Green Jobs: How to Build a Sustainable Career

by Lauren Pezzullo | March 06, 2017

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In recent years, green has proved a popular concept among consumers,with many buyers, especially the millennial set, ready and willing to pay more for sustainable, environmentally friendly products. That’s contributed to the rise of careers in corporate sustainability, with employees who hold these jobs managing production and facilities to ensure the least wasteful business practices are used. 

Additionally, stellar growth in the renewable energy sector is making it an employment standout. By some estimates, solar jobs represented one in every fifty new jobs added in 2016, making this field an investment for the future. If you want to join the ranks of the millions of green collar workers across the US, here’s what you need to know. 

 

Most Companies Will Eventually Employ Sustainability Teams

As concern for sustainability has grown--driven both by consumer concern and the realization that reducing waste and emissions can actually reduce costs--many companies have been taking proactive steps to earn themselves a good environmental report card. One result of this evolution has been the germination of a new corporate role: Sustainability Managers, who oversee facilities, transportation, and production for large organizations. 

Some labor analysts predict massive growth for this field; some experts predict that most public institutions and Fortune 1000 companies will eventually have a sustainability officer on their payroll, so training for this position now could get you ahead of the curve. Experience with facilities management is particularly desired, since many sustainability positions will spring out of these roles. Education-wise, an MBA is a smart move for these positions, especially if it comes with a specialization in sustainability/CSR. You’ll also help your case if you’re familiar with the requirements for sustainable building programs, such as LEED.

 

The New Sustainability Field Will Also Need Engineers and Scientists, Too

As more corporate sustainability initiatives emerge, there should be technical positions available for scientists and engineers that develop waste and management solutions. Those roles will cover a wide range of specialties—the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that there will be new opportunities for biologists and environmental scientists, as well as chemists and atmospheric scientists working on the climate side of the equation. But you’ll need a master’s or a doctorate for many of these positions—especially if you’ll be working on the teams that develop new products. 

On the engineering side, corporations will need chemical engineers, civil engineers, environmental engineers, health and safety engineers, and industrial engineers to create waste reduction processes and develop safer, less harmful business practices. A bachelor’s degree in engineering is often sufficient, but a professional engineering certification (PE) looks great on a resume.

 

Solar Energy Is a Massive Field—And It’s Only Getting Bigger

You may not know anyone with solar panels on their home, but that doesn’t mean solar hasn’t taken off. According to a recent article in Business Insider, solar jobs are growing 12 times faster than the rest of the US economy. Solar notoriously requires more employees per watt than other energy sources—as of this month, the photovoltaic industry employs more than twice the amount of workers as coal. 

And there’s plenty of variety in this field, as well. Solar jobs span a huge range of roles, from mechanical engineers to sales positions to residential solar installers. Here’s how it all breaks down:

Demand-side solar employment: Over two thirds of solar jobs are held on the retail side of solar—that is, the project managers, solar installers, sales and development teams, and distributors that make installations possible for homeowners and businesses across the US. In some ways, the purchasing process for solar panels is a lot more complex than other renovations. On the residential side, homeowners must be guided through a network of decisions. First there’s the size of the unit and the number of panels, but they also need to be walked through local and federal incentives, loans, and other purchasing options that can help them afford their array.

Research and development: A smaller slice of the job makeup belongs to the scientific and engineering fields—physicists, chemists, and materials scientists, as well as a number of mechanical, industrial, and electrical engineers. In particular, as utilities respond to the surge of interest in solar, there is a new need for software developers and inventors who can respond to the demands of distributed energy networks. Specifically, the field needs developments in solar storage equipment and grid management if it is to evolve as proponents hope. 

What You Need to Be a Solar Standout

At its heart, solar is an electrical process, so as an installer, generally some kind of electrical background is helpful. As far as solar-specific certificates and training, there are currently no official credentials required to be an installer—certificates program participation is 100 percent voluntary. However, the North American Board of Certified Energy Professionals, or NABCEP, offers a training and certification program for both PV Technical Sales Professionals and Installers. Having that on your resume will definitely set you apart from the competition. 

For most solar jobs, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree. The Solar Foundation’s 2016 Solar Job Census shows that just 13 percent of positions require only an associate’s. However, if you hope to work on the teams developing new solar technology, you’ll generally need a doctorate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For many roles, computer skills are a necessity—especially if you want to do data analysis, integration, modeling, and testing. 

Overall, your best asset for many of these roles is a forward-looking perspective and a desire to change how the world manages its resources. Onward and upward! 

Lauren Pezzullo is a writer, editor, and musicophile who's passionate about vegetarianism and sustainable eating. As an editor for Modernize, she writes about energy-efficient living in the home. She's currently writing her debut novel.

Filed Under: CSR | Job Search | Technology

Tags: CSR | sustainability

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