What is a green-collar job?
A green-collar job is an employment opportunity that helps create or support environmental and sustainable practices and technologies. The term is often used to contrast white-collar office jobs and blue-collar factory jobs that have distinguished careers over the last century. Green-collar jobs are typically associated with industries that aim to conserve energy, reduce pollution and promote the use of renewable resources.
Green-collar job applies to a broad range of professionals, including waste management and agricultural jobs and solar installation jobs in the field. It may also describe office-oriented jobs in environmental management, supply chain efficiency, sustainable design or environmental law. A 2017 scientific study from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine estimated that about 20% of all jobs are now green collar.
Interest in green-collar jobs is growing thanks to concerns about climate change, pollution and resource shortages. Government incentives such as the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act are also increasing opportunities. In addition, green-collar jobs provide a way to impact the environment and contribute to sustainability efforts positively.
Innovations in new energy technologies, such as solar, wind and geothermal, increase the need for new technical skills not required with traditional energy infrastructure. Government regulations aimed at phasing out fossil fuels drive demand for electric cars, construction equipment and agri-tech. For example, the state of New York, a leader in the field, is phasing out gas in new buildings in 2023 and fossil fuels in equipment for constructing new buildings by 2026.
Numerous organizations also help to grow support for green-collar jobs. Environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund, actively promote the importance of sustainability and the need to create green-collar opportunities. Labor unions such as the AFL-CIO in the U.S. and the Trades Union Congress in the United Kingdom are also proponents of how green-collar jobs could create jobs, drive economic growth and protect workers' rights.
Many renewable energy associations promote green-collar jobs, including the American Wind Energy Association, the American Clean Power Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association. In addition, several sustainable business networks and organizations advocate for sustainable practices and green-collar jobs, including Business for Social Responsibility, the Sustainable Business Network and the Green Economy Coalition.
Types of green collar jobs
At a high level, a green-collar job is essentially any blue-collar or white-collar job that is making the world a little greener. Blue-collar green-collar jobs include electric car manufacturers, solar installers, wind turbine technicians, waste management employees and sustainable farmers. White-collar green collar jobs include scientists, engineers, geologists and procurement specialists.
In 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the following green-collar jobs are likely to see the most growth in the next decade:
- Environmental scientists and specialists to help clean pollution and reduce waste.
- Green-chemistry chemists find ways to reduce toxic chemicals and monitor the environment.
- Hazardous materials specialists clean up harmful chemicals and substances.
- Environmental science and protection technicians identify sources of pollution.
- Environmental engineers develop solutions to clean up the environment.
- Biochemists help develop crops that need less fertilizer or pesticides or can make biofuels.
- Solar installers assemble and maintain solar systems.
Outside of these, other opportunities may grow in installing more efficient HVAC systems, sustainable construction, green transportation and sustainable agriculture.
Benefits of green collar jobs
Green-collar jobs offer several benefits, both for individuals and society. Some of the advantages of green-collar employment include the following:
- Environmental impact. Green-collar jobs can help mitigate the impacts of climate change and environmental problems such as pollution. Individuals in green-collar jobs can contribute to a more sustainable economy.
- Job growth. The green economy is rapidly expanding thanks to government incentives and environmental concerns. Innovations in renewable energy sources, energy-efficient technology and sustainable construction techniques provide numerous long-term employment opportunities.
- Job security. While advances in automation and AI are reducing headcount for many roles, job opportunities for building and maintaining green infrastructure are growing. In addition, innovation in AI and sustainable design may unlock new opportunities for many years to come.
- Skills and training. Individuals that pursue green-collar careers gain experience with critical new technologies in sustainable power, autonomous vehicles, waste removal and new construction technologies that can be applied to adjacent fields.
- Health benefits. Green collar jobs can contribute to cleaner air and water that promise to improve public health outcomes for families and communities. Innovations in agriculture could similarly enhance food and nutrition.
Challenges of green-collar jobs
While green-collar jobs offer many benefits, they also come with certain challenges. Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive approach that includes investment in education and training, supportive policies and regulations, collaboration between stakeholders and a commitment to a just transition. By overcoming these obstacles, green-collar jobs can continue to thrive and contribute to a more sustainable and equitable future.
Some of the key challenges associated with green-collar employment include the following:
- Skill requirements and training. Many green-collar jobs require specialized knowledge and skills. The rapid pace of innovation can make it challenging for workers to keep pace with the latest technologies and practices.
- Limited availability and accessibility. Green-collar jobs are not equally available across all regions. This can create geographic disparities in employment opportunities and challenges for individuals that may have to relocate for green-collar opportunities.
- Transition and displacement. The shift to a green economy may result in job displacement and economic disruption for workers in traditional industries. For example, the decline of fossil fuel-based industries could lead to job losses in coal mining or oil extraction. The shift to a more sustainable economy will need to provide support for affected workers through retraining programs, job placement assistance and transitional support.
- Funding and investment. Green sectors often require significant investments in research, development, and infrastructure. Governments, businesses and financial institutions must prioritize and allocate adequate resources to support the growth of green industries. Securing funding for renewable energy projects, energy efficiency initiatives and sustainable practices can be challenging.
- Market uncertainty. Green-collar jobs can be influenced by market fluctuations and policy changes. Shifts in government regulations, subsidies or incentives for renewable energy and sustainability initiatives can impact the demand for certain green jobs. Changes in public perception or political priorities may also affect market conditions, creating uncertainty for workers in green sectors.
- Technological advancements. While technological advancements drive innovation and progress in green industries, they can also lead to job automation and displacement. Continuous skill development and adaptation to new technologies are crucial for workers to remain competitive in the evolving green job market. Automation in renewable energy or energy efficiency technologies may reduce the number of manual labor jobs available.