Green Energy

Environment & Sustainability (Green) Career Cluster 

Green sector career pathways are surprisingly diverse and quite interdisciplinary. Students from across the arts, sciences, humanities, business, law, and public health are all drawn to make a difference related to environment and sustainability.

 

Industry Cluster Opportunities


Green Building is generally accepted as the planning, design, construction, and operations of buildings with several central, foremost considerations: energy use, water use, indoor environmental quality, material section and the building's effects on its site. The U.S. Green Building Council describes it as a holistic concept that starts with the understanding that the built environment can have profound effects, both positive and negative, on the natural environment, as well as the people who inhabit buildings every day. Green building is an effort to amplify the positive and mitigate the negative of these effects throughout the entire life cycle of a building.

LEED addresses elements that make up the basic parameters for the different credit categories within the LEED green building rating system. LEED is a framework for decision-making for project teams in all of these areas, rewarding best practices and innovation and recognizing exemplary building projects with different levels of LEED certification.

Urban Planning is a technical and political process concerned with the development and design of land use and the built environment, including air, water, and the infrastructure passing into and out of urban areas, such as transportation, communications, and distribution networks (source: What is Urban Planning, School of Urban Planning, McGill University).  Looking at how our cities are designed and laid out physically can help to determine the impact on safety, sanitation, efficiency and overall public welfare. It is also refers to the planning and development of water use and resources, rural and agricultural land, parks and conserving areas of natural environmental significance. It is closely related to the field of urban design and is sometimes referred to as urban and regional planning, regional planning, and town or city planning.

Urban planning is interdisciplinary, combining social science, architecture, human geography, politics, engineering and design sciences. While traditionally people entered this field with backgrounds in architecture, landscape architecture, civil engineering, and public administration to achieve strategic, policy and sustainability goals, today urban planning is its own discipline and includes sub-fields such as land-use planning, zoning, economic development, environmental planning, and transportation planning.

Urban Resilience can be defined as “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses within a city to survive, adapt and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience." The term has been popularized by a movement called 100 Resilient Cities, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation to help more cities build resilience to the physical, social, and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.

Interior Design within the green sector involves knowledge and skill with natural products and sustainable design to create indoor spaces that meet client specifications. They tour spaces for renovation, create design plans, provide cost estimates, oversee the project during construction, and work with clients to find design pieces such as furniture and coverings that match their style.  One should expect to pursue a graduate education and undergrad or graduate internships. Strong references and a portfolio of one’s best work are a professional’s calling card to attract clients and ongoing work.

WELL Certified Design was launched in October 2014 after six years of research and development as the premier standard for buildings, interior spaces and communities seeking to implement, validate and measure features that support and advance human health and wellness. This standard emerged from integrating scientific and medical research and literature on environmental health, behavioral factors, health outcomes and demographic risk factors that affect health with leading practices in building design, construction and management. (source: IWBI)

Corporate Sustainability can be viewed as “a new and evolving corporate management paradigm” – an alternative to the traditional growth and profit-maximization model. It recognizes that, while corporate growth and profitability are important, corporations must also pursue societal goals relating to sustainable development — environmental protection, social justice and equity, and economic development. Additionally it borrows from corporate social responsibility (source: Mel Wilson, Ivey Business Journal). 

Environmental Consulting addresses the challenges companies and organizations face as they assess their impact on the environment and community and implement strategies and initiatives to improve their sustainability status.  Consulting firms may be specifically focused on green sector concerns or may encompass these as part of a broader client base across several industries.  An environmental consultant is someone who works on a contractual basis for private and public sector clients to address issues such as water pollution, air quality, emissions, and soil contamination, to name a few. They have extensive knowledge around environmental regulations and can advise clients on how to meet federal regulations or help them to identify long-range strategies to achieve economic goals while operating more responsibly and sustainably.  

Eco-Tourism – Eco-tourism is an umbrella term for responsible travel to natural areas that strives to minimize the impact upon the environment and benefit the local communities. Green Hospitality has several components including green lodging, green meeting and event planning, and green restaurants. In many cases, the careers associated with these three industries tend to be the same careers that exist in the non-green companies; the difference is that you work for a company that is committed to green, sustainable principles and actions throughout their enterprise.

