A Guide to Green Careers
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Make A Living, Make A Difference
Renewability. Sustainability. Efficiency. These three words describe the engine that will drive the economic growth in the near future and for decades to come. As the world's economy goes, so goes its jobs market. This guidebook has been created to help readers better understand exactly what lies ahead for job seekers in a renewable, sustainable and more efficient world. If you are interested in finding a career where you can make a difference while making a living, this guidebook is for you.
Meet the author
A graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara College of Law, Michael Hoffman nurtured his love for research and writing while a practicing attorney in Los Angeles. Now a freelance journalist and aspiring screenwriter, Michael researches and writes on a variety of topics including environmental science, higher education, emerging technologies, health and, of course, law.
Meet the Experts
Sharpe-McNally Chair of Green and Socially Responsible Business College of the Atlantic Former COO in the natural and organic food industry and strategy consultant to Fortune 100 clients
Dean, College of Engineering, Technology and Management Oregon Institute of Technology
Executive Director of Energy & Sustainability College of Environmental Science and Forestry State University of New York Former executive with National Grid and Niagara Mohawk Holdings
Professor and Chair Community Development and Applied Economics Department University of Vermont
Professor and Department Chair, Department of Plant and Soil Science University of Vermont
Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering & Renewable Energy Oregon Institute of Technology
"Green careers." Everyone's heard the term, but what does it really mean? Is it about jobs that protect the environment? Does it have to do with renewable energy sources? What about food and crops? Biodiversity? Climate change? Maybe it's just about working outdoors. The right answer is, "all of the above" and at the same time, "none of the above." Which is to say that "green careers" is a term that's been thrown around so much, it no longer has any particular meaning at all. Or maybe it never did.
Nevertheless, most people have some vague picture in their mind of what green careers or green jobs or green businesses are all about. This guide has been put together to provide a little clarity on the subject and the best way to begin to do that is to offer a good working definition. We've taken ours from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics According to the BLS, "[g]reen jobs are either:
- "Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.
- Jobs in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources."
While the BLS does not currently compile data specifically for green jobs, a study released by the BLS in 2013 found green jobs increased from 2010 to 2011. The study also indicated green jobs are growing in number and popularity across all sectors of the economy, and this trend is expected to continue. One can reasonably assume green careers are real and here to stay.
"When considering education and career choices, think about the things you'll be doing on a daily basis. It's important that you do something you can be passionate about, something that fits your personality and interests. Something you like and are good at. Also, develop a skill set that is adaptable, one that can be applied to different aspects of your chosen field."
-- Michael Kelleher
Top Ten Cities for Green Careers
The Green Career Landscape
To best examine the green career landscape, it's important to understand that it's just another way of looking at the career landscape in general. There's an almost endless list of occupations that are readily identified as green jobs (environmental engineer, solar energy technician, recycling engineer, and sustainable architect, to name just a few). As time moves on and the necessity for greater energy efficiency and resource sustainability increases, however, the lines drawn between green jobs and regular jobs will begin to dissolve. For example, a growing scarcity of fossil fuels and the need to stem the environmental damages caused by climate change will undoubtedly lead to a substantial increase in the use of public transportation. That, in turn, will mean an increased demand for workers such as bus drivers and mechanics. Driving a bus isn't currently considered a green job, but in the future, we'll likely see things differently.
In the meantime, green careers will continue to be thought of as those falling squarely under the parameters of the BLS green jobs definition offered above. That's still a pretty broad playing field, though, encompassing occupations in every corner of the employment market in the government, private and non-profit sectors. The following categories provide a clearer picture of the current green careers landscape:
Renewable Energy Generation and Efficiency
When considering green industry, the first thing that may come to mind is the generation of renewable energy. Renewable energy includes "old" and "new" sources. Solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energy resources are considered new, although each of these resources has been around longer than "traditional" ones such as coal, oil, gas and nuclear. Green careers in the energy generation and efficiency fields are numerous and include a seemingly endless list of job titles. Three of the most noteworthy are:
- Solar Energy Systems Engineer: Solar engineers design and develop systems to harness the energy of the sun to generate electricity and heat for buildings and water. Solar engineers are employed mainly in the private sector, where job growth is expected to be strong into the future.
- Solar Panel Technician: Solar panel technicians are involved in every aspect of the installation and maintenance of solar energy systems. Jobs in the field often require minimal postsecondary education with most experience coming on the job. Job growth expectations are excellent.
- Wind Energy Engineer: Wind energy engineers design, develop and install wind turbines and wind farm collector systems. Entry into the profession typically requires a minimum of a bachelor's degree in mechanical or electrical engineering. Job prospects for wind engineers are good and growing.
Energy Trading and Storage
Energy trading concerns the purchase and sale of energy resources as a commodity in much the same way as coffee, sugar, minerals and other products are traded. Energy storage involves gasification combined cycle systems in power plants, as well as the capture and storage of energy and carbon emissions. Careers in energy trading require strong business skills with a solid knowledge of energy technologies, while careers in energy storage require extensive education in engineering. Typical job titles in energy trading and storage include:
- Energy Broker: Energy brokers work in private industry as intermediaries between energy producers and consumers in much the same way real estate brokers act in real estate deals. Energy brokering is a relatively new profession. Job prospects and growth are yet to be determined.
- Securities and Commodities Trader: Securities and commodities traders work in the financial sector buying and selling a variety of financial products. Traders are employed by both large and small firms or are self-employed and work on commission.
