In the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) definition, green jobs are "positions in agriculture, manufacturing, R&D, administrative, and service activities aimed at substantially preserving or restoring environmental quality".
A recent LinkedIn report on the Green Economy looked at green jobs as positions that can’t be performed without “green skills”, i.e. pollution mitigation and waste prevention, environmental remediation, sustainable procurement, energy generation and management, etc.
Our approach is somewhat between the two and our study includes jobs in:
Our list enumerates 50 occupations that either directly contribute to studying, protecting, and improving the environment, or are performed with significant regard for the environment and its effect on the job or industry in question.
According to our calculations, the 50 jobs that fell under our definition of “green” employ as many as 875,000 across the country. At that number, they account for about 0.6% of the American workforce, which is less of an indication of how widespread green jobs are and more of a testament to how many more of them are needed.
That being said, some green jobs employ tens of thousands of Americans, and here are 10 which employ the most.
As we can see from the chart, the green occupation with by far the largest number of workers - Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors - is at the grassroots level of the occupational hierarchy. Sure enough, it’s not a job of high prestige or salary, but essential in combating pollution.
Next in the top 10 is Occupational Health & Safety Specialists (98,000), whose work includes minimizing exposure to harmful substances in the workplace and understanding the effects different environments have on workers and vice versa.
Further down the list are a mixture of natural sciences and conservation occupations, where workers are primarily concerned with understanding and preserving the environment, nature and wildlife.
Less common occupations include those in Biofuels and Biomass (both under 1,000 workers) and Geothermal Energy (less than 500 workers). Despite being important parts of the renewable energy mix, they are far less present in the U.S. than wind and solar.
Now that we have a sense of which jobs employ the most, let’s have a look at pay levels. According to the government-run occupational database O*NET, the median annual pay for a worker in one of our green jobs is $76,530 - some 31% higher than a national median salary of $58,260.
Here’s how the 50 green jobs compare to each other - and the national average - on how much they pay their workers.
Eight out of 10 top-paying green jobs offer salaries of $100k or more per year. Topping the list are Natural Sciences Managers - a shorthand occupation for managers of scientific labs and R&D departments in companies. These workers enjoy a salary of $137,900 per year.
Curiously, these managers make more than Chief Sustainability Officers, who earn an estimated $111,080. Except for Wind Energy Engineers ($107,800) and Environmental Economists ($105,630), the top 10 is largely composed of occupations associated with the management and development of renewable energy operations.
Needless to say, not all green jobs pay six figures. Among the lower end of the pay spectrum are workers in Forest and Conservation, Recycling and Reclamation, as well as technicians working in renewable energy. In fact, most technician-level jobs tend to be below or near the national median salary, while positions such as specialists, managers, and engineers enjoy above median salaries.
If we looked at raw figures for total employment in green occupations in America by state or city, we’d find all the usual suspects up at the top: California and Texas for states, Los Angeles and Chicago for cities.
That’s why we decided to look at states where green jobs employ the most relative to the national average. This allows us to see where green jobs are more predominant than you’d expect from the size of the local workforce.
At the state level, it’s Alaska, Colorado, and Washington - all states where green jobs are nearly at 1% of the workforce, or ≈40% higher than expected based on the national average.
The noteworthy entrant on the top 10 list of states is Iowa with an estimated 12,100 workers (0.8% of the workforce) in green jobs. The most common green job in the state is “Wind Energy Development Managers”, which aligns with the fact that 57% of Iowa's electricity is generated by wind turbines.
On the reverse side of the scale are states like Arizona and South Carolina, where green jobs account for 0.4% and 0.3% of the labor force, which is the lowest concentration, compared to the national average of 0.6%.
Based on our analysis of figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and O*NET, green jobs are set to grow at a rate of 8.6% over the next decade, with a predicted 114,300 new jobs to be added to the green workforce in that time.
Not only is the overall growth rate for green jobs higher than for the overall workforce (+7.7%), some of the green occupations are among the fastest-growing in the entire country.
Specifically, Wind Turbine Service Technicians (+68.2%) and Solar Photovoltaic Installers (+52.1%) are expected to be in the top five fastest-growing occupations over the next 10 years.
Among the occupation set for greatest growth are Forest Fire Inspectors (+23.9%), Environmental Economists (+13.1%), and workers in different phases of Recycling and Reclamation (+11.9%).
While most green jobs are growing, only five are projected to decline over the next decade. They are Energy Auditors (-2.9%), Chief Sustainability Officers (-5.7%), Forest and Conservation Workers (-8%), and Technicians on Hydroelectric Plants (-13.6%) and Biomass Plants (-13.6%).
It is worth noting that a decline in employment shouldn’t necessarily be interpreted as a decline in the need for green skills. Fluctuations in the number of workers for specific occupations often reflect shifts to similar occupations or certain job types becoming more prevalent in the given industry.
Projections for the next decade are well and good, but which of the green jobs that we identified are most actively hiring right now?
Three jobs stand out when it comes to the number of vacancies at the time of writing (May 2022).
Natural Sciences Managers - the job that’s also the highest paying among green occupations - has 52,000 vacancies. Similarly, there are over 50,000 Environmental Engineers jobs, and over 21,000 Sustainability Specialists job postings, all according to the O*NET database.
Among the green jobs with the highest number of postings as of May 2022 are occupations in Environmental Science, Occupational Health & Safety, and Recycling.
At 0.6% of the workforce, green jobs in the United States are not quite as widespread yet, but are poised for a decade of solid growth, especially in industries such as wind and solar energy.
Green jobs tend to pay 31% more than the national average, and enough jobs on both the higher and lower end of the job hierarchy could make them attractive options for both people looking for a career change and those just starting out.
To browse the stats we collected on each of the green occupations, please check out the interactive table below.
Green jobs were taken as occupations from O*NET Online - a website developed by the U.S. Department of Labor for the general public to have broad access to the O*NET database of occupational information.
Green occupations were selected using search queries such as “sustainability”, “environment”, “renewable”, “solar”, “recycling”, etc.
Data on employment (national and state-level), salaries and growth projections for each of the green occupations were taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Projections and Occupational Employment data series, as available from the BLS.gov website.
For some green jobs that are part of larger occupational groups, a specific number of workers employed in them is not available from the BLS website, (e.g. Wind Energy Engineers being part of “Engineers, all other”). In these cases, employment counts were estimated using LinkedIn’s search for the number of people with e.g. “wind energy engineer” in their current job title and assumed reach of 28% among American adults.
The number of job vacancies for each of the green occupations was taken as a total number of job openings nationally, as it appears on the O*NET Online job openings pages (example).