Thinking Of A Career Change? Think Green!

In a world with a lousy economy and nowhere near enough jobs, where can you possibly find a decent career these days? I’ll give you a hint: It’s big, green, and can be found everywhere.

If you’ve just graduated or if you’re looking for a career change and an opportunity to be part of the new clean, green economy, here are a couple tips to get your search started:

Interior Designer/Building Operations Manager

LEED-certified buildings and homes sell and rent for more than their non-LEED counterparts. AMD’s uber-LEED Lone Star campus has become a selling point for recruiting. Building to LEED-certified standards can also be cheap: It only adds around 2 percent to the total costs.

The trick is navigating the design issues to get LEED points without blowing the budget. Hence, your job will be to determine whether counters of ground up paper pulp or recycled bottle glass make the most sense.

Food Scientist

Judging by the newspapers, there are two types of eaters in America: The obese and those poisoned by e coli. The whole food chain will get reworked in the next 20 years. Food will get made more locally and expect to eat a lot more algae supplements.  The real upside to this one is that you will be popular. Have you been to a party in the last five years where people didn’t discuss the latest snack food from Trader Joe’s?


America has only two million farmers, and their average age is 55. Since sustainable agriculture requires small-scale, local, organic methods rather than petroleum-based machines and fertilizers, there is a huge need for more farmers — up to tens of millions of them, according to food guru Michael Pollan. Modern farmers are small businesspeople who must be as skilled in heirloom genetics as marketing.

Schools to consider: University of Vermont: Center for Sustainable Agriculture; Stone Barns Center For Food & Agriculture in New York State; University of Oklahoma: Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture; Evergreen State College: degree in Sustainable Agriculture.

Solar Power Installer

Making and installing solar power systems already accounts for some 770,000 jobs globally. Installing solar-thermal water heaters and rooftop photovoltaic cells is a relatively high-paying job–$15 to $35 an hour–for those with construction skills. And opportunities are available all over the United States, wherever the sun shines. Currently over 3,400 companies in the solar energy sector employ 25,000 to 35,000 workers. The Solar Energy Industries Association predicts an increase to over 110,000 jobs by 2016.

Companies: Akeena Solar; Sungevity; Sunpower; Full list at

Energy Efficiency Builder

Buildings account for up to 48 percent of US energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.LEED, the major green building certification, has over 43,000 accredited professionals. But the cutting edge in efficient buildings goes far beyond LEED. Buildings constructed according to Passivhaus and MINERGIE-P standards in Germany and Switzerland, respectively, use between 75% and 95% less heat energy than a similar building constructed to the latest codes in the US. Greening the US building stock will take not only skilled architects and engineers, but a workforce of retrofitters who can use spray foam insulation and storm windows to massively improve the R-value (thermal resistance) of the draftiest old houses. A study by the Apollo Alliance recommended an $89.9 billion investment in financing to create 827,260 jobs in green buildings — an initiative supported by the Obama stimulus package, which specifically mentions energy retrofits.

Schools: Arizona State University School of Architecture: Energy Performance Climate-Responsive Architecture; University of Michigan: Alfred A. Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning; The Earth Institute at Columbia University.

Wind Turbine Fabricator

Wind is the leading and fastest-growing source of alternative energy with over 300,000 jobs worldwide. Turbines are 90% metal by weight, creating an opportunity for autoworkers and other manufacturers to repurpose their skills. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the industry currently employs some 50,000 Americans and added 10,000 new jobs in 2007. Their job board is an excellent place to start looking for opportunities.


The total number of recycling jobs in the United States is at more than 1 million. Although the market for paper and plastic has slowed down recently due to the economic downturn, demand for steel is still strong — 42 percent of output came from scrap in 2006 — and recycling remains the economical alternative to high disposal fees. Worldwide more than 200,000 people work in secondary steel production, and the US is a major center of production. New laws and regulations are also creating a need for specialized companies that can close the loop by recycling and repurposing e-waste, clothing, plastic bags, construction waste, and other materials.