- Power Plant Operator: Power plant operators control power generating equipment at facilities that consume any number of energy resources to produce electricity. Declines in job opportunities in the field are expected over the coming decade.
Environmental Protection and Agriculture
Going green may seem obvious when talking about agriculture, but issues regarding sustainability are just as pressing here as they are in any discipline. Environmental protection careers involve environmental remediation, climate change adaptation and the protection of air quality. Green agriculture jobs can be found throughout the farming and food production industries as well as in soil conservation, education and research. Three top job opportunities include:
- Farm Manager: Farm managers run establishments that produce crops, livestock and dairy products. Almost all farm management jobs are found in the private sector, often with large food production conglomerates. Farm managers may also work their own land and develop their own agricultural products.
- Fish and Game Warden: Fish and game wardens are commissioned peace officers employed in the enforcement of wildlife, hunting, fishing and boating laws. They are typically employed by state and local governments and patrol publicly-owned properties such as wetlands, lakes, rivers, coastlands and back country.
- Agricultural Inspector: Agriculture inspectors work for federal, state and local governments to inspect agricultural commodities, equipment, facilities and other locations to ensure compliance with health laws and regulations. Job projections are steady into the coming decade.
"The U.S. farming sector is also facing critical demographic challenges as the average age of U.S farmers is now 57. Maintaining a working landscape, one of the prerequisites of sustaining this important economic sector, requires more educated farmers."-- Deborah A. Neher
Green Construction and Manufacturing
One of the most exciting and fastest growing green career fields is green construction and manufacturing. Huge public interest is fueling this growth as more consumers realize the value of green construction products and their lower impact on the environment. Green jobs can be found throughout the larger home and commercial building industries and with private manufacturing companies large and small. Here are three of the top job prospects in green construction and manufacturing:
- Construction carpenter: Carpenters are the ultimate builders. They construct and repair buildings, roads, bridges and other structures of all kinds. Job growth for carpenters is expected to be strong in the coming decade due in part to the green construction revolution.
- Chemist: Chemists study the structure of substances on the molecular and atomic level. They are employed in every facet of the construction and manufacturing fields to produce better and safer products and building materials. Job growth for chemists should be steady but slower than for all occupations combined.
- Industrial Production Manager: Industrial production managers oversee the day-to-day operations of production facilities. Entry-level positions for this job title typically require a bachelor's degree with advancement coming primarily from on-the-job experience.
The green transportation industry should see slow but steady growth over the coming decades due to the inevitable need for people to move from automobile-based transportation to mass public transportation. Careers in the field will run the gamut from engineers who design and develop mass transportation systems to skilled commercial vehicle drivers and mass transit operators. Three top occupations in this category include:
- Mechanical Engineer: Broadly defined, mechanical engineers design, develop and test all varieties of mechanical and thermal devices. Entry-level positions require a minimum of a bachelor's degree with advancement into management commonly tied to the completion of a graduate degree or certificate program.
- Transportation Manager: Transportation managers plan, direct and coordinate transportation activities in accordance with government laws and regulations along with organizational policies. They are employed in every facet of ground, air and water transportation.
- Truck driver: Trucks drivers provide the main means of transportation of goods and services in the nation. The green revolution will likely not change this fact, at least in the near future. Job growth for truck drivers over the next decade is expected to fall in line with all occupations combined.
Recycling and Waste Reduction
Yes, recycling and waste reduction involve taking out the trash, but that's just the beginning. Trash and waste must be disposed of properly, and this increasingly includes finding new ways to recycle and reuse waste in ways never thought possible. A surprising example of this is the development and use of biosolids, which are derived from highly treated human waste. Occupations in this category concern solid waste and wastewater management, waste treatment, and the processing of recyclable materials. Common job titles include:
- Refuse Materials Collector: Refuse materials collectors are more commonly referred to as garbage collectors. In the brave new world of recycling and waste management, however, the significance of the occupation has never been greater. Refuse materials collectors work in both the private sector and for local governments.
- Recycling Coordinator: Recycling coordinators are closely related to refuse materials collectors. They are employed by private firms and local governments to oversee curbside and dropoff recycling services. Jobs with this title may require minimal postsecondary education, and advancement is more often based on job experience.
- Hazardous Materials Workers: Hazardous materials workers identify and remove all sorts of hazardous materials including arsenic, lead, asbestos, and radioactive and nuclear waste. Job growth in this occupation is expected to be slightly better than for all occupations combined moving into the near future.
Governmental and Regulatory Administration
Governmental and regulatory administration is a deceptively large field and encompasses jobs in the public, nonprofit and private economic sectors. Not surprisingly, jobs in the government sector have to do with the development and writing of laws and regulations. Non-profit organizations hire people to propose regulation legislation and advocate for their specific environmental causes. Private firms and companies employ experts to ensure their compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. Three common job titles in this category include:
- Compliance Manager: Compliance managers (or compliance officers, as they are often known) investigate and analyze government laws and regulations for private companies and other entities to ensure proper compliance. Educational requirements vary for this job title, although most prospective compliance managers complete some level of postsecondary work and often obtain certification from industry associations.
- Financial Analyst: Financial analysts provide advice to individuals, businesses, banks and other institutions regarding the performance of stocks, bonds and other financial products. A bachelor's degree in the field is a minimum requirement as well as licensing by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
- Construction and Building Inspector: Construction and building inspectors are typically employed by governmental entities to visit construction sites to ensure proper compliance with building codes, ordinances, zoning laws and construction designs. Entry into this occupation may require as little as a high school diploma, but most governmental employers mandate additional training and certification.