Fair Trade - Fair trade is a structured, well organized, growing social movement that uses market-based solutions to promote, support and protect producers of goods and services in developing countries around the world. Fair trade seeks to find ways for producers to become more self-sustainable and to green their business practices. 

Green Finance consists of several components. Green banks for creative financing options, green business brokers, socially responsible investing and asset management, green insurance, and venture capitalists.

Carbon Emissions & Offsets are a form of trade. Carbon neutrality begins with reduction and a concentrated effort to produce less waste and use more renewable energy. After reduction has reached its limit, or its comfortable threshold, carbon offsets can make up for the rest. When you buy an offset, you fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The projects might restore forests, update power plants and factories or increase the energy efficiency of buildings and transportation. Carbon offsets let you pay to reduce the global GHG total instead of making radical or impossible reductions of your own. They are voluntary - people and businesses buy them to reduce their carbon footprints or build up their green image. Some environmentalists doubt their validity and effectiveness; voluntary offsets can easily become an excuse to overindulge and not feel guilty about it. They do, however, raise awareness about lowering the GHG world total (source: How Carbon Offsets Work, How Stuff Works).

Green Marketing is the process of promoting products or services based on their environmental benefits. These products or services may be environmentally friendly in that they are: manufactured in a sustainable fashion; devoid of toxic materials or ozone-depleting substances; produced from recycled materials or able to be recycled; made from renewable materials; conscious of avoiding excessive packaging; or, are designed to be repairable and not thrown away.

Attracts those who are driven to educate, inspire, motivate and persuade people to change their ways.

Environmental Education - Environmental educators serve to educate the public about a variety of important topics and work in many settings. Possible job titles: College professor, Outdoor Educator, H.S. Science Teacher, Curriculum Developer, Camp Counselor, Environmental Health Educator.

Environmental Journalism & Media provide one with opportunities to educate, advocate for and give voice to others, raise awareness, and vocalize opinion. Some feel a calling to investigate the truth, some feel inspired by being able to make complex information accessible to the broader public, and some simply want to inspire and entertain. 

Students aspiring to roles in this arena most frequently rely on strong writing skills to communicate in print, or may gravitate to production and editing skills necessary in working with recorded content in radio, podcast, film, documentary, and streaming platforms. Other important skill sets to develop include: strong communication and interpersonal skills, storytelling, investigative and critical thinking skills, ability to research and synthesize information, editing and proofreading, fact-checking, data analysis and interpretation, and technical skills needed to capture and record, as well as edit audio and visual content.

Environmental Communications can encompass public relations (PR), marketing, events and fundraising and development roles within the green sector, designed to build relationships with key audiences and stakeholders and draw from their support.

You may wish to also explore journalism, media and communications within The Career Center’s Creative Cluster.

Demands for environmental law and policy are trending higher as the science to support evidence of climate change is growing and undeniable. Environmental Law addresses the complex, interrelated body of statutes, common law, treaties, conventions, regulations and policies affecting the environment. Environmental Policy aims to protect and preserve the natural systems through research and analysis of sound science and economics.

Both areas intersect with a broad range of issues, such as climate change, environmental justice, water and air quality, hazardous waste, species protection, agriculture, wetlands, biodiversity, waste management, sustainability strategies and alternative energy sources, just to name a few. Some roles require further education in the form of a graduate or law degree, while others don’t. Students seeking career pathways in this arena will find some overlap in roles relating to advocacy, grassroots activism, legislative and regulatory work, lobbying, and community building.

Environmental Justice (EJ) is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. It’s ultimate goal is that everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, as well as equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.

Environmental Health refers to aspects of human health (including quality of life) that are determined by physical, chemical, biological, social and psychosocial factors in the environment. Scientists and specialists are dedicated to studying the natural and manmade resources that contribute (in both positive and negative ways) to the health of our planet.

