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Across the UK there are over 410,000 jobs in low carbon businesses and their supply chains. In October 2021 the UK Government published its strategy setting out policies and proposals for decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy to meet the UK net zero target by 2050 in accordance with Section 14 of the Climate Change Act 2008.
As part of the UK Government’s “Green Industrial Revolution”, they have developed a Ten Point Plan to get there. With £12 billion of Government investment, and potentially three times as much from the private sector, they anticipate creating and supporting up to an additional 250,000 green jobs by 2030.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) earlier this year published research into “green jobs”. They state that the environmental goods and services sector (EGSS) was worth over £45 billion in 2019.
Research by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) found that:
- 22.5% of jobs in the industry sectors more closely aligned to the energy transition are green.
- In the period July 2020–July 2021, only 1.2% of total advertised jobs met the broad definition of green jobs.
- Workers in London are more likely to consider improving the environment to be a primary objective of their jobs than employees in any other region in the UK, with green workplace practices also more prevalent in the capital.
What are green jobs?
Various UK and international organisations use a range of definitions for Green Jobs, but there is currently no officially agreed definition. The ONS state that: “The term ‘green job’ has no one particular meaning, so this is a complex area. Often, more than one definition is cited, and different definitions can suit different uses”. The UK Government has not set out a definition for green jobs, and the ONS has stated that it measures green jobs against the two main international definitions below.
The United Nations System of Environmental Economic Accounting, (SEEA.UN) an international statistical standard for measuring the relationship between the environment and the economy, sets out a definition of the “Environmental Goods and Services Sector” (EGSS), which is:
“Areas of the economy engaged in producing goods and services for environmental protection purposes, as well as those engaged in conserving and maintaining natural resources.”
A green job in this context would then be a job engaged in any of these areas of the economy.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) provides another international definition of “green job”, which is cited in its 2018 flagship report on green work. “…They (green jobs) reduce the consumption of energy and raw materials, limit greenhouse gas emissions, minimize waste and pollution, protect and restore ecosystems and enable enterprises and communities to adapt to climate change. In addition, green jobs have to be decent…”. However, as with definitions of green jobs, there is no single definition of the term “decent”, although adequate pay and safe working conditions often feature.
The UK charity Friends of the Earth has a somewhat more straightforward definition: “Green jobs are jobs that have a focus on either reducing carbon emissions, restoring nature or making similar environmental improvements.”
Why are green jobs important?
Pledges have been made to invest in green job creation in order to “build back greener” as we exit the pandemic. Following the COVID pandemic and economic fallout of coronavirus, the current cost of living crises, the climate crisis and even as an answer to youth unemployment, green jobs are seen to be integral to any effort to jumpstart our economy. This, and the UK’s target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, will require an enormous effort from a substantially larger workforce to be able to scale up renewable energy, install energy saving products such as insulation and solar panels into people’s homes, and to build a greener infrastructure.
Many people lost their jobs or had their hours reduced as a result of coronavirus, so green jobs are seen as a way to help people back into work with skilled, decent, higher paid, rewarding jobs. This is why the Government sees green jobs as an important focus, as they will not only address the gaps in the employment market but will also help to solve the climate crisis too.
Green jobs reduce the environmental impact of enterprises and economic sectors, ultimately to levels that are sustainable.
They do this by:
- Improving energy and raw materials efficiency.
- Minimising waste and pollution.
- Limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
- Protecting and restoring ecosystems.
- Supporting adaptation to the effects of climate change.
This year’s historic heatwaves, forest and field fires, droughts, hurricanes and floods have brought the impacts of climate change into everyone’s lives and are highlighting the importance of everyone focusing on working towards reducing emissions. Green jobs and greening traditional jobs can help to achieve this.
What types of roles are green jobs?
Every job has the potential to become “green” and the Government’s Green Jobs Taskforce final report demonstrates the role of employment in meeting other environmental goals, such as protecting and restoring nature.
The Green Alliance said that job creation in tree planting, developing urban green spaces and coastal restoration could generate 16,000 roles, whilst developing the quality and quantity of urban parks might create another 11,000 jobs. To drive the creation of new green jobs, Green Alliance and other environmental groups are urging the Government to include environmental projects alongside other infrastructure projects in the Government’s flagship £4.8 billion levelling up fund.
However, not all green jobs are restricted to improving and developing open spaces. In a green job you might develop products, provide a service or change the way companies do things that are more friendly to the environment.
Some of the main sectors involved in the green economy providing green jobs include:
- Renewable Energy.
- Green Buildings / Construction.
- Sustainable Transport / Logistics.
- Water Management.
- Waste Management / Recycling.
- Environmental Charities, Consultancy and Education.
- Government Bodies.
- Farming / Agriculture / Forestry / Marine.
Existing green job ads are concentrated in a small number of particular industries, such as energy and water, sewerage and waste, where they account for 21.1% and 19.4% of their total advertised jobs respectively. This is in contrast to education and human health / social work, where green jobs represent only 0.1% of all jobs advertised. (Source PWC)
A report by WPI Economics, an economics, data insight and public policy consultancy, detailed examples of green occupations within each occupational group:
- Production managers and directors in construction.
- Financial managers and directors.
- Property, housing and estate managers.
- Management consultants and business analysts.
- Business and financial project management professionals.
- Programmers and software development professionals.
- IT business analysts, architects and systems designers.