Research, Design and Consulting Services
This category might best be described as a "catch-all" for green occupations that can be found within all of the other categories discussed above. Research, design and consulting services also involve the three economic sectors. The primary factor that distinguishes jobs in this category from all others is that professionals in research, design and consulting are often self-employed or work for small firms that are hired on a contractual basis. Common job titles in this field include:
- Civil Engineer: Civil engineers design and supervise large construction projects for roads, bridges, buildings, dams and other major systems. Civil engineers need a bachelor's degree and proper licensure. Advancement into senior management positions typically requires a return to school and completion of a graduate degree program.
- Computer Software Engineer: Software engineers develop the applications and programs required to enable users to perform certain tasks and operations. Most entry level positions in the field require a bachelor's degree in computer science or software engineering. Job growth projections for the decade ending in 2022 are strong and substantially above average.
- Green Marketer: Green marketing managers oversee the advertising, marketing and promotion of goods and services to maximize product exposure and sales. A bachelor's degree in marketing is the norm for entry-level positions. Job growth expectancy for this career is slightly faster than average for all careers combined.
Trends Fueling Green Careers
By definition, all green careers could all be labeled as "cutting edge." The fact is, however, that most green industries have been around for decades. As with all professions, though, there are new trends forming within each of the green industries all the time. Listed here is a small sample of the trends currently fueling career growth and job opportunities.
Biomimicry: A relatively new scientific discipline, biomimicry concerns the study and imitation of complex biological and other systems found in nature to solve human problems. Although still in its infancy stages, some sustainability experts see potential opportunities in bio-inspired design.
Climate Change: At this point, it's hard to believe that anyone is unaware of the potential dangers of human-created climate change. Climate change poses more than potential or theoretical dangers. The effects are real and present. The sheer magnitude of the problem virtually guarantees a coming explosion of jobs in every sector to combat its effects.
Fracking: One of the most controversial energy and environmental issues today, hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as fracking) is the process of injecting liquids underground at high pressure to extract oil and gas. While fracking is quickly revolutionizing the energy industry, it is also been accused of causing a large increase in earthquakes and the release of carcinogenic chemicals into water tables.
Population: One might expect that the trend in human population inevitably moves only one way: up. This may be true overall, but while population is increasing in some places (particularly in underdeveloped and developing regions) it is declining, sometimes significantly, in others. The challenge going forward will be to develop efficient systems to shift resources (food, health and energy) from those regions with diminishing populations to those with increasing ones.
Social Media: Changes in the ways the world does business are born in the marketplace of ideas, and that marketplace is increasingly located in the virtual space known as social media. There is a growing emphasis being placed on what is termed "green marketing" to youth via social media channels, where social circles expand and the resulting peer pressures develop that may arguably change human behaviors for the better.
Salaries for Sustainable Careers
|Occupation||Median Annual Salary, 2012|
|Environmental scientists and specialists||$63,570|
|Soil and plan scientists||$58,740|
|Environmental science and protection technicians||$41,240|
|Biochemists and biophysicists||$63,350*|
|Natural sciences managers||$114,770*|
*Median annual wage, May 2011
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Where Green Jobs Grow
The planet is going green, which is good news for the human race and the animal kingdom. From the air we breathe to the water we drink and the earth we walk upon, our survival depends on a greener future.
When it comes to massive change, the public, private and nonprofit sectors of the world's economy combine to act as a sort of "ecologic" system of its own, each sector providing checks and balances against the other two. This appears to be happening in regards to the looming issues and challenges related to climate change and dwindling traditional energy sources. Consequently, it is expected that the trend of more green jobs will continue in all sectors of the economy. Below, we take a closer look at where green jobs grow in each of these sectors.
The Big G: Government
Contrary to popular opinion, in many cases the first inklings of major cultural and sociological problems are detected by government, either by regulatory agencies or legislative investigations. The dangers of climate change, for example, were first introduced to the general public by government scientists and politicians. Although private businesses often provide the solutions to societal problems, those solutions are generally not produced until there are profits to be made from them. Until that happens, we rely to a large extent on our government institutions to pave the way toward change.
Notwithstanding the wholesale slashing of agency budgets over the course of the last few decades, government is still a major source of green jobs of all kinds, and these jobs are available on federal, state and local government levels. On the federal level, green jobs can be found within the agencies you would expect, like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Energy, Transportation and the Interior. Others may surprise you. For example, a major government employer of green professionals is the Department of the Defense. State and local governments are also big employers of green workers in areas such as water and power utilities and in the enforcement of environmental regulations.
Once large potential problems are identified by a public agency, the charge for positive change is often led by non-profit organizations whose very reasons for existence are to do just that. In terms of environmental causes, the number of non-profit organizations working today in the United States is in the thousands. Most are small in size and focused on very specific issues on a local scale. But there are also dozens of well-recognized groups with impressive budgets and large lobbying staffs manning offices in Washington, D.C. as well as every state capital in the nation. Two well-known examples of green non-profits are the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Founded in 1892, the Sierra Club is one of the oldest and most well-respected conservation organizations in the United States. With over 2 million members and supporters, the Sierra Club continues to be a leader in the fight to preserve wilderness and wildlife. Its grassroots and lobbying efforts have played a major role in helping to pass such landmark legislation as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act.