Some members of this profession are primarily field-based and spend their workday collecting air, water, soil, and other samples to analyze. Others concentrate their efforts toward policy work, legislation, and other government-related areas of environmental protection and regulation. Like other public health officials, environmental scientists and specialists often use community outreach to introduce educational programs, build local networks, and advocate for different causes. (source: Environmental Health, publichealth.org)

Environmental Science is a term to describe an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to the study of the effects that human actions have on environmental systems. The industries in this sector are very scientific in nature. It brings together multiple disciplines to cooperatively and collaboratively understand and manage the natural environment, solve environmental problems, and come up with strategies to restore air, land and water ecosystems. In real world terms, it makes more sense to view Environmental Science from the perspective of the issues it deals with rather than trying to stick to a fixed list of sciences that are or will be solving these problems. 

Climate & Atmospheric Science - Within this area scientists study meteorological phenomenon, greenhouse gas phenomena, global warming, how airborne contaminants are dispersed in the atmosphere, how sound propagation relates to noise pollution, and even light pollution. These studies would employ experts such as physicists, chemists, biologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, paleo climatologists, and glaciologists.

Earth Science - Geosciences (also known as Earth Sciences) is a discipline that includes environmental geology, environmental soil science, volcanic phenomena and evolution of the Earth’s crust. The study of soil erosion is one example of the ways geoscience would fall under the Environmental Sciences umbrella. There are four major disciplines in earth sciences, namely geography, geology, geophysics and geodesy. Some specializations in this area of science are geologists, environmental soil experts, hydrologists, oceanographers, physicists, biologists, and even mathematicians.

Ecology typically employs the analysis of the interactions between organisms and some aspect of their environment. Here you might address endangered species, interactions between predators and their prey, habitat integrity, effects of environmental contaminants on biological populations, or an analysis of the impact a proposed land development will have on species viability. An interdisciplinary team analyzing an ecological system being impacted by one or more stress conditions might include biologists, chemists, physicists, geologists, and ecologists. 

Disease Ecology is a rapidly developing subdiscipline of ecology concerned with how species interactions and abiotic components of the environment affect patterns and processes of disease. To date, disease ecology has focused largely on infectious disease (source: Disease Ecology, oxfordbibliographies.com).

Environmental Chemistry is the study of the chemical and biochemical phenomena that occur in nature. It studies the sources, reactions, movement, effects, and outcomes of chemical species in the air, soil, and water environments; and the effect human activity has on them. It is an interdisciplinary science that includes atmospheric, aquatic and soil chemistry, as well as heavily relying on analytical chemistry and environmental and other areas of science. Most common occupations solving problems for Environmental Chemistry are physicists, chemists, biologists, and environmental soil experts.

Green Chemistry is concerned with creating safer and more efficient industrial chemicals, drugs, and consumer products and addresses pollution and hazard prevention at the molecular level. It helps to reduce risks to both human health and the environment by reducing or eliminating the generation of hazardous substances used in chemical products and manufacturing in favor of more benign ones.

Hydrology studies the occurrence, distribution, movement and properties of the earth’s waters and their relationship with the environment within each phase of the hydrologic cycle, or water cycle – the continuous movement of water on, above, and below the surface of the Earth. Hydrologists study all of the physical, chemical and biological processes involving  3 water as it travels its various paths in the atmosphere, over and beneath the earth’s surface and through growing plants. Hydro-logical studies also provide insight for environmental engineering, policy and planning.

(source: Green Careers for Dummies)

Sustainable Agriculture seeks to produce food, fiber, and livestock in a way that is profitable, environmentally sound, and good for communities. People in this industry strive to produce with the least possible harm to the environment and without depleting the earth’s resources. To do this they model their 4 practices after systems found in nature and use methodologies that are self-sustaining. Sustainable Agriculture embraces biodiversity, recycling of plant nutrients, protecting soil from erosion, water conservation, minimizing tillage, and more.

Slow Food is the name for the movement that brought attention to they way food is produced or prepared in accordance with local culinary traditions, typically using high-quality locally sourced ingredients.

Urban agriculture, urban farming, or urban gardening is the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around urban areas. Urban agriculture can also involve animal husbandry, aquaculture, agroforestry, urban beekeeping, and horticulture.

