Explore Green Careers in Industry and Research

Research and technology can aid in addressing the large-scale, complex issues we face in living sustainably. There is a need for creative thinking, innovation, and multi- and interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving to address these issues. Many businesses are seeing the cost and environmental benefits 'going green,' and seek employees that can contribute to this endeavor.

Addressing Grand Challenges for Global Sustainability

There is a growing need for a workforce that can address the grand challenges we face with an increasing population and changing climate. Also of critical importance is the need for an Earth-literate public and workforce that can understand these issues - the first step in addressing them. These complex issues involve making available resources such as food, water, energy, mineral resources, and medical care in a way that maximizes environmental and social justice and environmental stewardship. Also needed is a workforce that can address issues related to natural hazards and risks and the impacts of a changing climate. Research and technological innovations related to understanding the world around us, including causal mechanisms for these hazards and risks, how to mitigate and lessen detrimental impacts of issues related to sustainability and hazard-related challenges, can be critical in living in a world with finite resources. Read more about the importance of Sustainability and Earth-centered Societal Issues.

The five Grand Challenges

  1. Forecasting—Improve the usefulness of forecasts of future environmental conditions and their consequences for people.
  2. Observing—Develop, enhance and integrate the observation systems needed to manage global and regional environmental change.
  3. Confining—Determine how to anticipate, recognize, avoid and manage disruptive global environmental change.
  4. Responding—Determine what institutional, economic and behavioural changes can enable effective steps toward global sustainability.
  5. Innovating—Encourage innovation (coupled with sound mechanisms for evaluation) in developing technological, policy and social responses to achieve global sustainability.

ICSU (2010). Earth System Science for Global Sustainability: The Grand Challenges. International Council for Science, Paris.

Current Trends in Green Careers: Sustainability in the workplace

Green jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics are defined as:

  1. Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.
  2. Jobs in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.

There are a growing number of opportunities to work in a 'green career.' These exist in a variety of sectors, including energy, transportation, construction, carbon capture and storage, research and design, environmental protection, agriculture and forestry, manufacturing, recycling and waste, and government and regulatory administration (see the CareerOneStop website for more details). Students with STEM backgrounds are well-equipped to succeed in these jobs given that they tend to be strong in related content knowledge, quantitative skills, research skills, critical thinking skills, and problem solving skills, among others. While 'green' jobs exist and the industry is growing, it is becoming increasingly common for a broad range of companies to incorporate 'green' or sustainability sectors into their current business structures (Iwata, 2008).

There are many incentives for businesses to 'go green.' These include reducing costs (Harrison, 2013), increasing their customer base by improving their reputation (Townsend, 2013, Larsen, 2013), tax incentives (IRS, 2014), and creating a healthier workplace (Miller, 2014). Major companies in a variety of sectors are among those going green, including Intel Corp., Google, Walmart, JPMorgan & Chase, Sprint, and several universities (see the national top 100 largest green power users in the Green Power Partnership from the US EPA website). Read more about the benefits of considering the 'triple bottom line' (planet, people, profit) in this Indiana Business Review article The Triple Bottom Line: What Is It and How Does It Work? by Slaper and Hall (2011).