Based in New York City, the NRDC is an environmental advocacy non-profit with over 1.4 million members and online activists, as well as more than 350 lawyers, scientists and other professionals. Current stated priorities for the NRDC include curbing global warming, reviving the world's oceans, defending endangered wildlife and ensuring safe and sufficient water supplies.
20 Non-Profits Committed to Conservation
- Defenders of Wildlife http://www.defenders.org/
- Earth Policy Institute http://www.earth-policy.org/
- EarthJustice http://earthjustice.org/
- EcoHealth Alliance http://www.ecohealthalliance.org/
- Environmental Defense Fund http://www.edf.org/
- Greenpeace http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/
- Humane Society http://www.humanesociety.org/
- International Marine Mammal Project http://immp.eii.org/
- National Audubon Society http://www.audubon.org/
- National Wildlife Federation http://www.nwf.org/
- National Resources Defense Council http://www.nrdc.org/
- The Nature Conservancy http://www.nature.org/
- Ocean Conservancy http://www.oceanconservancy.org/
- Ocean Futures Society http://www.oceanfutures.org/
- Sierra Club http://www.sierraclub.org/
- World Wildlife Fund http://www.wwf.org/
- The Wilderness Society http://wilderness.org/
- Wildlife Conservation Society http://www.wcs.org/
- Wild Oceans http://wildoceans.org/
- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution http://www.whoi.edu/
It's a fundamental precept of business: Private corporations are in the business of making money and returning a profit to their investors. In many cases, as with the green economy, it can take years or even decades before private business can conceive of a model in which enough revenue will be generated to justify entering the market. Today, however, the profit margins for green products and services are favorable, and businesses worldwide are clamoring to stake their financial claim in the green explosion.
This green explosion could also mean a green job boom. The diversity of companies now hiring green workers is vast and growing. This will likely mean growth in the overall number of jobs available, but the extent of this growth is still uncertain. More green jobs are on the horizon, but the majority of them will be filled by current white and blue-collar workers transitioning to green collar positions. Another uncertainty concerns what types of green jobs will be created. That's both the beauty and difficulty of a free and open jobs market, especially where new and quickly innovating industries are concerned. Only with the development of new technologies will we be able to know just exactly where the green collar jobs will appear.
Even with these uncertainties, we do know where green jobs are presently located. Top industries currently riding the green revolution wave include health services, telecommunications, consumer services, pharmaceuticals, hardware equipment, and the food and beverage and businesses. Remember, however, that green products and services that are "hot" today can, and probably will, mutate into something entirely different down the road.
Profiling "Green Collar" Companies
As you might have concluded by now, the world of green careers mirrors the universe of all careers in almost every way. It should be no surprise that the need for green professionals can be found in private enterprises of all shapes and sizes. We've profiled two companies below, one large and one small, to illustrate this fact.
S.C. Johnson & Son
S.C. Johnson & Son (formerly Johnson Wax) is a privately-held global manufacturer of household cleaning products and consumer chemicals. Popular products that it produces include Pledge, Glade, OFF and Mr. Muscle. It employs approximately 12,000 workers worldwide and enjoyed revenues of over $11 billion in 2013.
Household cleaners and other products can be caustic and require careful use in order to avoid irritation to living things, especially children and pets. The larger impact on the environment, however, is often overlooked. The chemicals used in household products and their packaging, particularly bioactive molecules in cleaning agents, pose a significant threat to air, water and other natural resources. Concern for their negative effects has led to an increased demand in more benign and natural alternatives.
S.C. Johnson & Son is a company with a surprisingly long history of commitment to the environment and sustainability. An example of this commitment is the company's Greenlist classification system that evaluates and rates the impact of its products' raw materials on the environment and human health. The result has been the elimination of over 2 million pounds of volatile organic compounds from its Windex product line and 4 million pounds of other harmful chemicals from its Saran Wrap products. In addition, S.C. Johnson has made significant moves toward the use of less harmful energy sources such as natural gas and wind turbines.
Headquartered in Meridian, Idaho, EvenGreen Technology produces energy conservation and optimization products and services for solar power, solar water heating, solar lighting, LED's, and advanced energy control and monitoring devices. Specific services include project management, electrical evaluation, onsite evaluation, consulting and financing.
EvenGreen Technology is indicative of the type of small energy-related companies employing a self-described "holistic approach" to energy efficiency. With recent advancements in solar technology making the use of photovoltaic (PV) solar cells more energy and cost efficient, EvenGreen and hundreds of other similar businesses are popping up and beginning to thrive. According to figures provided by the Solar Energy Industries Association, PV installations were up 79% in the first quarter of 2014 compared with the first quarter of 2013.
Continued growth in the market is expected throughout the country. In the meantime, EvenGreen Technology and several other similar Idaho-based companies have formed the Idaho Clean Energy Association to represent local industry interests with government and to promote growth and job creation.
The importance of earning a college degree can hardly be overstated, but it's just as important to realize that it is only the first step to a successful professional career. In today's hyper-competitive job market, graduates need an edge on their competition more than ever, and that edge often takes the form of a college internship.
In some instances, college internships have taken the place of the traditional job interview. Basically, a student's entire internship may just be one long job "interview." This is no less true for green jobs. Regardless of a student's ultimate place of employment or future career goals, there's an increasing value put on the skills and knowledge gained from internships in green career fields. Listed below is just a small sample of the types of internships available to green-minded college students.
ACORE Internship ProgramAmerican Council On Renewable Energy
ACORE is a non-profit organization dedicated to "building a secure and prosperous America with clean, renewable energy" through providing an educational platform for a wide range of interests focused on technology, finance, policy and market development. ACORE's internship program provides Washington, D.C.-based positions to undergraduate seniors, graduate students and recent graduates interested in making a career in the renewable energy industry.