Recycling requires you to collect, separate, (possibly) clean, and recycle all of that material. As for the waste management end of the spectrum, yes, this involves dealing with garbage. However, it also involves coming up with innovative ideas on dealing with garbage or recyclable items, such as turning waste into renewable energy. For all the dirty work done, you are looking at a pretty nice salary for this field—an average salary can range between $50,000 and $70,000 per year!

Urban Planner

Urban and regional planning is a linchpin of the quest to lower America’s carbon footprint. Strengthening mass transit systems, limiting sprawl, encouraging use of bicycles and deemphasizing cars is only part of the job. Equally important is contingency planning, as floods, heat waves and garbage creep become increasingly common problems for metropolises. Employment in this sector is projected to grow 15 percent by 2016, and the jobs are mainly in local governments, which make them a slightly safer bet for the downturn.

If you want to make the cities of the world more clean or eco-friendly, then you should definitely check out this field.


Where would the world be without education? This is actually the most important career on the list. Without proper education and training, people would not be able to get degrees or certifications, and without those, there would be no jobs in the first place. Environmental education is something that can be found the world over in universities, training workshops, and more. Job opportunities can include working with conservation groups, at a wildlife sanctuary or reserve, or simply continuing the cycle by becoming another professor or trainer in environmental education.

Organic Products/Farming

The world and everything in it seems to be going green (if it wasn’t green already). Organic products are cropping up more often throughout local stores and big retail chains. This is certainly a great area to get involved in the green career field. If you have an interest in farming, gardening and the like, you can grow your own organic crops and plants and sell them. If you want to push your creative business side, you can create and sell your own organic products, or perhaps work through wholesale or as an affiliate of an already existing organic company. From vegetables to beauty products, the possibilities for this field are really endless.


Here is another green career field with a multitude of options. Lately, it’s been embedded into peoples’ heads that a green home is a good home. There are a ton of news articles that will tell you what home improvements to make in order to make your house more sustainable, energy efficient, or simply a good tax write-off. Businesses are also jumping on the green construction bandwagon by adding solar panels or becoming LEED certified. Green construction will get you working with all those sustainable materials you’ve been hearing of. However, if that doesn’t interest you, then how about being an architect? You can also do eco-friendly interior decorating, design the next hydro-powered car, or create a more efficient way to do laundry. All you have to do is make a choice and run with it.

Sustainability Consulting

Think you know everything about the environment? Got that low-impact lifestyle plan down to perfection? Do you love telling others what to do? Then check out this field. Sustainability consulting involves telling others how to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Work can range from helping businesses reduce their carbon footprint to creating sustainability projects. A lot of research on environmental practices, law and business options can be expected in this field. You may find yourself turning a corporate giant into a beacon of sustainability, or you may end up doing research in the Amazon. This is one job for those who take their work very seriously and can get the job done—irresponsible, unethical procrastinators need not apply.


Ah, yes, science; another very important field on this list. Science is what tells us the animals are endangered, the world is warming up, and what plants have medicinal properties. Science can tell you the age of a tree, the effects air pollution has on human health, and discover previously unknown species in the more remote places of the world. You can heal animals, research climate data, create a new biofuel, or collect and study rock samples. From biology to meteorology to zoology, this is a massive field that is constantly changing, discovering and redesigning life as we know it every day.

Renewable Energy

The renewable energy career field is one of the fastest growing in the world. You have solar power, wind power, geothermal, hydro power, and more. You need people to design, build and manufacture solar heaters, wind generators, and other such products. You need people to install and maintain those products. If you don’t know where to even begin on the renewable energy path, you’ll need an energy auditor to provide you with information. Apart from homes and buildings, you’ll find renewable energy being used on vehicles, as well as chargers for electronic devices. Monitoring and research is also necessary, as well as the wind farms or geothermal companies that provide the power in the first place. The best part is, since the field involves energy that is renewable, jobs and energy resources are highly unlikely to run short anytime soon. Given those factors in a world with depleting resources and rundown economies, it should be clear why this made the number one spot.

Other great fields to look into: Environmental Law and Eco-tourism. Although they didn’t occur quite as often as the rest of them, these 2 fields have a great impact and play important roles in their own way.

If you are interested in a green career, we hope this list gave you a better idea of what options are available out there.

Tell us what you're thinking...

Please share your thoughts and ideas with the Who's Green community.