Here’s a common dilemma: I’m new, and worrying about learning (and demonstrating) as much information as possible. This experience is pretty similar for most new recruits generally, and for those in the environmental sector especially. Not only are there a lot of smart, talented coworkers to impress, there’s also a huge body of interdisciplinary knowledge to absorb.
In order to navigate this very diverse, and sometimes unwieldy, terrain, I’ve been focusing my efforts on a couple of key topics. For those who are new to the environmental sector (or simply really interested in the subject!), here’s a starting point on the much-discussed green economy:
What is the green economy?
ECO Canada’s Defining the Green Economy is a particularly fruitful resource. This study defines the green economy as, “the aggregate of all activity operating with the primary intention of reducing conventional levels of resource consumption, decreasing harmful emissions, and minimizing all forms of environmental impact.” Put more simply, the green economy encompasses all the inputs, activities, outputs and outcomes involved in the production of green products and services.
How many people are there?
This was a tough question to find an answer to, since jobs that support environmental objectives are not necessarily restricted to the environmental sector alone. One approach is to consider green employment as cases where employees spend 50% or more of their time on activities such as environmental protection, resource management and/or environmental sustainability.
This criterion produces an estimate of 682,000 environmental professionals in Canada, or roughly 4% of the total Canadian workforce. If we include all instances where employees spend some of their time on environmental activities, there are about 2,000,000 people in Canada conducting green work, or 12% of the total workforce.
What makes jobs in the green economy so special?
Green jobs are defined by ECO Canada as work that deals directly with information, technologies, or materials that minimize environmental impact, with the use of specialized skills, knowledge, training, or experience related to these areas. A frequently repeated observation is that environmental jobs are highly interdisciplinary, with a necessary fusion of specific ecological and/or technical expertise with transferable skills.
Consequently, most green professionals demonstrate competence in multiple skills categories. In a recent survey of 2,204 Canadian organizations, 91% of environmental employers had employees who performed activities in more than one major skills category.
What does the future hold?
The continuing evolution of the green economy involves large-scale investments in new technologies, equipment, buildings and infrastructure, which in turn, means more jobs. This is good news for a lot of us! There are two main effects on employment. The first is the creation of new jobs. The second, more significant, impact is the adaptation and reallocation of existing employment.
This latter point is particularly powerful for me, since it challenges the popular perception that green development is a new phenomenon that involves a dramatically different, previously inconceivable way of doing things. Contrary to this view, much of the growth of the Green Economy depends on the transition and modification of current jobs and skill-sets. These are changes that we don’t have to wait until the distant future to see--they are happening now.
Learning about the green economy is a process that is so much richer through discussion and debate! I’m looking forward to hearing about your own experiences and observations:
What would you add to the above list? What key points should someone new to the environmental sector know?