Photograph by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel, National Geographic
A chef picks "farm fresh" produce from an unusual source—a rooftop apple orchard planted among the high-rises of downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. The Fairmont Waterfront hotel project showcases two large sectors of the growing green-jobs movement: food production and green building.
Green roof gardens can deliver locally sourced foods that help protect the environment by minimizing the use of pesticides, fossil fuels, and other resources to grow and transport food to market from larger commercial farms. Green roofs can also improve the urban environment by insulating buildings against energy loss, managing storm water, improving air quality, and providing places of recreation.
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Water Quality Technicians
Photograph by Gerd Ludwig, National Geographic
Seeking creative solutions to a water quality control problem, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began pouring some three million polyethylene balls into the Ivanhoe Reservoir in the summer of 2008.
The reservoir water had concentrations of naturally occurring bromide and bacteria-killing chlorine additives, and when that combination is exposed to UV rays bromate is produced—an unwanted carcinogen in 58 million gallons (220 million liters) of water used by some 600,000 Angelenos.
Engineers flooded the surface with the same type of balls that airports use to keep birds from flocking to wetlands beside runways, where they create a hazard to aviation. This solution isn't typical, because open-air reservoirs containing chlorine are increasingly rare. But water quality problems abound and their control is an increasingly important green job around the world.
Clean Car Engineers
Photograph by Joe McNally, National Geographic
Engineers work on an electric car prototype in a California factory. Manufacturing accounts for the bulk of U.S. green jobs—more than 462,000 of the nation's 3.1 million total according to the U.S Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report.
Transportation is another key green jobs category as a retooling auto industry is asked to remake the nation's fleet with vehicles that consume less fossil fuel and produce less pollution.
Transportation currently burns about two-thirds of America's oil and produces about one-third of its greenhouse gas emissions. Electric cars, like this one, are an exciting alternative but can only be as green as the ultimate source of their power. The renewable-energy sector is working to replace dirty fuels like coal with cleaner alternatives such as wind and solar.
Photograph by Anna Clopet, Corbis
These bales of compacted paper will soon be recycled at a plant in Bordeaux, France.
The United States recycles more paper than all other materials combined—excluding steel. In 2011 two-thirds of all the paper consumed in the U.S. was recovered, rather than dumped into landfills, according to the American Forest & Paper Association. And more than one-third of the raw material used at U.S. paper mills is recovered paper, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
This process creates green jobs—and makes a big impact on the environment. EPA statistics show that recycling a single ton of paper saves enough energy to power an American home for half a year, saves 7,000 gallons (26,500 liters) of water, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by a metric ton of carbon equivalent.
Photograph by David Doubilet, National Geographic
A diver measures ocean water acidity on the Great Barrier Reef, off Australia's One Tree Island, to help chart the evidence of Earth's changing climate and observe its impact on ecosystems.
As the world's nations try to move towards sustainable lifestyles and greener economies, it's essential that trained professionals monitor and analyze our impacts on the world around us and the natural resources on which we all ultimately depend for both wealth and health.
Photograph by Johan Ordonez, AFP/Getty Images
Adam Howland of Long Way Home uses green building techniques to help residents of Guatemala's San Juan Comalapa municipality. Long Way Home is helping to construct a school from ecologically friendly materials, such as earth, and discarded refuse, such as tires and plastic bottles.
The result is a safe, sturdy building and a new value for rubbish that is otherwise chucked into rivers or burned for lack of better disposal methods. The self-sustaining school will also green the environment for years to come by educating the area's youth about sustainable lifestyles and training them for work in the green economy.
Solar Cell Technicians
Photograph by Peter Ginter, Science Faction/Corbis
An engineer tests solar cells in a Spanish laboratory, wearing protective clothing and eyewear that testifies to the power that can be harvested from the sun's rays.
According to the European Commission, production of solar cells and photovoltaic systems has doubled every two years during the past decade, though costs must continue to decrease, and efficiency increase, before PV can become a primary electric supply source.
Led by Germany, which has some 40,000 solar workers, Europe produces about 30 percent of the world's photovoltaic power. Japan and the United States are the other major users, though off-the-grid applications are surging in the developing world, where they provide crucial power to those in poor and rural locations.
Green Design Professionals
Photograph from Proehl Studios, Corbis
The Living Roof does a lot more than keep the rain out of the California Academy of Sciences building. It's home to 1.7 million plants, each one of nine native species, from poppies to strawberries, specially suited to thrive in the unique climate of Golden Gate Park.
The 19,000-square-foot (1,765-square-meter) roof even boasts seven hillocks to mimic San Francisco's topography and skylights that open and close throughout the day to illuminate the building within.
The roof doesn't trap heat like a traditional asphalt application, so the building's interior averages some 10°F (5.6°C) cooler than it would be under a standard roof. That means big energy savings. Green design professionals from architects and landscapers to urban planners are part of a growing effort to green the spaces where we live and work.
Wave Energy Producers
Photograph by Ashley Cooper, Corbis
The ocean is awash in perpetual motion, and devices like this Pelamis P2 wave energy generator can capture it to produce power. In November 2011, this 590-foot-long (180-meter-long), 1,300-ton rig on Hoy, in Scotland's Orkney Islands, became the first commercial-scale marine device to produce grid energy from offshore. It's 750-kilowatt rating generates enough power per year to meet the average electric needs of 500 homes.
The P2 is composed of five tube sections linked by joints that flex in two directions. Waves bend the partially submerged tubes at these joints, which house hydraulic cylinders to resist the motion and pump fluid into pressurized accumulators to generate electricity, which is then sent ashore using an undersea cable.
Though the potential of wave power is enormous, the industry is small today. Supporters hope that projects like this one portend future growth in the renewable energy sector.
Wind Energy Workers
Photograph by Timothy Fadek, Corbis
A worker is dwarfed by an assemblage of wind turbine blades, warehoused and ready for shipment from the Siemens facility in Aalborg, Denmark. Proponents of wind power believe that the industry can become a giant part of global electricity production—perhaps producing as much as one-third of the world's total by 2050—and replace fossil-fuel industry jobs with greener equivalents.
U.S. Energy Information Administration stats for 2010 show that wind power has grown dramatically in recent years, from 28 to 60 percent annually, and now accounts for 2.3 percent of the nation's total electric power generation. The European Wind Energy Association reports that 6.3 percent of the EU's electricity was generated by wind in 2011.
Photograph by Rick DíElia, Corbis
Like a seedling promising future growth, a downtown Phoenix biofuel project produces sunflowers to test renewable energy technologies on a two-acre vacant lot.
The Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation and Phoenix Union Bioscience High School tackled the project with financial funding from Intel, enabling the high school to produce biodiesel from locally sourced sunflower oil.
The Energy Independence and Security Act (2007) mandates that renewable fuel must increase from 9 billion gallons (34 billion liters) of U.S. motor fuel in 2008 to 36 billion gallons (136 billion liters) by 2022. The policy makes rapid growth in biofuel jobs quite likely, including the construction and operation of ethanol and other biofuel plants, production of feedstock, and creation of delivery infrastructure.
Photograph by Paul O'Driscoll, Bloomberg/Getty Images
National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series.
Growing Green Jobs Blog
Rio+20 kicked off a bold UN program for sustainable development.
Recycling used electronics into useful parts diverts toxic waste.