Sustainability is every one’s job. And that’s the problem. The inertia of efforts to combat climate change are the result of a globally pervasive case of the bystander effect. According to this psychological phenomenon, individuals are less likely to help a victim if others are present. In this instance, Earth is the victim that we collectively fail to help out. A primary contributing factor to the bystander effect is diffusion of responsibility. If we’re all responsible for helping, every one just assumes that the next person will step up to the plate and take action. This attitude has landed us in the climate crisis we now face.
Fortunately, sustainability IS the job of a growing number of people. According to the United Nations, “green jobs” consist of work that primarily contributes to preserving or restoring environmental quality. Such jobs accomplish this through a number activities that include: reducing energy or materials consumption, minimizing waste or pollution, de-carbonizing businesses, and protecting ecosystems. In some markets, these “green collar jobs” are among the fastest growing sources of employment (source). Through 2026, solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians are expected to be the fastest growing jobs in the US. With increased use of those renewable sources of energy, energy auditors help businesses and households repair leaks to ensure that energy is put to good use. Among the most impactful green collar jobs of today is that of the chief sustainability officer. These executives set the tone for their organizations on matters of environmental conservation and strategies to further incorporate sustainable business practices into the company’s operations.
The growing importance of sustainability initiatives to fight climate change ensures that the green collar job sector will continue to grow. While these jobs can pop up in any sector, they all call for a particular outlook and skillset. The skills needed for green collar work vary by nation or market. In Costa Rica, core skills emphasize community participation in natural resource management and negotiation/mediation in environmental intervention. Green skill development programs in the UK cover a broad range of approaches that include resource utilization mapping, industrial symbiosis, and identification of resource efficiency opportunities. The teaching of these skills has yet to be worked out, but likely requires a public-private partnership to ensure success.
In developing these emerging, environmentally-oriented skillsets, governments prepare their citizens for the green collar jobs of the future. We’ve already identified some of the roles in the Center for the Future of Work’s 21 Jobs of the Future series. But as corporate sustainability needs change, so too do the types of jobs that will address those needs. New technologies, business models, and societal ideals grant us new opportunities to build more sustainable futures. Below are 5 green collar jobs of the future that we speculate could emerge in the years to come:
Ethical Sourcing Officer
The ideal candidate will head up an organization’s ethical sourcing team and ensure the allocation of corporate income aligns with the standards set by stakeholders (customers and employees), codified through the corporate ethics boards. The role covers major categories of indirect ethical spend: energy, waste and community sponsorship. The ethical sourcing officer will investigate, track, negotiate and forge agreement around the provisioning of goods and services to ensure contractual alignment with the ethical wishes of our stakeholders.
Smart Home Design Manager
Smart homes promise more than just convenience and cool gadgets embedded into our dwellings. The instrumentation that outfits smart homes also provides a constant stream of data on energy use. The role of the the smart home designer will be to create living spaces that reduce that energy or allocate it in the most efficient way possible, through unobtrusive design principals and behavior nudging techniques.
The primary responsibility of this role will be the overall planning and execution of projects that work with nature – not against it – in cities all over the world. Design, build and maintain environmentally-sound municipal tide works, using state-of- the-art technologies to regulate tidal floods. Excellence in hydro-engineering, civil engineering and architectural design derived from the principles of moats, floats, super-dikes and wetlands is essential to this role.
Vertical Farm Consultant
While vertical farming will be enabled by the latest in artificial intelligence and agricultural technology, convening a community around food is a decidedly low-tech affair. This technology role will call for community organizing as much as computer science. The job of the vertical farm consultant is threefold: setup, maintenance and education. VFCs will work with clients (local governments, community leaders) to identify optimal locations for farming sites within neighborhoods and train residents on best practices for opening and operating the vertical farm facilities. In doing so, the food supply chain is shortened, which reduces vehicle emissions and frees up more land for reforestation efforts.
The rise of autonomous vehicles and the massive surge in drone delivery has prompted cities to rethink how both road and air space is managed. The successful candidate will join the space control inner city management team to monitor, regulate, plan and manipulate air and road space, monitoring and programming the automated AI platforms used for space management of autonomous cars and drones. To match the systems thinking capabilities, candidates must also possess strong understanding for how proper traffic flow reduces vehicle idling and the associated carbon emissions.
The environmental data emerging in the wake of the COVID19 pandemic illustrates just how swiftly sustainable business practices can positively impact efforts for organizations to reduce their carbon footprints. We all have a responsibility to this planet and the future of humanity. That responsibility calls for widespread adoption of environmentally sustainable behaviors and business decisions. Hopefully the aforementioned jobs of the future continue to shift the tide toward more conscientious uses of our resources across the planet.