Green jobs: the winning bet?


In March 2009, the International Labour Organization (ILO) defined 2 big challenges for the 21st century: the first one is climate change and its dangers’ prevention; the second one is the need to ensure social development and decent jobs for all. To address these issues, our economy needs to be transformed. Green jobs can be part of the solution. However, beware of disillusions!  

What are green jobs?

According to the ILO, “green jobs are decent jobs that contribute to preserve or restore the environment, be they in traditional sectors such as manufacturing and construction, or in new, emerging green sectors such as renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

Among green jobs, some are easy to understand and to identify: it is the case for instance of an engineer in the field of renewable energy. Others stand in more traditional sectors. The 2012 study “Measuring green jobs” by Norden has shown that the limit between “green jobs” and “non-green jobs” is extremely hard to define. There’s an explanation: there are more and more incentives, legal or not, to make the economy greener and to reduce environmental impacts of processes. Therefore, all fields of activity tend to go green. You can then illustrate the “greenness” of a job on a spectrum.

However, one central distinction can be made: jobs can be green by nature or by adaptation. A green job by nature means it was created in the Environmental goods and services industry. The OECD defines it as the whole of “the activities which produce goods and services to measure, prevent, limit, minimize or correct environmental damage to water, air and soil, as well as problems related to waste, noise and eco-systems”. The definition of green jobs adopted by the ILO is a larger one that includes jobs resulting from economic transformation and adaptation. It is quite close from the definition given by European Commission: green jobs are either depending on the environment, or were created, replaced or redefined as part of a transition towards a greener economy.


Green jobs on the employment market

A study led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the ILO showed that a greener economy could influence the labour market in 4 different ways:

  • Creating new jobs in the Environmental goods and services industry
  • Replacing some jobs for greener ones, for instance in the context of energy transition
  • Making some jobs disappear without replacement
  • Transforming some existing jobs by redefining skills, work methods and employees’ profiles.

More recently, the ILO estimated that 18 million more jobs would result from achieving Paris Agreement’s 2°C goal. Regarding the circular economy, about 6 million jobs should be created from this economic change. (World employment and social outlook 2018: Greening with jobs).

These numbers show a real opportunity for new graduates and young people who are more and more climate change conscious.

Nevertheless, some structures such as the Centre d’études et de recherches sur les qualifications (Céreq) or the Service de l’observation et des statisitques (SOeS) warned us about potential disappointments. A high number of education programs related to environment and green economy are emerging, promising immediate career opportunities. The reality is not as exciting: not only do young graduates consider their education program not as satisfying as expected, but they also find themselves more often in tenuous job positions. Yet, some sectors such as renewable energy are really promising industries, but others are simply not taking off.

For some experimented professionals, one explanation of this disillusion lies in the confusion between “green” jobs and “environment” jobs, such as defined previously. The environment field is actually growing. Green jobs in their largest definition can be found mainly in traditional industries, where actual hiring needs are much lower.



A propos de Eva CECCARELLI

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