Advanced Degree Development Program (ADDP) Summer InternshipDTE Energy
DTE Energy, a major diversified energy company, offers its ADDP Summer Internship program to highly-skilled MBA candidates who possess five years of experience exhibiting a progressive work history. Interns receive 10 to 12 week assignments providing financial planning, decision making and product management support in a number of developmental areas including renewable energy.
Advanced Energy InternshipsAdvanced Energy Industries
Advanced Energy Industries (AEI) is a leading innovator in power and control technologies for the manufacture of products such as semiconductors, solar cells, flat-panel displays and more. AEI supports internship programs at its headquarters in Fort Collins, Colorado and at its locations around the world. Paid internships are available year-round and provide hands-on experience in a number of leading-edge technologies.
Business Development InternEos Energy Storage
Eos Energy Storage's mission is to develop cost-effective energy storage solutions. The company offers business development internships based in its New York City offices. Internship candidates should have a strong and demonstrated interest in clean tech and the energy industry. Interns work with the business development manager and management team in all aspects of market/competitive research, collateral development, financial analysis and several other business areas.
CEQ Internship ProgramWhite House Council on Environmental Quality
The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) coordinates federal environmental efforts and works with the White House and other agencies to develop environmental policies and initiatives. CEQ's Washington, D.C.-based interns perform a wide range of tasks including conducting research, managing incoming inquiries, attending meetings and writing memos on environmental issues. Most interns work on a semester-based schedule and all positions are unpaid.
Ceres is a non-profit organization advocating for sustainable leadership by mobilizing investors, companies and public interest groups. Ceres hires a combination of undergraduate and graduate students for paid internships during the spring and fall semesters and in the summer. Interns are placed in business areas such as corporate, development, electric power, insurance, water, and transportation, oil and gas.
Department of Energy
The United States Department of Energy (DOE) offers internships through three programs: the Student Temporary Employment Program (STEP); the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP); and Student Stipend-Based Internship Programs. Stipend-based internships are commonly available during the summer and are 12 weeks long. Positions are offered in the scientific research, administration and business fields.
Environmental Protection Agency
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers both paid and unpaid student internships. Paid internships are available in administrative and clerical positions, as well as technical positions in areas such as life sciences, program and policy analysis and engineering. These internships typically require a 16-week commitment and can be found throughout the nation.
Lake Flato Architects
Lake Flato Architects, located in San Antonio, Texas, is a leader in the field of sustainability in architectural design. Lake Flato typically offers four to six paid intern positions that range in length from six months to one year. Interns assist project leaders in areas that include schematic design, virtual and physical model making, construction documents and more.
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is an alliance of grassroots groups advocating for federal policy reform to sustain agriculture, food systems, natural resources and rural communities. The NSAC offers paid full-time internships three times a year in its Policy and Grassroots departments in Washington, D.C.
Located in Portland, Oregon, Renewable Northwest (RNP) is non-profit advocacy group comprised of over 60 organizations dedicated to promoting the expansion of environmentally responsible energy resources. RNP works with businesses, educational institutions and training programs to create internship opportunities in the clean energy sector and provides links on its site to those internship programs.
Research Participant Program InternshipsNational Renewable Energy Laboratory
Located in Golden, Colorado, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is the U. S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. The NREL offers undergraduate and graduate internships to currently enrolled full-time students who have completed at least their sophomore year. Positions are available both during the school year and in the summer.
The Student Conservation Association
The Student Conservation Association (SCA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to building the "next generation of conservation leaders." The SCA offers a wide range of internship opportunities to high school graduates 18 years of age and up that allow students to acquire hands-on experience in agencies, organizations and sustainable businesses. Internships last from 12 weeks to 12 months and are available throughout the country.
Summer Internship ProgramSkanska
A nationally-known company with strong credentials in green construction, Skanska offers a variety of internship programs including summer internships through its Civil West California District. These 12-week internships are available in areas such as field engineering, cost engineering, electrical engineering, safety engineering, and a number of civil transportation and transit projects.
Sustainable Farming Internship ProgramGreen String Institute
The Green String Institute is a branch of Green String Farm, a natural-process sustainable farm located near Petaluma, California. Ten to sixteen students serve three-month long internships where they live, work and attend classes covering all aspects of natural process farming including seed selection, pruning, tool maintenance and farm finances. Interns receive tuition, room, board and a $50 per week stipend.
Headquartered in Palo Alto, California, Tesla Motors designs, manufactures and sells electric cars and power train components. Through its Internship & Co-op Program, Tesla hires students for work terms of three, six, eight and 12 months in areas such as manufacturing, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, IT and firmware. Positions are available in the United States and a number of European countries.
Trading Internship ProgramSusquehanna International Group (SIG)
SIG is a global trading firm located just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. SIG's Trading Internship Program provides 10-week long summer internships to college seniors interested in the trading of financial products including energy. SIG's internship program is the primary hiring source for trading positions at the firm and exposes students to the work environment they can expect if they return as full-time assistant traders.
Turner BRIDGE ProgramTurner Construction Company
Turner Construction Company, with offices throughout the United States, is consistently listed among the top green construction companies in North America. Turner's BRIDGE internship program is open to undergraduates who are majoring in engineering, construction management, safety, architectural studies, finance, accounting or human resources and interested in a career in construction.
