At a time when many career paths seem to be losing ground, green jobs seem to be on the upswing.
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A study released last year by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit group that promotes eco-friendly building practices, estimates that environmentally friendly construction projects will add 7.9 million green jobs and $554 billion to the American economy by 2012. In addition, the federal government has earmarked $750 million in green-job training grants as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in February 2009.
"Lately, there have been many new green career developments," says Ezra Drissman, content developer for GreenCareersGuide.com, a site that profiles green jobs.
If you're interested in green jobs, check out some of these possibilities in the green industry sector.
Home Energy Auditor
Professionals who hold these green jobs evaluate homes and determine what kind of improvements should be made to increase home energy efficiency, such as adding insulation or replacing the windows.
Reeis Inc., an energy-efficiency services company based in Scottsdale, Ariz., has a staff of home energy auditors to serve clients, says Reeis President Todd Russo.
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"Most have had a career in the residential construction industry, so they're familiar with how to build homes," Russo says. "Because of the financial collapse and the state of the economy, there's just no market for the construction of new homes, so their standard job isn't available to them."
One of the most widely recognized training programs for home energy auditors is for building analyst certification. It is offered by the Building Performance Institute, a group in Malta, N.Y., Russo says. BPI courses are offered at colleges, utility companies and training centers across the U.S. Here is a list of locations.
As more attention has become focused on green jobs, an increasing number of green-job training centers are popping up, like Green Education Services, a New York-based firm that offers training in certain U.S. cities on green building technology and energy auditing.
Zach Rose, the center's CEO, has 11 employees, including instructors that teach courses. Rose says his teachers don't hold degrees in education but have real-life experience related to the building industry such as interior design and architecture.
If you are interested in becoming a green teacher, a good first step is to become LEED-certified or trained in another aspect of green building.
LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a green building standard that certifies a building was constructed using environmentally friendly techniques. Individuals can earn several levels of LEED professional credentials through a series of exams. Information on the exams can be found on the U.S. Green Building Council website.
Civil and mechanical engineers are often needed on green building projects, says Tad Radzinski, president of Sustainable Solutions Corp., a green consulting firm in Royersford, Pa.
Civil engineers can help determine the best site for a green building and design systems to deal with water runoff, an important factor in green design. "They're the folks that are going to start out doing land planning," Radzinski says. "They also have to do storm water management because, for a lot of green building work, there's a lot of focus on how we manage storm water and treat it."
Meanwhile, mechanical engineers can help design heating, cooling and ventilation systems that are compliant with LEED and other green building standards. To secure green jobs in engineering, LEED certification is always helpful, Radzinski says.
In addition, some schools, such as Villanova University, and Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., offer graduate certificates in sustainable engineering to those with engineering degrees.
Wind Power Salesperson
With the IRS providing tax credits for up to 30% of the cost of renewable energy systems such as wind turbines, it's no surprise that many people are finding green jobs in selling them.
Loree Long, co-owner of wind-turbine sales company Win-Gen Power in Weatherford, Texas, says she and husband Ted sell an average of one system per month, mostly to customers who are interested in environmental issues and fiscal responsibility, Long says.
"Most people want to go green. But if you are going green and saving money at the same time, it's a really good incentive," Long says.
The Longs launched their business by contacting Southwest Windpower, a wind turbine manufacturer in Flagstaff, Ariz., and attending the company's dealer training seminar. After installing a turbine on their own property to ensure it was a quality product, they began selling in Dallas-Fort Worth, Long says.
Long says that entrepreneurs who are interested in becoming wind-power salespeople should find a wind system that they like and contact the manufacturer about becoming a seller. Much of the business is about increasing awareness of wind turbines.
These workers retrofit homes with new windows, insulation and other products to increase their energy efficiency. As much as $5 billion has been earmarked for residential weatherization projects in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, says Fred Humphreys, president of the Home Builders Institute, the workforce development arm of the National Association of Home Builders. However, the lack of skilled technicians to carry out the weatherization is lacking, making it a potentially lucrative field.
"That's why training is so important," Humphreys says. "There are not enough qualified contractors to do those jobs."