Are we on the cusp of a green rush?
Ecological living is no longer a hobby for early adopters, vocal environmentalists, and people who are convinced that civilization is about to collapse. It’s big. Average homeowners are installing solar panels on their roofs in order to cut down on energy costs and reduce their dependence on the grid. And getting solar panels is as simple and quick as getting a water heater installed. More people are considering their responsibility to the planet, and they are eager to buy goods and services that have a positive impact on climate change.
Much green energy growth has been accelerated by government research and subsidies. And barring a major political shakeup, the amount invested in this field will only increase. In February, President Barack Obama proposed doubling federal funding to support clean energy research and development. His plan is part of a budget proposal sent to Congress. He argues that this move is essential to transition us into the next era of energy, declaring “Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future.”
The green living movement's shift to mainstream acceptance means the budding eco-focused economy might bloom soon. This growth could lead to career and investment opportunities for those who get in early.
How do we know which green jobs are most promising? The best and most comprehensive data we have comes from the Green Goods and Services Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Using that info, I compiled a list of the top 10 most lucrative jobs in the green economy. This list was made by looking at the occupations labelled “all green revenue.” That is, occupations where all the money comes from doing business in green energy. Then I looked at which jobs had the highest mean hourly wage, according to the BLS. I then eliminated occupations that had fewer than 1,000 people working in them.
So which jobs are most profitable in the green economy?
Mean Hourly Wage: $87.78
Number Working In A Totally Green Occupation: 3,810
Pun You Can Make On The Job: “I’m meeting with an investor to see if they give us the green light on more funding.”
Not surprisingly, there’s statistically more financial rewards at the top of the corporate ladder. Your best chance of having the title of CEO on your business card will come by founding a startup that solves a big environmental problem.
If you want inspiration, here are a few interesting green startups.
- Pod Pioneers: Pod Pioneers has developed a greenhouse that allows anyone to grow their own vegetables in any environment.
- Coeio: This startup creates products that makes burials more environmentally friendly.
- BuildSavings: This Los Angeles-based company sells energy-saving home retrofits.
Forging your own path in the green economy will require an international mindset. According to Harvard Business School business historian Geoffrey Jones, the United States isn’t the only green energy innovator. Chinese manufacturers have leveraged their knowledge of creating green energy sources to create products for export.
Architectural and Engineering Managers
Mean Hourly Wage: $61.88
Number Working In A Totally Green Occupation: 7,720
Pun You Can Make On The Job: “Every house I make is a greenhouse.”
Today, most alternative energy advancements on buildings are jury rigged. They’re add ons to designs that never had energy efficiency in mind. But investors in new construction want to include sustainability starting with the blueprints, and that’s why architectural and engineering managers are the second-highest paid profession in the green economy.
Some innovations in sustainable architecture and engineering use exciting new technologies. For example, Richard Lunt, a materials scientist and professor at Michigan State University, has developed solar panels that are as clear and rigid as glass. That may allow buildings to literally be built using solar panels as windows.
But interestingly, environmentally friendly construction can also be a product of clever design. Take, for example, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon. It won a handful of environmental design awards simply by making optimal use of natural resources. It allows in plenty of natural light, contains local vegetation throughout the design, and has passive solar elements like walls that absorb heat and release it slowly into the building.
Mean Hourly Wage: $60.37
Number Working In A Totally Green Occupation: 5,600
Pun You Can Make On The Job: “If you want to hire a foreign worker, I can advise on the legal considerations of getting a green card for a green job.”
Whenever any industry grows, it becomes more complex and regulated. Which means legal help is necessary. A growing number of lawyers have specialized in the unique problems that businesses in the green space have.
The international law firm Andrews Kurth boasts about their experience helping alternative solar companies: “Recognized for the power of our Energy practice group, our lawyers have more than 30 years of experience counseling in alternative energy and distributed power sources, such as solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels and hydroelectricity.”
Mean Hourly Wage: $60.29
Number Working In A Totally Green Occupation: 2,780
Pun You Can Make On The Job: “All I do is drink caffeine and bring in green.”
