Recycled. Upcycled. Eco-friendly. Sustainable. Organic. Everywhere you look signs, labels, and headlines make it clear that the country is going green. But how – if at all – does that translate into jobs?
An estimated 3.4 million of U.S. jobs qualified as "green" in 2011, according to a recent report from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, up nearly 5 percent over 2010. In the private sector, environmentally friendly jobs grew at an even faster rater: more than 7 percent, from 2.3 million to 2.5 million.
Employment across all industries and categories, meanwhile, grew by just slightly more than 1 percent over the same period. Though the growth in green jobs has been significant, such positions still account for just a tiny sliver – 2.6 percent – of the country's total jobs in 2011.
So what counts as a "green" job anyway? There is more to green employment than installing wind turbines and manufacturing hybrid cars. Any job that is part of producing or offering environmentally friendly goods and services is included in the tally. Fields with a high proportion of green jobs include waste collection (90.1 percent green), urban transit (84.5 percent) electric power generation (32.4 percent), iron and steel mills (36.9 percent), and HVAC and commercial refrigeration equipment (32.7 percent).
For sheer numbers, California has the most green jobs with more than 360,000 at last count. Other top states include New York (266,000 jobs), Texas (228,000), and Pennsylvania (167,000). The greatest percentage of jobs categorized as green is found in Washington, D.C., where 5.1 percent of jobs (about 36,000 positions) – mostly in the public sector – fall into the eco-friendly category. Green employment rates are also well above average in Oregon (4.3 percent), Vermont (4.1 percent), and Idaho (4 percent).
So, how do green jobs pay? It depends.
On average, green jobs pay less than their conventional counterparts: $48,210 vs. $58,130. But the differential, well, differs significantly between industries.
Those working in business and financial industries, for example, stand to benefit significantly from holding green jobs, which pay an average of $83,740 as compared to $69,530. Going green in architecture and engineering can pay even more of a premium: The average salary for green workers in the field is $105,670 as compared to $75,920 for conventional work.
In other lines of work, however, going green doesn't pay off (monetarily at least). Non-green jobs in arts, design, entertainment, and sports pay an average of $73,260; the mean salary for earth-friendly positions in the same area is just $50,750.
The expansion of the alternative energy industry and the general growth in awareness of environmental issues seem to bode well for green employment. Indeed, governments both state and federal have been pushing green jobs initiatives as a way to jumpstart economic development and lower unemployment.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, will no longer be tracking this expected growth. The agency announced in March that it will be canceling its green jobs analysis program because of sequester-related budget cuts.
Click here for a list of 12 up-and-coming green jobs.
You can also check out other jobs related to the environment here.