector now employs more workers than the fossil fuel industry.
Green Job-Growth was slower than the overall economy from 2003 to 2010
Green job growth was 3.4% compared to overall job growth of 4.2% for the period. However, job growth in alternative energy far exceeded the overall average, albeit with lower volume.
26% of green jobs are in manufacturing compared to 9% for the overall economy
This is a positive factor in bringing manufacturing jobs back into the domestic economy.
Green energy exports per employee are double that of other workers
Green jobs account for roughly $20,000 in exports each, compared to $10,000 for other jobs.
Green collar median wages are 13% higher than other jobs
Green jobs are also predominantly filled by people with little formal education. This means that workers can enjoy higher incomes without the expense of higher education.
There are some positive indicators here. I particularly like the finding that wages in green collar occupations are higher than average, without the need for expensive educational qualifications.
This significantly reduces the financial risk for prospective employees, and I think makes this a very attractive proposition. Once established in a green collar career, employees can then better judge if additional education is going to be justified, rather than getting the degree(s) first, and hoping for a high paying job after graduating. This may be a simplistic approach, but that’s the way I see it.