Will there be a lot of jobs in greentech in the future? Yes. Just look at the bronze plaques at the golf course or at the library.
If you live in the U.S., there's a good chance that a very large portion of your public works -the parks, the government buildings, some high schools, the swimming pools, the public art works and plazas that people actually like-bear plaques commemorating that the structures were built by the WPA, the CCC or some other new deal agency.
And, even if you can't stand Franklin Roosevelt, you have to admit he did a pretty good job. I don't think I've ever met anyone who doesn't like New Deal Futurism.
We're about to go through the same process again. The country is teetering on financial disaster, many people are unemployed, and a new president has said he will spend heavily on public works (see Greentech Predictions for 2009).
So where are the jobs? Well, my top 10 fields are:
1. Construction: Forget trying to encourage your kids to go to medical school. They will only graduate to complain about having to squeeze in two colonoscopies at lunchtime to make ends meet. The big money in the next decade will be in construction. More than 34 companies have applied to build 24 gigawatts worth of solar thermal plants in California alone, and that doesn't even count photovoltaic systems. Desalination plants are on the books in San Diego, Australia and the Mediterranean (see Can Greentech Make Housing Cheaper and New $100M Green Building Fund Launches).
There is going to be a building boom that will rival the New Deal, the armament process in World War II, the interstate highway system of the 1950s, and the explosion of universities and suburbs in the ‘70s. My favorite green company these days is probably Webcor, the contracting giant.
Take it from me. Get your kids a hardhat and teach them to spell "change order," "cost overrun," and "rush premium" at a young age.
2. Sustainability Officer: Right now, most sustainability officers are there accidentally. He or she organized a recycling drive once, got tagged as a lefty and was appointed by default. But it will become a more regular title in companies. And it's a good job. Basically, it involves sitting at a desk and listening to representatives from biofuel, solar, wind, HVAC and virtualization companies grovel for your business. "Your air side economizers displease me," you will announce. It will be the equivalent of being an IT manager in the ‘80s with a key difference: You won't get fired over sudden, catastrophic network crashes.
3. Biologist: Back in the 1999 and 2000, futurists such as Jim Clark and Steve Jurvetson talked about how synthetic biology and genetics would influence the development of industrial products. Audience members would nod their heads but mostly just faked actually understanding what was going on. Now we know. Genomatica, which started in pharma, has bred microorganisms to produce industrial chemicals while Marrone Organic Innovations uses microbes as pesticides. Microbes are also moving into semiconductor manufacturing through companies like Cambrios. Microbes are essentially little chemical factories that run on sunlight and garbage instead of fossil fuels. They work in fetid conditions and at the end of the day you can split them open and sell their entrails for cash. Try to do that with your new hire from Penn State (see Amyris: We're Better Than Biodiesel, Ethanol or Gas).
4. Chemist: Serious Materials, the green drywall guys, substitute chemical catalysts for heat in their manufacturing. Green cement maker Calera and Cal-Star Cement do something similar. Skyonic uses chemistry to sequester carbon dioxide. In the 1980s and ‘90s, students flocked to electrical engineering and computer science because computer companies offered the best financial rewards. In the future the hot engineering departments will be chemical and mechanical.
5. Land Use Planner: Otherwise known as a CCA Weenie. But let's be serious. To cut down on transportation, more people will have to live in dense urban environments, and that will take planning. A city shaped only by the forces of the market and individual freedom looks like New Delhi. ("Who says I can't put a slaughterhouse here? What happened to property rights, dammit!") A city that agrees to live under the regulatory thumb of planners and committees looks like Tokyo. Downside: A career in planning means spending time in lots of meetings.
6. Garbage Consultant: Recycling, biomass and trash will be sources of: 1.) energy; 2.) raw materials; 3.) precious metals; and 4.) materials for household furnishings in the future. Just look at the TV market. In 2008 and 2009, John Shegerian, CEO of Electronic Recyclers (ER), one of the largest e-waste recyclers in the U.S., told me a while back. The glass in an old tube TV consists of about 22 percent lead.
Even without the digital TV mandate (which kicks in on February 17, 2009), the e-recycling business is booming. Roughly 65 million pounds of e-waste was recycled in 2005 in California alone after the state passed a recycling law and the figure shot up to 120 million pounds in 2006. More than 200 million pounds was hashed in 2007. Cue up the "Sanford and Son" theme.
7. Interior Designer/Building Operations Manager: LEED-certified buildings and homes sell and rent for more than their non-LEED counterparts. AMD's uber-LEED Lone Star campus has become a selling point for recruiting. Building to LEED-certified standards can also be cheap: It only adds around 2 percent to the total costs, according to, among others, Paul Holland at Foundation Capital. (Remember that stat -- it comes in handy.)
The trick is navigating the design issues to get LEED points without blowing the budget. Hence, your job will be to determine whether counters of ground up paper pulp or recycled bottle glass make the most sense.
8. Interface Designer: Software, meet the rest of the house. Tendril, Greenbox and several other startups stand to make big bucks selling easy-to-use software for thermostats and the other currently "dumb" devices in your home. Cars will get an interface workover too. Ford retained Ideo to redesign its dashboard on its hybrids to increase fuel economy. Nissan has the eco-pedal, a gas pedal that vibrates when excess acceleration begins to erode gas mileage.
9. Foot Massager: Another Tokyo thing. In the next few decades, more people will have to move to cities. Cities are naturally stressful and green, open spaces get minimized. Plus, if global warming persists, you really won't want to hang out in the sweltering outdoors: It'll be too easy to catch malaria. Thus, people will find ways to relax indoors. Expect a boom in spas, odd interior exercise spaces and the like. Flat-screen TV inside a sauna? Perfectly normal in 10 years. It sounds like something out of "Soylent Green," but once you got past all of the unwashed masses outside of Charlton Heston's apartment, the future looked sort of cool.
10. Food Scientist: Judging by the newspapers, there are two types of eaters in America: The obese and those poisoned by e coli. The whole food chain will get reworked in the next 20 years (see Killing to Be Green). Food will get made more locally and expect to eat a lot more algae supplements. (Hey, it's Soylent Green again.) The real upside to this one is that you will be popular. I don't think I've been to a party in the last five years where people didn't discuss the latest snack food from Trader Joe's.