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Employment

What are green jobs and how can I get one?

Here’s everything you need to know about green jobs as leaders look to tackle both the employment and climate crises in the UK

Key targets on reducing air pollution and reversing species loss are under threat thanks to a shortage in the skills necessary for green jobs, according to a new report. 

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has warned that the UK’s emissions and environmental targets will be impossible to meet without further training and investment to fix the current “skills gap”.

Alongside the environmental benefits, green jobs have been heralded as a way to “build back better” from the pandemic by offering opportunities to those who have been furloughed, had hours cut or lost their jobs. 

But what actually is a green job, what does it entail, and where are opportunities available? This is everything you need to know.

What are green jobs?

There’s currently no standard definition of a green job, but broadly speaking, a job is “green” if it has a positive net impact on the planet.

Typically, these roles are in industries which are sustainable on the whole – such as renewable energy – but a job can be “green” if the role is sustainable even if the company isn’t necessarily. 

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This lack of definition has caused headaches 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, they 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 adaptation to the effects of climate change.

The ONS is currently working on a standard definition to allow it to count the number of green jobs in the UK.

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What are examples of green jobs?

Given the broad application of “green jobs”, it’s impossible to list every job that might fall into the category.

They range from roles in environmental law and nature protection to construction workers using sustainable materials in buildings. 

Just working in a green industry doesn’t necessarily mean you have a green job, however.

The ONS points out the difficulty of pinning down a “green job” by using the example of an environmental educator who has to fly regularly for work. Given their large carbon footprint, their net impact on the environment might be negative, rather than positive. 

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.

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.

Why are green jobs important?

Green jobs kill two birds with one stone, offering a way to fix the ongoing employment crisis while also solving the climate emergency. 

In order to hit the government’s goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, jobs in sectors like oil and gas are going to have to disappear – with greener jobs necessary to avoid unemployment. 

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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.”

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How many green jobs are there in the UK?

According to ONS figures, there were 202,100 full-time jobs in the UK low-carbon and renewable energy economy in 2019 just before the Covid-19 pandemic.

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

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.”

The EAC has warned, however, that the UK workforce currently lacks the skills necessary to perform these roles. 

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 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.

Some job sites like Indeed, Reed and Monster will also respond to searches for “green jobs”, while there are some job sites – including “Green Jobs” – which focus exclusively on eco-friendly 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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