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What are green jobs? And why are they so important to the Covid-19 recovery?

Here’s everything you need to know about green jobs as leaders look to tackle both the employment and climate crises in the UK
Image credit: RawFilm /Unsplash

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the economy with thousands of jobs lost and many more workers furloughed or seeing their income slashed. In all the UK government’s talk of levelling up and building back better in the wake of the pandemic, green jobs have often been heralded as a fixture of the recovery plan.

But what makes a job green? Let The Big Issue explain.

What are green jobs?

There are many definitions of a green job but, broadly speaking, they are roles typically in sustainable industries that are good for the environment. More generally, a green job can be in any sector as long as it has a long-term benefit to the planet.

But there is no agreement on an exact definition and this has proven problematic for the Office for National Statistics (ONS). In a blog published in April 2021, the ONS said the lack of an agreed definition and the need to evaluate how environmentally friendly each individual job is makes it difficult to measure what is or isn’t a green job.

However, the ONS did cite two definitions of a green job in their study. 

The United Nations System of Environmental Economic Accounting defines the “Environmental Goods and Services Sector” as: “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.” Working in these sectors would be considered a green job.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines the term as “decent jobs” that help 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.”

The ILO also said green jobs improve energy and raw materials efficiency, limit greenhouse gas emissions, minimise waste and pollution, protect and restore ecosystems and support adaption to the effects of climate change.

While there is some crossover in these definitions, the ONS is still working on a definition they can use to accurately count the number of green jobs in the UK.

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What are examples of green jobs?

There are hundreds of examples of green jobs – far too many to list here. 

They range from environmental protection and environmental law to biologists working directly to preserve nature or architects and construction workers using sustainable materials to craft new buildings and homes. But just because you work in a green industry, it does not mean you are doing a green job. For instance, the Office for National Statistics used the example of an environmental educator who is required to fly regularly for their work as a deliberation on what should be a green job.

Think tank The Green Alliance said in a recent study that working in coastal restoration, tree planting and developing urban green spaces could see 16,000 jobs brought to 126 of Britain’s communities hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic. That means manufacturing or industrial jobs would be replaced with green alternatives.

The think tank suggested developing the quality and quantity of urban parks could create 11,000 jobs in traditional working class areas such as County Durham, Copeland and Wolverhampton, for example. Or seagrass planting could help coastal communities with a higher proportion of workers on furlough like the Isle of Wight.

Why are green jobs important?

Green jobs offer the opportunity to solve two problems at once: the ongoing employment crisis driven by Covid-19 and the climate emergency.

The UK Government has pledged to reach net-zero on carbon emissions by 2050 and that means some jobs with a high carbon footprint are going to have to disappear or change to hit that goal.

So focusing on these jobs now, which have a longer lifespan, will offer greater stability in the future as well as boosting the environment.

That’s why environmental campaigners, such as Hannah Martin, co-director of the Green New Deal UK, are calling for green jobs to play a huge role in how the UK Government deals with the climate and employment crises following the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Green jobs are win-win,” she told The Big Issue. “We’re in an unemployment crisis and also in a climate crisis, an inequality crisis. If you look at those things together, it’s no wonder that people across the UK are angry and want more. 

“We need massive investment in a green new deal to tackle these things now before it’s too late. Our research showed we could create enough green jobs to cover those lost during the pandemic permanently.”

How many green jobs are there in the UK?

There were 202,100 full-time jobs in the UK low-carbon and renewable energy economy in 2019 just before the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Office for National Statistics figures. This figure is down on the 235,900 recorded in 2014. 

However, the UK government has promised to boost the number of green jobs as part of their ‘Ten Point Plan’ to deliver a ‘Green Industrial Revolution in the UK. That includes a £12 billion investment to support up to 250,000 green jobs. A Green Jobs Taskforce was set up in November 2020 to work on creating the new roles.

Announcing the plan, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “We long ago proved that green and growth can go hand-in-hand. So let us meet the most enduring threat to our planet with one of the most innovative and ambitious programmes of job-creation we have known.”

How can I find green jobs?

There are plenty of ways to search for green jobs.

First of all, Green New Deal UK’s free tool is useful to find out how many green jobs are in your area and how many could be created in the future through UK Government investment.

Searching for green jobs in job websites such as Indeed, Reed or Monster can also be helpful while there are also dedicated jobs boards just for green jobs, including the aptly named Green Jobs.

The Big Issue’s Ride Out Recession Alliance is working to prevent unemployment following the Covid-19 pandemic as well as helping people who have lost their job during the pandemic to get back on their feet. Have a look at The Big Issue’s jobs board or call The Big Issue’s jobs helpline to find a new role or how you can retrain to fit more sustainable roles.

Sign up to The Big Issue’s RORA toolkit to boost your employment prospects too, with a free 3-month digital subscription to The Big Issue magazine, discounted courses with FutureLearn and access to a weekly newsletter packed with hints, tips and advice on how to secure your next job.