- Environment professionals.
- Electrical engineers.
- Chartered surveyors.
Associate professional and technical occupations
- Business and related associate professionals not elsewhere classified (business systems analysts, data analysts, project coordinators etc.).
- Marketing associate professionals.
- Sales, accounts and business development managers.
Skilled craft occupations
- Electricians and electrical fitters.
- Plumbers and heating and ventilating engineers.
- Gardeners and landscape gardeners.
- Vehicle technicians, mechanics and electricians.
Non-manual admin. etc.
- Administrative and secretarial occupations.
- Caring, leisure and other service occupations.
- Sales and customer service occupations.
Semi-skilled / elementary
- Process, plant and machine operatives.
- Elementary occupations.
Many sectors, and businesses within those sectors, whilst not overtly employing green roles, nevertheless conduct low carbon and renewable energy activities, including employment in these activities. Around 7% to 8% of hours worked in the UK are estimated to have been spent on green tasks in 2019; this is up from around 5% to 6% between 1997 and 2007. (ONS)
The healthcare sector, particularly NHS England, NHS Scotland and NHS Wales, have pledged net zero commitments which will be one of the key drivers of green jobs in the sector.
The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change has envisaged future possible health sector green jobs, which include:
- Consultants in sustainable medicine.
- Sustainable care matrons.
- Directors of Health Sustainability.
- Directors of Planetary Health.
- Chief Sustainability Officers.
- Health and environmental economists.
- Green hospital capital projects experts.
- Sustainability and health innovators.
Addressing the wider determinants of health
- Health in all policy strategists.
- Wider determinants partnerships managers.
- Healthy sustainable transport manager.
- Health sustainable food manager.
- Healthy sustainable economy manager.
- Nature and wellbeing manager.
- Health and climate finance leads.
- Climate adaptation and health inequality managers.
- Nature partnership health connectors.
- Outdoor therapeutic community facilitators.
- Restorative gardening practitioners”.
Dr Yannish Naik of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change said, “Health holds opportunities for green jobs that are under explored; further developing these opportunities and putting in place the right measures to support these jobs will be vital if we are to achieve the decarbonisation of our health system. Green health sector jobs might not be as immediately tangible as those in wind farms or forestry – but they might be vital to the future wellbeing of our population.”
What are the benefits of working in a green job?
The fundamental benefit of green jobs is that they support a fair transition away from fossil fuels, and toward 100% clean energy. Green jobs make a significant and positive difference in tackling climate change and play a key role in preserving our environment, wildlife and nature.
However, there are also many other benefits, not only for the planet but also for the economy, and for the individuals themselves working in green jobs:
- For every green job created, there are an additional 1.4 jobs created elsewhere in the economy. This number rises even further in the energy, utilities and manufacturing sectors due to their combination of extensive supply chains and highly paid, skilled jobs.
- Many jobs in the green economy pay more than the median wage in the UK, which means that skilled workers have the opportunity to earn more.
- Green jobs are at a lower risk of automation than non-green jobs, especially for middle- and low-skilled workers. This means that these jobs are sustainable, providing long-term, more secure employment opportunities for workers.
- Transitioning to green jobs can create opportunities for training, retraining and upskilling workers. The Government is fully funding any adult without an existing Level 3 qualification, which is equivalent to A levels or an advanced technical certificate or diploma, to take a relevant Level 3 qualification for free. This is backed by £95 million from the National Skills Fund. These qualifications are designed to provide the skills that lead directly to jobs in green sectors such as Agriculture, Building and Construction, Engineering, Horticulture and Forestry, and Science.
- Going green and creating green jobs has several other benefits for employers, including tax incentives, improved efficiency, reducing waste, healthier workplaces, and cost savings.
What impact do green jobs have on the economy?
24 million green jobs are predicted to be added to the world economy, so green jobs will not only benefit the UK economy and workers but will also particularly benefit emerging economies around the world in providing opportunities for skilled jobs. It is predicted that the world GDP could increase by $1.3 trillion, that’s over £1 trillion, if we doubled the amount of renewable energy created.
A significant economic benefit of going green is that it helps lower costs and save money. The use of renewable energy helps reduce energy consumption which in turn helps to save money used on utility bills. Green jobs are required in order to make the transition from the use of traditional fossil fuels to installing renewable energy sources for both businesses and consumers.
The effects of climate change threaten to undermine gains made in public health during the past 50 years. Respiratory illness, heart disease, stroke, some cancers and direct injuries are caused by pollution, poor air quality, waste, unsafe drinking water and events arising from climate change such as wildfires, flooding and extreme weather events. Green jobs that improve the environment will have a direct positive effect on the health of the population, which in turn will have an economic impact on the amount of money the Government may need to spend on healthcare.
A green economy requires businesses to acknowledge and become aware of their corporate social responsibility, and alter their organisational culture to adopt new processes, and lower their environmental impact as much as possible. Unfortunately, in many countries, this concept is still far from becoming a reality, whilst in others, businesses engage in “greenwashing”, that is the practice of companies launching adverts, campaigns, products etc. under the pretence that they are environmentally beneficial, often in contradiction to their environmental and sustainability record in general.
As the popularity of green careers grows, more and more employers are emphasising the green aspects of roles that they are advertising.
Many job boards are specialising in green jobs too such as, but not limited to:
Information on apprenticeships in the green economy can be accessed here.