 

 

Sustainable Transportation Careers involve transporting people, raw materials, products, and packages is big business. Although door to door, personal transportation vehicles and deliveries are convenient, this industry also claims one of the largest carbon footprints. Finding alternative ways to transport people and things is one of the biggest challenges of the new economy.

Alternative Transportation - Alternative Transportation addresses the various ways of transporting oneself from point A to point B with the minimal use of vehicles that are propelled by fossil fuel-powered combustion engines.

Electric Vehicle Segment of Alternative Transportation - Concerns about global warming, energy dependency and the ever-escalating price of gasoline are the driving forces behind the growth of the electric vehicle market and its supporting industry sectors. The Department of Energy has invested $12 billion in advanced vehicle technologies. Many of the major auto manufacturers have developed new-generation electric vehicles and many independent electric vehicle manufacturers are also offering electric drive vehicles. There are three types of electric vehicles: hybrid electric, battery electric and fuel cell electric.

Supply/Distribution Logistics - To explore career opportunities in moving raw materials and finished products to their final destinations, see Manufacturing.

(source: Green Careers for Dummies)

This sector of the green economy is multi-faceted – from energy generation, to transmission and distribution, to storage and managing energy use. 

Smart Grid – Aims to transform our relationship with electricity from power generation, transmission, and distribution to consumption management, storage, and appliances. Don’t think of this as a single industry, think of it as a multi-faceted sector that will continue to evolve over time.

Power Generation - When we speak of Renewable Energy, we are describing resources that are naturally replenished within a short time span making them indefinitely sustainable. This includes energy from the sun, wind, heat from inside the earth, plants, and water.

Biomass/Biofuel – Refers to organic matter such as wood waste, agricultural wastes, and some specially grown crops that are burned as fuel. Biofuel is solid, liquid or gaseous fuel derived from biomass. There are now several kinds of organic matter that are being used to create biofuel including algae.

Geothermal - Geothermal energy is heat from the earth. This renewable resource has been used by people for a very long time. Water seeping into underground reservoirs is heated by geothermal energy which can then be tapped for a variety of uses.

Ocean/Hydro - The Marine Energy sector focuses on capturing energy from ocean waves, tides and currents. Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion takes advantage of the temperature extremes between the surface and the depths of tropical oceans, creating an action akin to a slow motion natural heat pump. Hydro Energy, which captures the energy in the flowing movement of rivers, is usually thought of separately from Marine Energy. Water mills are a very old form of Hydro Energy, today we are more used to seeing dams converting water flow into electricity.

Solar - Solar energy does not require any fuel and does not pollute the air, from small solar calculators up to utilitysized solar farms. Similar technologies for generating power from the sun are used regardless of the size of the installation, but we have chosen to address small-scale and large-scale separately since the nature of the companies and jobs are likely to differ for residential projects as opposed to commercial or utility-scale operations.

Waste-to-Energy – Refers to facilities that burn organic and manufactured waste in carefully designed boilers that are able to scrub the emissions from the burn in precise heat conditions to ensure that all waste matter is completely combusted. For each ton of municipal solid waste combusted, 500-600 kWh of 5 electricity are produced. The electricity can be added to the grid while the steam produced can be used to heat buildings. These plants currently process only 8 percent of the waste produced in the U.S. annually, giving this industry ample room to expand. While slow to be embraced politically, it has been perfected technically over the last 40 years. Many experts believe it is a viable solution to minimizing the impact on landfills while creating energy that removes more carbon emissions than it emits.

Wind - Another source of renewable energy is wind. Whether the wind is blowing over the plains, along the coastlines, or through urban areas, it can be tapped with the appropriate wind turbine.

Energy Storage - The intermittent nature of solar and wind power call for systems to store energy, usually in the form of electricity, to heat and cool areas. Energy storage technology makes it possible for energy to be generated during the less expensive times of low demand and added to the grid when the demand is high or when additional capacity is called for, making these renewable energy sources economically viable.  

