Here’s What It Takes to Land Your Sustainability Dream Job

As sustainable business enters the mainstream, there is a growing need for a skilled labor force that can meet the needs of socially and environmentally focused firms. The rate of growth for jobs with “environmental compliance” as a keyword has increased by 24 percent since 2010, while jobs focusing on “energy efficiency” have grown by 500 percent since 2009, according to data from job search engine, compiled by Coyne College.

California, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Wisconsin, Indiana, Georgia, Virginia and Maryland are the top states for sustainability jobs, based on the number of job listings on Simply Hired. Many of these states, particularly California, are where there has been the most job growth in the cleantech sector.

The sustainable buildings sector is also a major source for sustainable business opportunity. California, Texas, Illinois, Maryland and Virginia topped the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) recent list for top states for number projects for LEED, the world’s most widely used and recognized green building rating system.

But sustainable job growth is happening almost everywhere. In some cases, existing plants are being repurposed for more sustainable purposes — the Philip Morris cigarette plant in Concord, North Carolina, for example, has switched to producing batteries to store energy for wind and solar farms.

Top Skills for Sustainability Jobs

What kinds of skills are these forward-thinking firms looking for? Luckily, they are quite varied. According to the Simply Hired data, here are some of the top skills sustainability-driven companies are looking for in their employees:

  • Create and Manage Business Relationships — It’s necessary to create relationships with investors, government agencies, and other potential sources of funding.
  • Technical Skills — Many of the companies, jobs, and industries focusing on environmentalism are technically focused, and a background in some technical skills is needed.
  • Financial Management — Proper management of finances is key in industries which rely heavily on outside funding, and there is little margin for error when applying for grants.
  • Management — Sustainable businesses typically operate with CSR as their cornerstone. Skilled management professionals who can manage with sustainability standards are sought after.
  • Product Development and Marketing — Sustainable businesses are often in the business of creating and selling alternative technology and products to less environmentally friendly options, requiring the help of specialists, both in the creative and marketing end.
  • Certifications, Credentials and Licenses — Certifications such as LEED for green construction and Professional Engineers (PE) licenses, among other certifications, are important in the green industry for developing relationships with potential investors, and demonstrate a specialized level of knowledge and skill in a given field.

The Most In-Demand Jobs

So you think you’ve got the skills needed for a sustainability career, but what kind of job is right for you? Here are some of the high-growth occupations for sustainable business.

  • Solar Power Contractor — Solar power contractors work in the field of solar panel installation, maintenance, and repair. In the past five years, 93,000 workers spent more than half their work hours on projects related to solar power. And with Congress having extended the federal solar investment tax credit, this industry’s future is looking bright.
  • Wind Turbine Installer — Wind turbine installers specialize in the installation, maintenance, and repair of power-producing wind turbines. There were 3,200 wind turbine technicians in the U.S. with an expected growth of 24 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which translate to 800 jobs. This isn’t a huge number, but it likely will continue to grow as more wind projects are greenlighted.
  • Sustainable Construction Engineer — Sustainable construction engineers specialize in using environmentally friendly materials to build structures certified by one of several organizations that regulate green building construction.
  • Hybrid Vehicle Technician — Hybrid vehicle technicians may work as mechanics or building various parts of the vehicle, from batteries to bodies. The Great Recession slowed down sails, falling to about 250,000 units in 2010. But this level is expected to be maintained or grow through 2020 depending on the state of the economy and government tax breaks. With luxury vehicle manufacturers making up about 23 percent of the plug-in electric vehicle market, which is expected to grow to about 50 percent by the early 2020s, the hybrid and electric vehicle field is going to continue to thrive.
  • Environmental Protection Specialist — Environmental protection specialists focus on protecting the environmental and human health by helping to clean up polluted areas, advising government officials and other policymakers. There are 92,000 environmental specialists in the U.S., according to BLS, with an expected growth rate of 15 percent, or 13,200 jobs — a rate much higher than the average job.
  • Environmental Engineer — Environmental engineers apply engineering principles and science to develop solutions to environmental problems such as improving recycling and waste disposal and controlling pollution. There are 53,200 environmental engineers in the U.S., according to BLS, with an expected growth rate of 15 percent, or 8.100 jobs.
  • Campus Sustainability Director — Campus sustainability directors are responsible for a range of projects, including recycling programs and sustainable building construction. Schools such as Arizona State University are leading the field on this front.
  • Water Engineers — Hydrologists are scientists specializing in the study of how water moves across and through the Earth. They use their knowledge to address problems with water quality. There are 7,400 hydrologists in the U.S., BLS says, with an expected growth of 10 percent or 800 jobs. With states such as California still plagued by drought, water engineers are higher in demand than ever.
  • Agricultural and Food Scientists — Agricultural and food scientists ensure that food production establishments are safe, develop new means of cultivating food products, and address problems related to food access. There were 38,500 agriculture and food scientists in the U.S., according to BLS, with an expected growth of 9 percent, or 3,600 jobs.

AECOM, Federal Government Lead in Sustainability Employment

While the truth is that there can be “sustainability” jobs even in organizations not traditionally thought of as sustainable businesses, the Coyne College study found that AECOM, the National Park Service and Tesla were the largest employers of sustainability-focused jobs, with 100,000, 16,000 and 12,000 employees, respectively. SolarCity, OPower, Vivint and ERM also are major employers in the sustainable business field.


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