Based in San Francisco, URS Corporation is a leading provider of engineering, construction and technical services around the world with a strong commitment to business practices that support sustainability objectives. URS offers formal and informal internship positions in a wide variety of fields such as management, engineering, marketing, telecommunications and many others at locations throughout the U.S. and the world.
U.S. Green Building Council
Located in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is a private non-profit organization that promotes sustainability in the design, construction and operation of buildings. The USGBC internship program offers a variety of positions in areas such as communications, research, instructional design, building policy, grassroots organizing and several others. Most positions are unpaid and candidates must be eligible for academic credit.
Getting Started in Green: Higher Education
Diversity is the key term when discussing higher education options for green careers. Jobs exist within the various green professions that require, at one end of the spectrum, many years of academic study leading to top-tier graduate degrees and, in some cases, post-doctoral specialized training. At the other end of the spectrum, there is a growing demand for workers to fill green jobs that require a minimum postsecondary education commitment. People seeking positions in sustainable construction or solar panel installation, for example, may only need to complete an associate degree or vocational training program in order to launch fruitful careers. Between both ends of the spectrum, the degree and academic options for green career seekers is almost limitless.
Before beginning a postsecondary education program, students should have a clear vision of where they'd like to end up. That's a tall order for someone just out of high school, but the clearer the career goals, the easier it will be to forge a successful college education plan. Several of our experts advise students to start the decision making process by determining their passion, then honestly evaluating where their individual strengths lie and what they wish to ultimately accomplish career-wise. Students should also talk to professionals currently employed in the fields being considered to find out exactly what they do on a daily basis. Taking all that into consideration, students should be able to chart an academic course and stick with it.
The following is a list of some of the most sought after green professions and their education requirements:
Agriculture covers a lot of ground, and the educational options for those pursuing careers in this industry are plenty, but one issue ties them all together: the growing need for the efficient and sustainable production of healthy foods. Postsecondary programs in agriculture and related fields are available on every degree level, but most students will find their career choices substantially enhanced by earning at least a bachelor's degree.
Undergraduate degree studies include horticulture, sustainable agriculture systems, plant and soil science, agroecology and even ecogastronomy. Advanced degrees are also obtainable for disciplines such as soils, agronomy, entomology, plant pathology and others. While courses in agriculture can be found online, full degree programs may be difficult to find due to the need for a hands-on educational experience.
Going Green: Graduates with a degree in sustainable agriculture or a closely related field may enjoy a wide range of plant career options in areas such as soil conservation, farming and farm management, nursery and greenhouse management, landscape design and management, research and education. Those with a strong interest and entrepreneurial bent may start their own businesses or work as environmental or agricultural consultants.
"There is a perfect storm brewing with regard to the study of sustainable agriculture and food systems. On the one hand, we are facing the obesity crisis, climate change, and world hunger, while on the other hand there is growing interest in healthy eating, the "foodie movement," and food justice. It is a very good time to enter the field."
Everyone knows what architects do. They design residences, office and commercial buildings, special events spaces, and other structures. Becoming a professional architect requires a substantial commitment to postsecondary education and subsequent internship. The architect career path begins with a bachelor's degree in architecture, which typically requires five years to complete. Course studies will include architectural history, building design, computer aided design and drafting, math, the physical sciences and many others. All states require prospective architects to follow up their degree program with a paid internship, typically lasting three years, before they may sit for the Architect Registration Exam and obtain the necessary state license.
Going Green: The green revolution has brought about massive change in how architects approach their work. Architecture students interested in sustainability may be able to locate a degree program specifically in green architecture, or may obtain a post-degree certificate or industry association accreditation. Architects may also seek internships with firms that specialize in sustainable architecture.
Business and Entrepreneurship
Most of the experts we interviewed expressed the importance of a well-rounded education regardless of the green career field discussed, and that a solid understanding of business and finance is a crucial component. The postsecondary education path will begin with an undergraduate degree in economics or almost any other subject. Pick the field you are most passionate about, but add courses in business.
Going Green: People interested in the business end of the green revolution can continue their education by earning a "green" MBA, that is, an MBA with a concentration in one of any number of specific areas including sustainable management, sustainable business, sustainability, or environmental management. Sustainability in these degree programs consists of what has been termed the "triple bottom line" which refers to economic, environmental and social sustainability. The combination of a bachelor's degree and work experience in your discipline of choice, followed by the completion of a green MBA, can lead to a range of compelling employment options.
Broadly speaking, chemical engineers apply principles taken from a number of scientific disciplines in the creation, production and use of chemicals, drugs, food and other products. Students interested in a career in chemical engineering will need to successfully complete an ABET-accredited bachelor's degree program. Study will include courses in chemistry, physics and biology, as well as a variety of math subjects such as calculus, trigonometry and algebra. Students should opt for degree programs that include practical training outside of the classroom. Those interested in pursuing work in research and postsecondary education will need to continue in their studies and earn a graduate degree.
Going Green: There is an increasing interest among chemical engineers in transitioning to jobs in "green" chemistry and sustainability. Concerns regarding the employment of less toxic materials in manufacturing processes and the elimination of hazardous materials have fueled a demand for green chemical engineers in the private sector. Chemical engineers may also find employment in related fields such as environmental engineering and energy efficiency.
Conservation Science and Forestry
Conservation scientists are involved in all aspects of monitoring and managing the land quality of forests, rangelands, parks, wetlands and other natural resources. Those interested in a career in conservation science or forestry can start by obtaining an associate or bachelor's degree in forestry or a related subject such as environmental science, agriculture or rangeland management. Graduate degrees in the subject are also available, both online and through more traditional means, but are usually not necessary for a successful career in the field. Courses offered in these degree programs cover subjects that include biology, ecology and forest resource management.
