Green Jobs in New York City

NYCETC offers this resource to help our community understand the emerging opportunities in this area.

As our City prepares to observe the 54th Earth Day this coming Saturday, April 22, we have some real victories to celebrate: at every level of government, laws are now in place that should drive real progress toward decarbonization. These measures will help render our communities more comfortable, more resilient, and more sustainable.

Of particular interest to the workforce development field, these efforts also hold potential to create tens of thousands of #QualityJobs. The NYC Employment and Training Coalition offers the FAQ that follows as a resource to help our community understand the emerging opportunities in this area.

What is a green job?

In their January 2023 report, NYC’s Unsettled COVID-19 Era Labor Market, authors James Parrott and L.K. Moe adapted federal Bureau of Labor Studies language to define green jobs as “those that produce goods or services or that change production processes or business practices that benefit the environment or conserve resources.” Parrott and Moe noted that most green jobs are concentrated within industries and occupations that relate to generation of renewable energy (e.g. solar, offshore wind), improving energy efficiency (e.g. battery storage), or addressing systematic aspects of climate change (e.g. reducing carbon emissions).

Are all green jobs new jobs?

No. A February 2022 report from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli analyzing potential employment impacts of the state’s 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) found that about 84 percent of green jobs as of 2019 were either “increased demand,” meaning that activities related to the green economy would require more workers, or “enhanced skills,” meaning that workers in current jobs would require additional education, training, and skills to carry out green economy roles. The remaining 16 percent of green jobs can be classified as “new and emerging occupations.”

Table 1: Categories of Green Employment shows "new and emerging occupations" like recycling and reclamation workers make up 16% of green jobs; while "Increased Demand" roles like construction workers make up 37%; and the largest portion is "Enhanced Skills" roles like general and operations manager that make up 47%.

Of note, in this same breakdown in 2015, only 9.7 percent of green jobs were “new and emerging.” Even so, the emerging need for retraining and skills upgrading, including credential attainment, should be part of workforce providers’ planning as they consider opportunities related to green jobs.

What are the major laws and policies shaping the green jobs landscape?

The CLCPA, the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and Inflation Reduction Act passed in the last Congress, and New York City’s Local Law 97, combine to help set the policy parameters for green economy activity and employment. Each explicitly or implicitly commits its respective level of government to achieving certain sustainability targets. While none of these legislative acts are explicitly workforce-related, all have implications for employment, and the two federal measures make available funds that state and local areas can seek to utilize for workforce purposes. Table 2 below gives a high-level overview of these new laws.

To reduce building emissions requires new systems for heating, ventilation and air conditioning, such as installation of solar panels. Converting automotive fleets of cars, buses, and trucks from fossil fuels to electricity means retraining or newly hiring automotive mechanics and installing electric vehicle (EV) chargers, among other new or enhanced skills. Additionally, beyond the direct technical jobs, the shift toward a green economy will create or enhance job opportunities related to inspection and regulation, financing, sales, and more.

How many green jobs is NYC projected to gain?

A 2021 study from New York State’s Just Transition Working Group (JTWG) projects New York City to add roughly 45,000 green jobs by 2030. The same report suggests that the bulk of these jobs, approximately 30,000, will come in the Buildings subsector. The Electricity subsector will account for the next-largest number of jobs, at slightly over 13,000. In both subsectors, the bulk of jobs are projected to be middle ($28-$37 per hour) or high-wage (over $37 per hour).

The JTWG based its projections on two “scenarios” of transitioning away from fossil fuels. Other policy choices could have substantial implications for employment. For instance, a May 2022 report from the Cornell ILR School suggests a number of dramatic steps that city government could take to fight the effects of climate change:

To be clear, the current challenging budget environment likely puts investments at this scale out of reach. But initiatives such as those suggested by Cornell ILR can inform advocacy and define common ground for environmental activists and workforce strategists.

Going Green Going Forward…

While the policies already enacted should spur growth in green jobs, more remains to be done. Historically, the same communities that have suffered the most from environmental inequities are underrepresented in the occupations most directly involved in combatting climate change. The City can and should do more to eliminate these disparities over time – seeking alignment downstate – and upstate – to ensure ambitious and sustainable investments in New York State’s Green Economy, developing an inclusive “green careers” pipeline through the career-connected learning programs in K-12 education and higher ed, and using the policy tools at hand such as Mayor Adams’s commitment to supporting 30,000 apprenticeships citywide by 2030 to put the green jobs at the center of our City’s 21st century workforce development system. 

Key Resources:  

— The Green Economy Network (GEN) for New York City is a multi-stakeholder approach to building an inclusive green economy and advancing access to economic opportunity. JobsFirstNYC, with co-founding agencies Green City Force, The HOPE Program, and Nontraditional Employment for Women, launched development of the GEN late 2020. The Network is led by an active strategy committee and three working groups with ~40 organizations meeting their mission to establish effective practices and align current systems to create green jobs and career paths with priority on access and sustainability.

— The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) promotes energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources. These efforts are key to developing a less polluting and more reliable and affordable energy system for all New Yorkers. Collectively, NYSERDA’s efforts aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, accelerate economic growth, and reduce customer energy bills.  Click here for links to NYSERDA’s Workforce Development and Training Opportunities.

— The Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice (MOCEJ) leads the City’s strategy to confront the climate crisis. The City’s work to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and adapt to climate impacts will generate economic activity, opening up opportunities in the green economy as we transform our energy system, retrofit our buildings, innovate green forms of production, and protect residents from environmental hazards. Click here for information on NYC’s efforts to embrace Green Jobs. 

— The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) is focused on safeguarding NYC’s future. The City’s clean air, waterways, energy grid, and telecommunication and transportation networks are key elements in powering the city’s economic growth—but they must now adapt to meet the challenges posed by a rising population, new infrastructure demands, and climate change.  Click here for information on NYCEDC’s efforts to our environmental challenges.