Green jobs – the challenges and opportunities behind them

Green jobs are more than just a new trend; they are essential to achieving our climate goals. So, what are they, and how can we make our workplaces greener?  

The Paris Agreement generated new climate goals and a new decarbonization agenda with an intent to adapt to the impacts of climate change (United Nations: climate action). But for the economy to transition into a greener one with low-carbon emissions, people across industries will need a new set of skills, competencies and knowledge in order to reach resource-efficient sustainable technologies and processes, and bring those into their communities and companies (United Nations Development Programme).  

But what defines a green economy? According to the United Nations Development Programme, “a green economy is an economy that improves human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities, and aims for sustainable development without degrading the environment. Green jobs provide productive employment, which does not harm the environment, but also carries the potential to restore it.”   

As defined by the International Labour Organization, green jobs are “decent jobs that contribute to preserve or restore the environment, be they in traditional sectors such as manufacturing and construction, or in new, emerging green sectors such as renewable energy and energy efficiency.” Green jobs can be highly beneficial for both the planet and the people, as some of the main effects relate to alleviating and helping mitigate climate change, protecting and restoring ecosystems, decreasing the amount of waste and pollution, limiting the emission of greenhouse gases, and improving the efficiency of consumption of raw materials and energy.   

green jobs

“Another benefit of these green jobs is their effect on the global economy. The ILO has warned that, if nothing changes, growth in future employment will be insufficient to satisfy the growth in the workforce in emerging and developing countries. However, “changes in production and use of energy to achieve the 2 °C target may lead to the creation of around 18 million jobs in the world economy”,explains this organisation in its report World Employment and Social Outlook 2018” (IBERDROLA). 

Green jobs go way beyond the classical idea of Sustainability Consultants, Renewable Energy Specialists and Marine Biologists or Conservation workers. They encompass way less glamorous but just as important sectors, such as mass transport maintenance (e.g., trains), sewer and water improvements, resilient road construction, public green space management or pest management amongst others (SCNOW).  

The main challenge still resides on the fact that people lack the skills needed to work in green or sustainable jobs. The demand has risen over the supply, which means that there are a lot more companies offering positions where sustainability knowledge is required, but there are not enough employees skilled enough to fill those positions. There is a huge knowledge gap in the market, where people drop terms such as “sustainability”, “green jobs” and “planet-friendly” indiscriminately, without having the clear knowledge of what they mean.  Education is the main priority when it comes to having a skilled workforce that is equipped with practical tools to bring sustainability innovations into their daily work and decision-making process.   

However, not everybody has the time, financial capacity or the energy to invest in a full specialized sustainability degree. That is where continuous education opportunities come in, trough the offer of smaller courses or masterclasses that allow people in their mid-career as well as those with less financial ability to invest, to focus on the areas more relevant to their functions and role and upscale their skillset.   

green jobs

The main opportunity arising with green jobs is that every job has the potential to be made more relevant and to be turned into a green job. For actual lasting change to happen, all employees in a company, from the front of house staff to the CEO, need to be educated and aware of how they can implement sustainability into their everyday jobs and business decisions. Change will only come through joined effort, from everyone involved. Green jobs are not just a trend anymore, but a necessary move to be implemented in every economic sector.  

Aside from turning currents jobs into green jobs, there is also a huge boom happening in different industry sectors, allowing for the creation of many new green jobs. The main sectors involve energy, agriculture, design, tourism, and transport. A lot of jobs will be created in the renewable energy sector as a result of the pressure that was put on the supply chain and the limited economic activity during the pandemic. In agriculture, organic food markets have gained importance worldwide with sales increasing 15% in 2022, according to the Organic Farming Research Institute (IBERDROLA). Design has seen the birth of a new field with eco-design, trying to meet consumer’s new environmental awareness and to focus on packages and products with higher recycling rates. Tourism was one of the most affected industries during the pandemic and current efforts in ecotourism and more remote escapes are a main source of job creation. Finally, the transport industry has a big focus on decarbonizing and reducing emissions, which generates a lot of jobs related to public transport and electric vehicles (IBERDROLA). 

Having a green job is an opportunity for everyone to stand out, make themselves more relevant and contribute in a deeper level to their workplace. Regardless of the path or sector chosen, there are many ways in which people can make their jobs greener. With that in mind, aware_ THE PLATFORM created the aware_ Academy with the goal of making sustainability common sense and bridging the knowledge gap regarding sustainability in all business areas, with a focus on ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance). Find out more about the aware_ Academy here. 

– by Alicia Pineiro 

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