Environmental & Natural Resource Accounting

Green careers

September 16, 2011, 9:25 pm
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Photo credit: University of Illinois Alumni Association

Evolution of the green careers concept

A green career is a post with upward mobility, which contributes to sustainable use of resources, reduces waste and pollution, or otherwise benefits the environment.  Only until recent years, for most people the idea of green jobs or green careers would have likely been limited to work in a natural science or natural resource area. This earlier perception included jobs such as a forester, natural resource manager, or a researcher studying one of the many facets of the natural world such as botany, ecology, wildlife biology, and ecosystem functioning.

A clearer perception of the finite nature of each of the Earth's resources has emerged in the last several decades, especially regarding non-renewable energy resources based upon fossil fuels; furthermore, man has learned that the continuation of the resource consumption patterns of the 19th and 20th century are not sustainable, even in raw economic terms. As costs for some energy supplies and certain natural resources have periodically increased, some entities have adapted to more sustainable practices not only for environmental protection, but also to realize cost savings over the long term.  For example, in the 1970s, around the time of the first Earth Day, student and faculty-led efforts to increase recycling and reduce waste on college campuses emerged.   Yet, in the past few years previous volunteer-only efforts at many colleges and universities have now become institutionalized with the advent of sustainability plans, sustainability committees, with new jobs created and people hired with titles such as "sustainability coordinator" to implement these efforts. The institutionalization of such efforts in academic institutions has led to the formation of organizations such as the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education with scores of institutional academic and business members. 

Green careers now can be deemed to encompass entrepreneurial, finance, and service sectors. For example the 1990 Clean Air Act established in the United States the practice of cap and trade for pollutant emissions (in this case for sulfur dioxide emissions).  Within the last decade many countries adopted the Kyoto Protocol and introduced cap and trade processes for greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).  Cap and trade of GHGs is now a major consideration in pending U.S. legislation and global international negotiations.  Becoming a pollution credit trader (whether it be for sulfur or GHG emissions)  in now a recognized and viable green career within the financial sector. Many service jobs which were previously considered blue collar are now being considered  green collar jobs.  Federal monies authorized in the United States to retrofit homes and businesses for energy efficiency have moved many electrical, mechanical, and construction-related trade jobs into the green jobs category. Designers and architects are now becoming LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, moving their professions into the green careers category.

Thus in the past decade there has been a massive expansion of the what is now considered part of the green green careers sector.


The definition of what could be considered a green career has clearly been expanding in scope during the recent decade.  Fundamentally, a green career is one that supports sustainable industry, protects biodiversity, reduces pollution and minimizes waste. Some efforts have been made towards standardizing definitions for this now burgeoning career track. The White House has provided the following definition for green jobs: "Green jobs are jobs that provide products and services which use sustainable technologies, reduce pollution, conserve energy and natural resources and reconstitute waste."  There is a subset of service jobs which are now called "green collar" jobs. David Foster, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance has stated, "a green job is a blue-collar job done for a green purpose."

The most comprehensive attempt a at defining green jobs has been made in the 2008 United Nations Environmental Report (UNEP): "Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World."  :

“We define green jobs as positions in agriculture, manufacturing, construction, installation, and maintenance, as well as scientific and technical, administrative, and service-related activities, that contribute substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality. Specifically, but not exclusively, this includes jobs that help to protect and restore ecosystems and biodiversity; reduce energy, materials, and water consumption through high-efficiency and avoidance strategies; de-carbonize the economy; and minimize or altogether avoid generation of all forms of waste and pollution.”

Discussion by sector

Certain sectors of the economy have more visible and pronounced effects upon environmental sustainability and thus merit accentuated discussion in their role of green careers. Paramount among such sectors are careers in agriculture and natural resources; other sectors of notable impact are transport and tourism. Agriculture is a key topic, because the first aspect of human survival is based upon the production of food, whereas natural resource conservation is vital in that our natural habitats, topsoil and mineral resources are heritage elements that have existed in most part throughout the Edenic Period, i.e. over much of the last several hundred million years. If these resources are to sustain the generations that follow, prudent use must be made to insure their intact presence throughout the 21st century and beyond.

Green careers seekers

Since the scope of what are now considered green jobs continues to expand well beyond the traditional concepts to the more service and entrepreneurial enterprises, efforts are being made to provide students and future workers with guidance to navigate through the expanding list of career track choices. While the core disciplines of biology, chemistry, geology, meteorology, physics and certain engineering fields provide a foundation for launching into a green career, the application of degrees in these fields must be matched with industries that concentrate on business models with environmentally sustainable strategies. Moreover, fields of finance, communications, media, publishing and other non-scientific endeavors may lead to a green career if the business application of these skills embraces an environmentally sustainable activity.

This encyclopedia entry endeavors to make an initial step in the categorization of those choices.

Further reading and green careers links



Nodvin, S., Novacovici, A., & Hogan, C. (2011). Green careers. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbedeb7896bb431f694bdb


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