Going Green: Sustainable forest management is crucial to the planet's overall survival as we move forward to address increasing demands for lumber and other related materials and the growing threat of climate change. Forest depletion has reached the crisis stage in many countries around the globe, leading to the creation of potentially millions of new jobs in government and business.
Environmental managers are employed to carry out a number of tasks, mainly for private firms and non-profit organizations, which involve the planning, implementing, and directing of policies, projects, and activities in the development of environmental projects. The most common path to a successful career in environmental management begins with a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering, project management, natural resource management or a closely related field. However, strong competition has fueled the demand for managers who have additionally completed a master's degree in management. Distance learning programs in management are plentiful and particularly popular with students who continue in full-time employment while working on their degree.
Going Green: As environmental managers, most individuals will begin their careers with companies or firms rooted in green career-related endeavors. Jobs are available in all sectors of employment, including federal, state and local government agencies, non-profit organizations, and private consulting firms and industries.
Environmental scientists are often on the front line of protecting the environment. Entry-level positions in the field generally require a bachelor's degree in environmental science or a closely related science field such as engineering, geosciences, biology or chemistry. Undergraduates are advised to pursue classes in subjects that include hydrology, waste management and fluid management. Online degree programs are readily available from a number of reputable sources. Graduate degrees in environmental science are available but doctoral degrees are typically earned only by those students who wish to do higher level research or teach on the postsecondary level.
Going Green: Some environmental science graduates may be able to move directly from their studies into green jobs. They are employed by governments, businesses and non-profits alike to conduct research and develop solutions to eliminate or decrease the effects of pollutants and other hazardous materials. Continued job growth in the field is projected, with most of that growth expected to come from increased hiring by private consulting firms.
Mechanical engineering is a broadly-drawn field that lends itself well to working in green-related occupations. Mechanical engineers design, develop and test mechanical and thermal devices and machines of all types. Almost all entry-level jobs in the field require a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology. Degree programs focus on the practical application of engineering theories as opposed to theory, and offer courses in subjects that include mathematics, life and physical sciences and engineering design. Quality degree programs can be found online but should always be ABET accredited. Graduate degrees in mechanical engineering also available for individuals interested in advancing into management-level positions.
Going Green: Almost all green economy sectors employ mechanical engineers including those involving energy efficiency (solar, geothermal, biomass, wind), green construction (green building systems, retrofitting of residences and commercial building), renewable energy generation and transportation. Additionally, mechanical engineers are finding jobs in emerging fields like biomedical engineering, waste management and robotics.
Petroleum engineers locate oil and gas deposits and design and develop methods for extraction. A career as a petroleum engineer requires, at minimum, a bachelor's degree in engineering. A degree specifically in petroleum engineering is preferred, but one in a related subject such as mechanical or chemical engineering may be acceptable. Individuals interested in conducting research or teaching on the college level will most likely need to continue on into a master's or doctoral degree program. Online degrees are available, although students are advised to first consider those programs that incorporate practical, in-the-field experience.
Going Green: It may be difficult to imagine a connection between petroleum engineering and green careers. Given the combination of a dwindling number of high-quality, easily extractable oil and gas deposits and the public's growing environmental awareness, however, the need to develop more efficient and cleaner extraction methods is expected to increase. Petroleum engineers may also be able to transition to positions in the renewable energy field or jobs related to environmental regulation.
Solar and Wind Systems Installation
Finding a solid career path into the green job market does not always require a minimum of four years of postsecondary schooling. Two of the best examples of green occupations that can be entered either with an associate degree or specialized certificate are solar energy systems installer and wind systems installer. Education programs for both can be found at community colleges and vocational training schools throughout the country and typically require a few months (for certificate programs) to two years (for associate degrees) to complete.
Going Green: Solar and wind systems installation jobs fit squarely into the definition of green careers. While employment as a solar systems installer can be found in almost all parts of the country, wind systems installers will most likely have to relocate to a geographic location suited for wind power generation. Workers trained as solar and wind systems installers may also find employment in the manufacturing end of their respective businesses.
"Most students come into the field with an awareness for the supply side of renewable energy but don't realize the close relationship between supply and demand. There is little point in producing renewable energy without the energy efficiency systems in place to reduce demand and effectively utilize that energy. If you are a student and focus only on the supply side, you are going to lose out."
-- Jeffrey R.S. Brownson
Funding a Green Education
Finding money to fund a green education is no different than it is for any other postsecondary education program. The three main sources for college funds (apart from Mom and Dad) are loans, grants and scholarships. Loans are funds borrowed from government or private sources that must be paid back with interest. Grants are money awards that do not have to be paid back. Grants may be acquired from federal and state government programs, educational institutions and private charitable sources. The Federal Pell Grant program is the largest and best-known grant source in the United States. Scholarships are funds awarded primarily by private charitable organizations to students based on need, scholarship achievement or both.
Below is a list of some of the most popular scholarship programs for students studying for green careers. Remember, though, that students interested in green careers need not limit themselves to scholarship programs specifically for green courses of study.
Annie's Sustainable Agricultural ScholarshipsAnnie's Homegrown, Inc.
The company best known for its organic boxed macaroni and cheese sponsors this scholarship program for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing studies in sustainable and organic agriculture. $2,500 and $10,000 amounts are awarded annually and are non-renewable.