(source: Green Careers for Dummies)

Waste management is a major U.S. industry, as well as the largest and fastest-growing part of the environmental industry. Waste primarily falls into two categories: hazardous and nonhazardous. Both include a wide variety of materials, but generally, hazardous waste falls under stricter regulations and covers a range of chemical and other wastes. Nonhazardous waste is known as municipal solid waste (MSW) and is what we think of as garbage, including household waste.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that in 2003 more than 236 million tons of MSW were generated in the United States. The United States generated 40.82 million tons of waste classified hazardous under the RCRA and nearly 2,500 treatment, storage, and disposal facilities were in operation around the country in 2001, according to the National Solid Wastes Management Association.

 

This sector involves a wide range of public and private efforts to cut the volume of solid, liquid, and gaseous wastes; reduce waste toxicity; and collect, process, and recycle or dispose of waste. Great strides have been made in waste management in the last 30 years, but hundreds of millions of tons of municipal and industrial solid and hazardous wastes continue to be generated every year. Properly handling all the waste is the job of the waste management workers, from refuse collectors who cover every street across the nation to scientists in labs who devise better ways to reduce pollution, work toward a common goal: preserving human health and the environment. (source: Career.iresearchnet.com

Recycling, like general waste management, is handled by both the public and private sectors. A local government might be responsible for collecting, processing, and selling recyclables, or it might hire private contractors to carry out these duties. Recycling doesn't have to be handled entirely by public or private entities, however. Municipalities might hire contractors for some duties but not for others. For example, a local government might be responsible for collecting the recyclables and delivering them to a privately owned and operated Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). The division of duties between the public and private sectors varies among communities.

Getting recyclables from waste bins to manufacturers requires different types of workers. Drivers collect the recyclables and transport them to an MRF, at which sorters, plant managers, and technicians and mechanics work. Skilled personnel in support roles, such as sales and logistics, are also essential to the recycling industry. Larger recycling firms also employ workers in many other occupations, including management and human resources.

Recommended reading: “So You Want a Career in Recycling?” Waste 360; “Careers in Recycling”, U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This sector focuses on how we use natural resources – air, water, land, waste, and forests – in a responsible, sustainable way, addressing biological, engineering, social and economic aspects of managing natural resources as an integrated system. There is a combined focus on ecology, physical resources, and social sciences.

Air Quality Management encompasses monitoring, measurement, and control of pollutants in the air we breathe. Solutions are interdisciplinary and emerge from urban and transportation planning, land use planning, technological advances in the manufacturing processes, design of products that cause less pollution when manufactured, improved regulation and enforcement, cleaner fuels, and improving the fuel efficiency of cars, trucks, cargo ships and other vehicles.

Fish & Wildlife can draw from background and interests in research, the study of biodiversity, design of habitat restoration plans, or working directly with endangered species. Specialists might possess a background in biology, physics, GIS/modeling, math and statistics, chemistry, climatology, and geography and can find themselves participating on interdisciplinary teams with specialists in genetics, ecology, economics, physiology, limnology and other sciences. Some common job titles include: Ranger, Fish & Game Warden, Fisheries Manager, and Fisheries Policy Analyst (Hi Dr. Yandle!)

Forestry today involves an eye toward sustainability, resource management, as well as the beneficial effects of forests on our climate. Cities are beginning to manage their “urban forest” as a means of cleaning up air pollution and reducing the temperature in the hot summer months. Timber products such as wood, wood pulp, and paper, are now certified to show that they are from responsibly grown and managed forests, taking into consideration not only the well-being of the environment, conservation of resources, protection of water sources and wildlife habitats, and the needs of future generations.

Land Management - The objectives of Land Management are to ensure that our lands are used in a sustainable manner to benefit human endeavors while protecting natural habitats and preserving biodiversity of our ecosystems. The field is pretty broad and includes Conservation, Restoration, Remediation, Land Use and Land Trust Management.

Water Resource Management – Water Resources Management includes water treatment to make water suitable for drinking, agriculture, and industrial uses and water conservation to identify ways to conserve water. Managing wetlands and flood water management are some other aspects of Water Resources Management.

(source: Green Careers for Dummies)

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