Public Participation in Developing a Common Framework for the Assessment and Management of Sustainable Innovation

Green Jobs - Women last?

Green Jobs - Women last?
29.03.2016 | Maria Schwarz-Woelzl

The environmental regulatory framework at the European level has significant impact on employment and the labour market and there are high expectations regarding the job growth through the greening economy. Today more than 20 million jobs in the European Union can be considered as ‘green’ (European Parliament), which represents some 5% of the total working population (GHK Study 2012). For the U.S., the Brookings Institution, reported that green jobs in the ‘energy sector grew at twice the rate of jobs in the general economy during the peak of the recession from 2008–2010.’

Most of the projected green employment gains are expected to come from activities involved in transitioning to a low-carbon economy, developing renewable energy resources, producing more fuel-efficient vehicles, constructing and retrofitting buildings, transport & infrastructure, and waste management & recycling. The implementation of clean processing technologies and controlling pollution are further areas of potential employment growth.

Apart from job growth, the greening of the economy has the potential to increase wages, to foster upward mobility, and to provide availability for diverse communities with varying levels of skills and education; it offers medium- to long-term career building and training opportunities.

‘A Woman’s Guide to a Sustainable Career’ (U.S. Department of Labor) discusses seven reasons why green jobs are attractive (to women). These are:

  1. A green job can provide the chance to earn more.

Many of the jobs that are considered green are jobs that women haven’t traditionally held. As a result, women miss out on earning good wages and benefits. For instance, green jobs in environmental engineering pay a median wage of $37.04 an hour or $77,040 a year. The position of environmental engineer was projected to be among the fastest-growing occupations from 2008 to 2018, with an expected 31 percent job growth rate.

  1. You can start with any skill level and move along a career path.

Green jobs provide opportunities to advance from low-skill, entry-level positions to high-skill, higher-paying jobs. This path is an opportunity for women who have not attended college. Not every job will put you on a career path, but each job you have can be used as a stepping stone to improve your skills and move you toward your ultimate career goal. The skills you acquire in an entry-level job can advance your career. You will acquire stackable credentials and portable skills.

  1. Green jobs appeal to workers with diverse skills and interests.

No matter what your interests are, there is probably a green job out there for you. A green job can mean working as a training and development specialist, urban planner, green business owner, agricultural technician, or landscape architect.

  1. Green jobs can give you greater satisfaction.

When you take a green job, you become part of an important effort to protect and restore our environment. Whether you help reduce energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, or water consumption; conserve natural resources; or minimize waste and pollution, you can take pride in knowing that your work is contributing to the health and sustainability of life on our planet.

  1. Green job opportunities are available for workers of any age.

Green jobs are for those just starting out and those in need of or want a career change.

  1. Green employers are looking to hire.

When selecting a career, it is important to look for opportunities in fields where employers are currently seeking — or will be seeking — new employees. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to track down national and local information about where job growth is occurring.

  1. There are multiple ways to get started in a green job.

There are a variety of ways to gain the initial skills you need to be part of the green economy. You don’t have to go to college to get a green job, but a college degree can increase your job opportunities and earning potential, and is necessary for some green jobs.

Though the goals of greening jobs are laudable, benefits for women may not be automatic and the potential impacts on women’s employment remain unclear. According to Smith (2011) and Sustainlabour (2009), most of the green jobs available require employees from fields that are male-dominated, from agriculture and forestry to electrical engineers and metal workers. In all these potential green sectors men make up an overwhelming part of the workforce. Although systematic research on the female share in the green labour market doesn’t exist, some evidence in specific sectors is available and points to female underrepresentation:

  • A study for Portugal revealed that more men than women held green jobs, with many of the women involved in vocational training and research.
  • Specifically, in the energy sector, only between 12% and 20% of jobs are held by women.
  • In his report to the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, Gustafsson (2012) refers to the fact that ‘female workers are strongly under-represented in the renewables sector and especially in science and technology-intensive jobs’.
  • The same applies to green jobs with higher wages, like in engineering, financial and business services, where women are significantly underrepresented. “What we’re seeing now is result of historic labor segmentation where women are underrepresented in fields considered green—bioengineering, construction et cetera—for a long time,” said C. Nicole Mason, Executive Director of the Women of Color Policy Network.
  • Also in international and EU wide programmes, the role of women in the green and sustainable economy is often underestimated or ignored completely ‘, as criticized by the European Green party.

From the above we can conclude that there is potential positive impact for women with respect to green jobs. More investigation and discussion is however necessary: How can gender equality become an integral part of green economy strategies? How could an equal access for women and men to green jobs with decent wages be enhanced? In other words, a discussion of the strategies and approaches for developing a fully gender-mainstreamed green economy is urgently needed. That the European Parliament already calls on the EU and its Member States to give higher priority to green jobs for women gives hope for more gender equity in the future.

Relevant themes: Sustainable innovation
Relevant tags: Green jobs, gender equality


  • Maria Schwarz-Woelzl - Zentrum fuer Soziale Innovation, (Centre for Social Innovation), (ZSI)

    Maria Schwarz-Woelzl

    M.A. in Sociology, studied at the University of Vienna. Since 1997 she is working for ZSI and conducted around 45 national or EU-projects by now. Her focus is on ageing society issues (such as ageing workforce, ambient assistant living, lifelong learning and care systems) as well as on energy /sustainability.