CBCF Environmental Studies ScholarshipCongressional Black Caucus Foundation
The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation awards two $5,000 scholarships annually to undergraduate students enrolled full-time at an accredited four-year college or university and pursuing a degree in a subject leading to an environmental career. Candidates must additionally possess a minimum 3.0 GPA, be a U.S. citizen or resident, exhibit leadership ability and participate in community service activities.
Eckenfelder ScholarshipBrown and Caldwell
In honor of Dr. Eckenfelder, a leader in industrial wastewater treatment education, Brown and Caldwell sponsor this $5,000 annual scholarship for students majoring in civil, chemical or environmental engineering, or one of the environmental sciences. Candidates must be enrolled full-time and be either a junior or senior at the undergraduate level or a graduate student, and possess a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0.
E-waste ScholarshipDigital Responsibility
Digital Responsibility, an organization started by a group of Silicon Valley tech employees, sponsors this scholarship program, the purpose of which is to raise awareness of the impact of e-waste and what can be done to reduce it. The scholarship is open to high school and undergraduate or graduate college students. One $1,500 award and one $500 award are made based on candidate submissions of a 140-character message and subsequent 500- to 1000-word essay on the subject of e-waste.
EPA Marshall ScholarshipsMarshall Commission and the U.S. Environmental Agency
The EPA Marshall Scholarships program provides an opportunity for U.S. students to begin or continue a graduate research course in environmental studies at a British university. Applicants must be selected as a Marshall Scholar and pursuing a graduate degree program that is demonstrably relevant to environmental protection, restoration or stewardship; environmental public health; or ecosystem health. The Marshall Commission pays for the first two years of the scholarship for study in the U.K. The EPA then pays for up to three additional years of study in either the U.K. or U.S., provided the candidate's research culminates in a doctoral degree.
EPP Undergraduate Scholarship ProgramNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
The NOAA is a federal government agency whose mission is to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. The NOAA sponsors scholarship awards of up to $35,000 in total support for candidates' during their junior and senior years. Candidates must attend a Minority Serving Institution and major in a STEM field that directly supports the NOAA's mission.
Minority ScholarshipBrown and Caldwell
Another Brown and Caldwell sponsored program, the Minority Scholarship is an annual $5,000 award aimed at helping minority groups succeed in the environmental engineering industry. Qualifying candidates must be enrolled in a full-time junior, senior or graduate program in civil, chemical or environmental engineering or one of the environmental sciences. Additionally, candidates must be of African American, Asian or Pacific American, Hispanic, or Alaska Native descent.
National Garden Clubs ScholarshipsNational Garden Clubs, Inc.
The National Garden Clubs (NGC) awards approximately 35 $3,500 scholarships annually to students majoring in fields of study related to horticulture and the environment. Scholarships are available to junior, senior and graduate students pursuing a master's degree. Candidates must possess a minimum 3.25 GPA and major in one of several listed subject areas including city planning, habitat or forest/systems ecology, environmental conservation and land management.
NEHA/AAS Scholarship AwardsNational Environmental Health Association and American Academy of Sanitarians
The NEHA/AAS Scholarship Awards program presents one $2,000 graduate scholarship and three $1,000 undergraduate scholarships annually to students working toward degrees in the fields of environmental health sciences and/or public health.
Powerful Partnership ScholarshipsNV Energy
NV Energy, a provider of renewable energy and other services throughout Nevada, sponsors this program that awards $1,000 one-time scholarships to high school students in the NV Energy service area who are pursuing a degree at an accredited post-secondary institution and have performed at least 20 hours of community service.
SERF Foundation Educational ScholarshipsSociety of Environmentally Responsible Facilities (SERF)
SERF, a non-profit organization promoting practical environmental stewardship, offers one-time scholarships in amounts from $1,000 to $5,000 for students pursuing an education in a variety of fields including environmental studies, architecture, civil engineering, law, real estate and environmental economics. Candidates must additionally demonstrate evidence of school community or general community involvement coupled with either financial need and/or high scholastic achievement.
Steve Hansen Memorial Scholarship FundMidwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA)
The Steve Hansen Memorial Scholarships are offered to students who reside in the Midwest and possess a clear goal of desiring to make his or her community, environment or world a better and more sustainable place to live. These $500 awards are available to high school, college and non-traditional students and awarded based on student motivation, enthusiasm and commitment. GPA and scholarship are considered but are not deciding factors.
The Switzer Fellowship ProgramRobert & Patricia Switzer Foundation
The Switzer Fellowship Program offers a number of fellowships annually to graduate students studying to prepare for careers directed toward environmental improvement. Switzer Fellowships provide $15,000 for academic study, leadership training and access to fellowship alums. Master's and doctoral students enrolled in an accredited New England or California graduate institution are eligible.
Udall ScholarshipMorris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation
The Udall Scholarship program offers 50 scholarships of up to $5000 each to sophomore and junior level college students committed to careers in the environment, tribal public policy or Native American health care. Scholarships relating to environmental studies are open to all ethnicities with a minimum "B" or equivalent GPA who are pursuing full-time academic study and are U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
WEC ScholarshipsThe Women's Environmental Council
The Women's Environmental Council awards a number of scholarships annually in amounts of $1,000 or more to students attending institutes of higher learning in Los Angeles, Orange or San Diego Counties who are preparing to pursue careers in the environmental field. Areas of study include, among others, ecology marine studies, environmental engineering and environmental science urban planning.
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