If you have a passion for the environment, and an interest in communications, engineering or design, you’ll be glad to know the “green” sector has exploded with a range of new technologies and jobs in the past 20 years.
“People who have a passion for improving how we use resources, enjoy working in global markets and are comfortable with ambiguity are being attracted to the clean technology industry,” says Céline Bak, publisher of the 2011 Canadian Clean Technology Industry report and co-leader of the Canadian Clean Technology Coalition. “This industry is already a significant employer in Canada.”
A lot has changed in the area of environmental careers in the past 20 years. While they used to be seen as fringe jobs that employed mainly “tree-hugger” types, they’ve become more mainstream today. Cleantech, for example, has emerged as a distinct sector, referring specifically to new, international technologies that provide solutions to global climate and resource challenges—such as solar energy, biofuels, waste remediation and low-emission vehicles. Cleantech also includes creating new policies to promote green initiatives. The market for clean technologies is growing very quickly, and this brings exciting new opportunities as the environment and resource use becomes a priority for corporations and the government alike.
Environmental awareness is no longer a luxury for companies, but rather “a business imperative these days,” says Robert Orlovski, director of events for communications, marketing, branding and events firm Green Living. “This means there has been a massive increase in jobs in this specific industry.”
April Schaly, manager of career awareness at ECO Canada, says the non-profit sector council emerged in the early 1990s to ensure the ongoing prosperity of the environment industry. “A rapidly growing environment industry coupled with new and emerging technologies has created an increasing demand for skilled practitioners,” she says.
In fact, many of the top and emerging sectors of Canada’s “green economy” are still in need of new and experienced workers. Over the next 10 years, 14 percent of the environmental workforce will reach retirement age, opening up approximately 100,000 jobs, according to an ECO Canada report.
The emerging branches in the green sector are carbon and climate change mitigation, and alternative and renewable energy. These areas, while not in-demand jobs today, will likely need qualified workers as they become more popular, says Schaly.
According to ECO Canada, the top environment-related industries today are focused in the traditional areas of forestry, agriculture, fishing, hunting, the construction of green buildings, waste management and remediation, and professional scientific services.
Careers in construction or building design require education in post-secondary programs like industrial design or architecture, while agricultural programs like the arboriculture program at the University of Toronto are suited to jobs in farming or forestry, says Orlovski.
Another rapidly expanding area within the environmental sector is communications and public relations, necessary to advertise companies’ green initiatives and work with other company employees to implement policy.
One thing environmental employees have in common—whether engineers designing wind turbines or conservation workers cleaning up oil spills—is the need for education and skills.
“The environment industry has a highly educated workforce,” says Schaly. More people employed in environmental jobs have post-secondary education than in non-environmental sectors—36 percent of environmental workers have a bachelors degree or higher versus 22 percent of the Canadian labour force. This means that considering one of the many new environmentally-focused post-secondary programs, like Carleton University’s environmental engineering degree, is a good idea.
According to Schaly, an education in science or engineering is most suitable for environmental jobs, although the sector is multi-disciplinary and employs people from a variety of educational backgrounds.
Orlovski coordinates the Green Living Show in Toronto, an event focused on providing green options, ranging from hybrid cars to organic cotton designs, to environmentally-conscious consumers.
In a new forum at the Show, green jobs were the focus of a discussion panel featuring experts from environmental industries. The panelists were each asked five questions, ranging from defining a green job to searching for one. The discussion was followed by a question and answer session from the 450-member audience. Orlovski says the interest and discussion at the forum is a good indicator of where the sector is going—continued development and increased importance.
If you are interested in the environment and are considering a related career, there are a few ways to get started. Volunteering in an area of interest to explore possible career choices is one piece of advice Bak, Schaly and Orlovski all recommend for young people interested in breaking into the environmental sector.
Exploring ECO Canada’s website (eco.ca), with its wealth of tools and information, is also helpful. For example, there is an interactive tool to match your interests with potential jobs in the environmental sector, giving you a better idea of what is available.
Environment-related jobs are abundant, but can also be difficult to find, or sometimes difficult to determine if they are cleantech-related. ECO Canada’s website also includes Canada’s largest job board where job seekers can post their résumés for free and connect with potential employers across the country.
Many of the new sectors now emerging are just that—new—and thus can be less visible on the job market. “Typically, you’re going to have to go after these companies yourself. They don’t recruit on campus. You can’t be afraid to be really engaging,” says Bak.
However, most students who enter into a green job do so because they are passionate about the environment. “Most practitioners say the reason they entered into environmental employment was because they had a desire to improve the environment. It usually originates out of a passion,” says Schaly.
If you’re looking for a green job now, there are a few key titles to keep your eyes peeled for. Terms like “sustainability director,” “education outreach manager,” or “project coordinator,” are all examples of environment-based jobs, says Orlovski.
Although the idea of green jobs may bring to mind new technologies or work for environment-based companies, it is possible to find or create green jobs within traditional organizations, says Orlovski. Many traditional organizations make use of transferable skills—expertise intended for one job that can be used in the cleantech sector. For example, electricians can apply their skills to solar panel manufacturing, he says.
And since so many cleantech workers enter the industry because of their passion for the environment, many jobs come from employees’ own ideas.
“A lot of these green initiatives come from a grassroots staff perspective,” says Orlovski, adding that the environmental sector is vibrant and expanding. “The opportunities are growing.”
Cleantech vs. Environmental Technology
- Clean technology has three main aims: to reduce negative environmental impacts, deliver competitive performance, and use fewer resources than conventional technologies.
- Cleantech jobs invest in research and development to remain competitive
- Environmental jobs tend to serve local markets, while clean technology jobs are generally with internationally-operating companies.
- The cleantech sector is growing 12 percent annually, which should triple in size in 10 years.
- The environmental sector is growing steadily, at the same rate as Canada’s GDP.
Source: Céline Bak