The green economy needs you

By 2035, there may be an additional 95,000 green jobs in Denmark. If you’ve got a handle on admin, know your way around finance and are good with people, one of those jobs could be yours

By Sven Johannesen

Climate issues are looming ever larger for global decision makers, and the growing importance of sustainability and circular economy are likely to lead to growth for these types firms and the creation of new green jobs in Denmark.

Djøf members will be well-suited to take a lot of these jobs, in part because they will require people who can help create a society that doesn’t contribute to global warming or create waste anywhere near the extent we do today. 

“Of course, a lot of green jobs are going to require technically oriented people, like architects and engineers. But we’re also going to need loads of generalists who can think across silos, who can draw on a broad range of skills and who can understand and explain complicated issues,” says Poul Erik Lauridsen. 

Lauridsen is the director of Gate 21, a network of local councils, firms and research institutes that are working to push the world in a greener direction. We can avoid the threats from a changing climate and the natural disasters that it gives rise to, but time is running out and the changes our society needs to make are enormous. From the optimist’s point of view, this opens up a huge opportunity for growth and the creation of jobs. 

According to the most recent Nordic Future of Work report, published in November by the Nordic Council, climate change is one of four “megatrends” that will change the region’s labour market. It predicts that this will mean more green-energy jobs and an increase in the volume of emission-free transport. In addition, environmentally friendly sales and service, low-emission manufacturing and other green jobs concerned with preventing or reversing environmental degradation can be expected to keep up with changing consumer demands.

Green job growth

In 2018, the government’s circular-economy strategy concluded that, in addition to economic benefits, efforts to minimise waste and maximise resources could also improve the competitiveness of Danish firms. 

Likewise, Concito, a think-tank concerning itself with environmental issues, uses economic growth as one of its arguments when it calls on businesses and lawmakers to take a greener line. Doing so, according to Gate 21, could result in the creation of 95,000 sustainability jobs by 2035, positions related to wind power, energy efficiency, bioenergy and biofuels, water and district heating and the like.

With these new green careers involving so many different fields, making the most of their efforts will take co-ordination of the sort that Djøf members specialise in, according to Lauridsen. 

“We’re going to need people who can make sure that all parts of an operation are working together: administration, finance, customer service. It’s not really that important if you don’t understand how a heat pump runs,” Lauridsen, who studied anthropology, says. 

Not just jobs for technicians

NCC, the largest construction firm in the Nordic region, began to concern itself with sustainability in the wake of the Great Recession when it foresaw that it was to be one of the most important themes of the coming years. 

For those looking to make a dent in waste production and energy use, the construction industry is a good place to start. Construction is responsible for 30% of Denmark’s waste, much of which can be recycled and reused, and much can be done to make existing buildings more energy-efficient. 

Today, sustainability has migrated from the margins of NCC’s corporate thinking to the top of its agenda, and the company considers it to be something that can give it a competitive edge. 

“I’m convinced sustainability is here to stay, and that it is something firms are going to need to deliver on,” says Martin Manthorpe, head of strategy, business development and public affairs for NCC.  

With firms like NCC paying more attention to sustainability, Manthorpe expects there will be a need for employees with the skill sets Djøf members typically possess. 

“Right now, the market is still trying to sort out where these types of employees fit in the value structure,” he says. “They are highly capable, but we still need to learn where in the organisation they can make the biggest contribution.” 

Manthorpe also points to the way firms collaborate, both internally as well as with the public sector, as key to the success of much of the focus on sustainability. Being able to work with local authorities is particularly important, he reckons.

“The local level is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to sustainability, and Denmark has effective local administration. Some local councils are highly responsive to citizen initiatives and are good at setting green initiatives in motion. That gives them a lot of weight when it comes to purchasing, which means they are the ones that set the pace.”

Many sustainability initiatives are public-private partnerships, and that, according to Lauridsen, creates a need for solicitors who can define the relationship. He brings up the example of a local authority that wants to work with a firm on measures to mitigate the effects of climate change. 

“You’re going to need solicitors to set up the consortium,” he says. “If we are going to adapt, we need to rethink all aspects of public purchasing and administration. We’re going to need to work out how to integrate the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals into our local development strategies. If we are going to live up to the political goals we’re going to need to rethink everything: strategy, tendering, recycling.”

Success, he believes, will be more than just a matter of technical expertise.

“Whether it’s the national, local or regional level you are talking about, you are going to need employees with a generalist skill set that allows them to collaborate with various stakeholders. The goal is improved cost-efficiency, and that takes an in-depth understanding of both the private and the public sectors and how the two work together. This is an area where Djøf members will play an important role.”

Falling behind

Whether you call them sustainability jobs, environmental jobs, renewable-energy jobs or something entirely different, the question, of course, is whether any of them will actually be created. Climate change and sustainability have taken up a lot of space in the media in the past few years, but unless the climate talk turns into climate action few, if any, jobs will materialise.

Denmark has a reputation for being out in front on sustainability issues. While that may be justified, there are also signs that it is resting on its laurels. The Nordic Council finds that all of its member states have made significant progress towards implementing sustainable initiatives, but whether that will continue depends to a large degree on the actions of today’s lawmakers. Gate 21’s predicted 95,000 jobs are contingent on Denmark maintaining its share of the market in certain industries. That isn’t going to happen if lawmakers stand idly by; not only are other countries not standing still on sustainability issues, Denmark is in danger of slowing down, according to Klimarådet, the government’s own panel of independent climate-policy advisors. 

Adding to the concern about whether Denmark has the political will to stay at the sustainability forefront: Klimarådet saw its chair dismissed shortly after it issued its criticism of the government’s climate initiatives.

Industry figures suggest that the criticism is well-placed. Using figures from the DI (the country’s largest business lobby) and Concito found that Danish exports of renewable-energy technologies fell 8.4% between 2016 and 2017. 

Concito’s conclusion: “In recent years, Denmark’s climate policies have been amongst the most ambitious of any country, but the evidence is clear that going forward neither Denmark’s goals nor its ambitions are enough to keep us in the upper echelon. More likely is that we will fall to the middle of the pack of comparable countries.”

The view from NCC, according to Manthorpe, is that the critics are right; Denmark is falling behind.

“But there is huge potential if we can regain the ground we’ve lost,” he says. “That’s not something that’s going to happen without a fight though. Other cities and other countries have overtaken us in some areas. EVs, for example, and sustainability standards for building materials.”

Will Djøf’s members find themselves working in green careers? That depends to a large extent on consumers and businesses, and not least on whether decision makers start trying to fight climate change with something other than hot air.

(This article is published by Djøfbladet. It originally appeared in Danish online at djoefbladet.dk

Sustainability is profitable, but not guaranteed

Today, Danish businesses earn DKK 190 billion on products and services related to climate and sustainability. By 2035, that could increase to DKK 460 billion, bringing with it 95,000 new jobs. 

The forecast assumes that global investments in these areas continue apace and that Danish businesses retain their market share. 

Source: Gate 21