“Green Jobs” and “Climate Careers”: What’s in a Name?

Are We Talking About the Same Thing?

When I started Ecotopian Careers I perhaps naively hooked on to the term “green jobs” to describe the types of job searches I hoped to empower. As my discussions with jobseekers and businesses began to gather momentum, it became clear to me that not everyone was talking about the same thing. For example, a green job could just as easily mean working on renewable energy infrastructure as being a conservationist.

Certainly, there are various oft-cited definitions of green jobs such as the International Labour Organization: “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.” But typically, people bring their own understanding to the term, often overlaid with their domain expertise that may have its own preferences of nomenclature such as “sustainability jobs” or “environmental careers.”

The Rise of Climate Careers

In the past couple of years the term “climate careers” has gained increasing currency. My sense is that people are generally happy to use the terms “green jobs” and “climate careers” interchangeably. But when you start digging a little deeper, climate careers seems to mostly be understood in the context of climate tech, rather than having the same breadth of interpretation as green jobs.

We can tighten the focus further. Even the word “climate” has a different field of meaning depending on which circle you’re moving in. For example, I have one community in mind where the term “climate” implies words such as “tech,” “carbon,” “data,” and the like. Whereas in another community I have in mind the term “climate” implies words such as “nature,” “ecology,” and “emotions.” Both communities are correct in their interpretation, yet different; and ultimately both communities are somewhat blinkered to the greater whole.

A Difference in Class

One difference between green jobs and climate careers that appears to be emerging (consciously or unconsciously) is that of class. My feeling is that green jobs are starting to be perceived as blue (now green) collar jobs, where workers typically wear hard hats and hi-vis vests; whereas climate careers are perceived as white collar or “professional.” When I make this observation to people in the general world of green jobs, they typically respond with a look that suggests they have just realized something significant that they had vaguely felt but which was lacking form.

Now, I would argue that this distinction is problematic. People on lower incomes are already hit with a double-whammy: they enjoy fewer benefits of national wealth, and they are hit hardest by climate change. As we transition to a green economy, there will be a once-in-a-century opportunity to redress some of these socio-economic inequalities. However, if we consciously or unconsciously replicate class distinctions, that opportunity will be lost.

If You Confuse, You Lose

Confusing nomenclature is usually bad news for effective communication. Those of us who are already turned on to climate should keep in mind that what makes sense to us may not make sense to others.

Climate communicator David Fenton notes that even the term “climate change” does not work particularly well in this regard. Fenton suggests using the term “pollution” as it is commonly understood: “We have put a pollution blanket around the earth, which traps heat, melting Arctic ice, raising sea levels, flooding homes, and making storms, wildfires and droughts stronger.” Fenton argues that, “The frame of ‘pollution’ results in people saying ‘that isn’t good.’ The frame of ‘climate change’ often signals conflict, controversy and confusion.”

In the context of “green jobs” and “climate careers” (and “sustainability jobs” and “environmental careers”), I would argue that even if you set aside the above-mentioned problem of class distinction, “green jobs” is more easily understood by most people and is therefore the better term to use.

In my mind, in an overall typology, “green jobs” is also the most appropriate top-level term, and all the other terms function as sub-types. Of course, you are free to disagree, but if you do it would be prudent to at least acknowledge there is a good chance that other people are using such terms differently to you, and that it is very easy to talk at cross-purposes.

In the meantime, I’ll keep also referring to climate careers, for the sake of SEO 😉

Subscribe to our newsletter and receive the free eBook: 10 Steps to Switching to a Green Job in Mid-Career