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How to Find a Green Job

Considering a new line of work? Recycling, energy efficiency and eco-friendly careers are on the rise

En español | For those of you looking for a job or a different career, there’s some good news: Green jobs — that is, those with an eco-friendly focus — are expected to grow in the coming years. In fact, a report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors forecasts that as many as 3.5 million green jobs will be created by 2028 (PDF) in everything from generating renewable power to retrofitting buildings.

See also: Nonprofit organization job tips.

What’s more, if you want to go green in your next job, you needn’t worry about having to have a green résumé. Many of the skills you’ve developed in prior jobs are exactly those you’ll need in the new market. If, for example, you have technical skills in engineering, architecture, accounting, marketing or project management, you’ll find job openings at solar energy firms, renewable energy outfits and others.

Even established businesses are adding workers and jobs with a green focus. What employer doesn’t want to find ways to shed waste responsibly and cut utility bills with efficient energy use? It takes people who have been project managers, worked a sales beat and are handy at media relations to run even the small-scale eco-friendly programs now under way and get the word out about them to the outside world.

“There’s no shortage of new graduates coming into the green market, but many organizations are foundering because they need workers with expertise and gravitas, who have the seasoned skills — whether it is communications skills or management skills, or strategy skills,” says Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz.com.

Great jobs for boomers interested in the environment and environmental issues- a heart carved into a tree

Passionate about environmental issues? Find a green job! — Photo by Noll Images

Interested? Here are five jobs to consider, depending on your skills and interests. Pay varies based on factors such as experience and where you live. Salary figures are primarily derived from U.S. Department of Labor data.

1. Green building consultant

The nitty-gritty: If you’re genuinely interested in building a post-retirement career with a green bent, it’s worth the time and effort to head back to the classroom. In general, a background in architecture, engineering and construction will give you a firm foundation. Older buildings, in particular, are getting serious facelifts. States, counties and cities are offering incentives targeted at green building projects. You probably need a grasp of (or the burning desire to learn) the technical aspects of building construction, say, the nature of leaky windows, the best ways to use natural lighting, energy-efficient heating and air-conditioning systems (HVAC), plus water-smart features such as low-pressure faucets and toilets.

Pay range: Salaries can run from $75,000 a year in Portland, Maine, and San Antonio, Texas, to $118,000 in New York.

Qualifications: The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program offers certification that leads to a credential as a green building specialist. That’s your calling card to offer strategic advice on a wide range of building projects. The Green Building Certification Institute provides information, as does its parent organization, the U.S. Green Building Council.

2. Waste consultant

The nitty-gritty: If you’re a recycling devotee, you’ll revel in the chance to help companies and residential communities reduce waste. Show that your efforts save money and you’ve won a convert to your cause. Consulting opportunities can be found in both government offices and private companies. Waste consultants may also be called recycling consultants, or waste reduction coordinators. Consider specializing in a certain area, such as paper or food. You’ll of course need data to back up your efforts. Don’t be fooled into thinking everyone is on board with green initiatives.

Next: How much does a waste consultant make per hour? »

Median hourly pay: Income levels vary widely by employer and location. Consultants’ pay range: $11.64 to $62.69 per hour.

Qualifications: It’s a smorgasbord. Knowledge of recycling programs from previous work, even on a volunteer basis, shows you know what you’re talking about. You’ll need clear communication skills to explain what the program is all about and why it matters. Sales chops will help you persuade people to actually stick with it. Project management ability will ensure that your program runs smoothly. Accounting basics will prove that it’s worth an employer’s while. The National Recycling Coalition offers webinars on a range of recycling topics and more. Some states now offer recycling certification programs via local colleges. Rutgers University, for example, offers a New Jersey recycling 21-day certification program.

3. Park guide

The nitty-gritty: Each year the National Park Service as well as state and local parks hire temporary and seasonal employees. You might be in charge of basic tasks like collecting fees at the entry gate, answering visitor questions and passing out maps and brochures. With a little homework, you might find yourself teaching brief educational programs about the park ecosystem from bear habitats to flora and fauna. Those of you with a fit physique might step it up with trail upkeep responsibilities or tour guiding.

Median pay range: National Parks: $13 to $26-plus an hour. You might opt to work as a National Park Service volunteer, too, where your only pay may be free housing or a pad for your RV.

Qualifications: National Park Service employees may undergo a security background check. Knowledge of the park’s history, geology and botany will come in handy for guide work and presentations. To find a job at a National Park, check the park’s website and click on “About Us” and then “Work With Us,” or go to USAJobs.gov.  Check with your state’s department of parks and recreation for local openings.

4. Eco-landscaper

The nitty-gritty: Gardening is not for sissies. It’s mostly outdoor work in all kinds of weather. From a purely physical perspective, it means bending, squatting, lifting and pulling — unless you can hire a brawny assistant to handle those chores. The goal of building “sustainable” gardens is generally to create landscaping that’s cheaper to maintain over time, all lofty environmental goals aside. To do it right, you’ll need to be able to make money-smart choices based on a deep understanding of native plants. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so you’ll work closely with your clients to create a space that works best for them and the environment.

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Median pay range: $8.16 to $17.90-plus an hour. $50 to $90 an hour is possible, depending on experience. Most landscapers opt for a flat rate for an initial design, and then add hourly fees for execution and maintenance.

Qualifications: Understanding of horticulture, including a wide-ranging knowledge of plants and diseases. Drafting a design by hand is generally accepted, although some clients might want to see a computer design via CAD software. You might consider taking a Master Gardener class to boost your résumé. The Ecological Landscaping Association holds an annual conference with workshops and educational sessions. Its website provides links to seminars and events held around the country. Many community colleges and universities offer certificates and degrees in sustainable landscape design. George Washington University’s program, for instance, is offered on a series of weekends, and there’s an annual landscape design career fair. Check out garden centers in your locale for classes and certificate programs. In Pittsburgh, you can earn a certificate in sustainable horticulture at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. The Association of Professional Landscape Designers offers certification to members who have at least four years of experience and submit three projects they have completed for review.

5. Certified vehicle emission inspector

The nitty-gritty: A certified vehicle emission inspector ensures that cars and trucks aren’t spewing out toxic levels of air pollution. Emission inspectors usually work at dedicated facilities using a variety of equipment from gauges to dynamometers to test cars and trucks for conformance to emissions standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Job openings may be found at state government vehicle inspection facilities, car dealerships, auto repair shops and automakers.

Median hourly pay: $13.43 to $20.03-plus per hour, according to Payscale.com.

Qualifications: Each state has its own certification process, which might require classroom training, plus a written exam. You can check the list of approved emission inspection programs through your state’s department of motor vehicles.

Kerry Hannon is the author of
What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job.

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