Every green company needs someone to take charge of its growth. That’s where sales managers come in. They identify the best possible customers, plot out a plan to reach them, and guide their sales team to bring in new business.
The solar industry in particular has a high demand for sales managers. Every sales manager is put in charge of a particular region. They’re then responsible for signing up a steady flow of residential and corporate clients. And success can be very lucrative. According to self-reported data on GlassDoor, sales managers at Vivint Solar make an average of $97,500 a year.
Mean Hourly Wage: $58.91
Number Working In A Totally Green Occupation: 4,640
Pun You Can Make On The Job: “I make sure we stay out of the red and stay in the green.”
Hey, someone has to keep track of all the money that’s flowing in.
The financial manager’s job is to diagnose the financial health of an organization, create reports on revenue and expenditures, and identify make-it-rain opportunities.
A prime responsibility for financial managers is to identify all the subsidies and tax breaks their green company is eligible for. There are benefits for energy efficiency, solar energy sales, and installing above-code appliances in new homes. When you factor in federal, state, and local incentives, a business might have dozens of opportunities to get a break from the government.
If you want to see all the ways that Uncle Sam is giving the green economy a leg up, check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency. This database, funded by the Department of Energy, offers a complete list of incentives and policies that support renewables and energy efficiency in the United States.
Mean Hourly Wage: $56.10
Number Working In A Totally Green Occupation: 3,080
Pun You Can Make On The Job: “My sales commissions will have you green with envy.”
Just two spots below sales managers are their direct reports: the sales representatives. These boots on the ground are responsible for bringing in new business and helping leads hear the gospel of green products.
Most sales jobs are primarily commission based. So your best shot at success is if you have plenty of charisma and hustle to spare. The upshot? This is one the easiest ways to get involved with a green company. New companies who can’t yet attract top level sales people are more likely to take a chance on someone who’s new to the field.
Computer and Information Systems Managers
Mean Hourly Wage: $56.05
Number Working In A Totally Green Occupation: 2,160
Pun You Can Make On The Job: “The solder mask on our circuit boards isn’t the only thing that’s green about our servers.”
Every modern business needs at least one trusty IT guy or gal. This company linchpin keeps all essential technology up and running, so everyone has the tools they need to save the world.
General and Operations Managers
Mean Hourly Wage: $55.54
Number Working In A Totally Green Occupation: 32,030
Pun You Can Make On The Job: “I like to help people grow on the job. You might say I have a green thumb.”
Regardless of the industry, there will always be a high demand for workers who can use their people, leadership, and organizational skills to guide departments.
The great managers in the green sector will leverage their company’s environmental mission to inspire their team. According to research by Gallup, a sense of mission can turbocharge employee and company performance in several areas.
- Mission improves employee loyalty
- Mission fosters customer engagement
- Mission improves strategic alignment
- Mission brings clarity to why you’re working
Rallying your troops around your company’s world-saving mission will inspire them to go above and beyond.
Mean Hourly Wage: $55.07
Number Working In A Totally Green Occupation: 1,130
Pun You Can Make On The Job: “The secret to constant leads is building an evergreen marketing funnel.”
Marketing managers find the best channels to promote the company’s message and develop content that builds awareness and increases leads.
Modern consumers are energized by the prospect of buying from a company that saves them money and helps the planet. Check out this list of green marketing campaigns for a handful of inspiring examples.
However, marketing managers should also guard against greenwashing when developing the company’s brand. The FTC scrutinizes green claims and has been known to bring the hammer down on companies that fudge the truth.
Human Resource Managers
Mean Hourly Wage: $53.38
Number Working In A Totally Green Occupation: 1,140
Pun You Can Make On The Job: “We don’t want to hire anyone who’s too green.”
Of course, someone has to hire all these employees and keep them happy. Human resource managers ensure that the best talent helps the business operate smoothly and grow.
HR managers can be integral to a green company’s mission. They can create company incentives that reward green behaviors, develop environmental corporate responsibility initiatives, and even find ways to cut down on common office waste like paper. For a complete rundown of what an environmental HR manager looks like, check out Green Human Resource Management: Policies and Practices, by Shoeb Ahmad.