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Everything you need to know about green jobs – and how to get one

Here’s everything you need to know about green jobs – from what they are and why they’re important to where to apply for one.

“Green jobs” is a term often bandied around by politicians in discussions about our future in a sustainable society.

Green jobs have been heralded as the solution to multiple crises – from youth unemployment to the climate crisis and economic fallout of coronavirus. 

Pledges have been made to invest in green job creation. By 2030, the UK government has promised that the country will host two million of them in order to “build back greener” as we exit the pandemic. 

Yet while there’s much said about what green jobs are going to do, there’s less said about what they actually are – and how far they’ll go in tackling climate change. 

So what actually is a green job, what does it involve, and how do you go about securing one? We’ve rounded up everything you need to know. 

What are green jobs?

There’s no universally accepted definition of a green job, but broadly speaking, a job can be considered “green” if it has a net positive impact on the environment and/or climate.

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Many people think of green jobs as those exclusively related to renewable sectors like wind power, but it’s possible for a job to be green even if it’s within a sector that isn’t.

You might be a sustainability manager within a larger company, for example. 

The lack of a standard definition for “green jobs” has made life difficult for the UK’s national statistics body, the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is because the lack of definition makes it difficult for the ONS both to measure how many green jobs exist, as well as ranking how environmentally-friendly each one is. 

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In a blog post on the issue, published April 2021, the ONS did point to two useful definitions of a green job.

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 adaptation to the effects of climate change.

The ONS is currently working on making a standard definition of green jobs so it can count the number that currently exist in the UK.

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What are examples of green jobs?

Given the term “green jobs” has wide applications, it’s difficult to list every role that might fall under the umbrella. 

However, roles can range from home insulation services to environmental law or restoration of natural resources. 

Depending on your application of the definition, working in a train station could be considered a “green job” by merit of the fact that it facilitates public transport use instead of driving in private vehicles. 

Opinion differs over whether a job can be considered “green” if it is sustainable by definition but involves a lot of high-carbon activities such as driving and flying frequently. 

The ONS pointed to this difficulty in its blog post on green jobs, using the example of an environmental educator who has to fly regularly for work. 

Given the large carbon impact of flying, this might mean the person’s net impact on the environment was negative, rather than positive.

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Why are green jobs important?

The UK’s target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 will demand an enormous amount of effort and mobilisation of a huge workforce to retrofit housing stock, scale up renewable energy and build greener infrastructure. 

All this work demands skilled workers, which is why many herald green jobs as a way to kill two birds with one stone: fixing the climate and unemployment issues at the same time. 

Given many people lose their jobs or had their hours slashed as a result of coronavirus, green jobs are also viewed as a way to help people back into good, fulfilling jobs.

In a recent study, think tank The Green Alliance said that job creation in tree planting, developing urban green spaces and coastal restoration could generate 16,000 roles for 126 of Britain’s communities hit hardest by Covid-19. 

It suggested developing the quality and quantity of urban parks might create 11,000 jobs in traditionally working class areas like Wolverhampton. 

Seagrass planting, meanwhile, could help coastal communities with a higher proportion of workers on furlough like the Isle of Wight.

Belinda Gordon, Strategy Director at Green Alliance, said green jobs are “absolutely vital” if the UK is to reach its climate targets.

“We do need to make this big change over the next few years and decades towards a low emission society.

“We just can’t even begin to achieve that if there aren’t people with the skills to take us through that transition. It’s not just important for our economy and work either – there are loads of co-benefits to our health and wellbeing too,” she said.

Of course, the transition to a greener society also means polluting jobs will have to go – with workers in oil and gas first on the line.

To avoid mass unemployment in these sectors, these jobs will have to be replaced with greener ones to achieve a “just transition” in which nobody is left behind on the road to greater sustainability.

How many green jobs are there in the UK?

The latest figures on green jobs from the ONS only measure “green” employment up to 2019, and show that there were 202,100 full-time jobs in the UK low-carbon and renewable energy economy prior to the pandemic.

This figure is reduced from the 235,900 green jobs recorded in 2014.

The government has pledged to increase the number of green jobs in the UK as part of its ‘Ten Point Plan’ to deliver a ‘Green Industrial Revolution” in the UK. 

Two million green jobs have been promised by 2030, and in 2020 a Green Jobs Taskforce was set up to work on creating these 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.”

The parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee has warned, however, that the UK workforce currently lacks the skills needed to fill these jobs. 

The committee warned of a “skills gap” across sectors which threatens to undermine key targets in the government’s 25-year environment plan. 

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds commented that the UK workforce “does not, and is not on track to, have the skills and capacity needed to deliver the green jobs required to meet its net zero target and other environmental ambitions”.

How can I find green jobs?

There are plenty of ways you can search and apply for green jobs.

Green New Deal, for instance, has its own free tool for finding out how many green jobs are in your area and how many could be created in the coming years. 

Some mainstream job sites such as Monster, Indeed and Reed also allow you to search for “green jobs”, while some sites – such as “Green Jobs” – focus exclusively on green roles.

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.

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