Charlotte Ashley-Roberts gives some tips on getting into green careers

Q: I am looking for a new job but I want to work in an industry that is growing. I have already been made redundant and I really don’t want to go through it again. Can you give me some ideas?

A: I get asked this question a lot, especially by people who are going through redundancy, or who have experienced it in the past. It can be very traumatic and nobody wants to go through it. Unfortunately, it can and does happen, and no sector is ‘safe’. However, there are certainly sectors which are growing (although this may not always mean lots of jobs). 

As society’s demand for energy and products increases, there is a growing need to minimise the impact of these demands by reducing materials, water and energy consumption, decarbonising processes and minimising or eliminating environmental pollution. These are all areas where chemists can help. While there were some funding cuts to the green sector in 2011, it did result in some innovative approaches to environmental issues. 

For example, a report commissioned by Renewable UK in 2013 found that the UK green energy sector employs 18,645 people directly in wind, wave and tidal energy with another 16,000 being employed indirectly, totalling over 34,500. And remember that green careers are not restricted to renewable energy – it also covers organic farming, biofuels, climate or conservation to name but a few.

Finding information on green careers can be tricky; there is not a huge amount of information available, particularly if you are in the UK. However, there are still ways to find out more. 

The Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence, based at the University of York, is a great place to start. As well as postgraduate courses, it facilitates a number of networking events and provides sector news that you can use to build your knowledge. 

Once you have defined the area you are most interested in, you may want to choose a green career route that complements and uses the skills you already have. If you are looking for something that is less technical, maybe in marketing or a management role, you may be able to use your current skills but in a ‘green’ company. If you want to have a technical role, perhaps in carbon management for example, you may need to do some retraining.

The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) has created a skills map to help you assess your skills and discover where there might be gaps. This is a useful tool, whether you’re investigating your options in the sector, or you’re already established. You do need to become a member of the IEMA to access the full map, however. 

When you are looking for jobs in these areas, a good starting point is targeting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as these represent the majority of companies in the sector. You might also consider those geographic areas where green energy jobs are in higher demand, such as Scotland and south west England. 

You should read the green press, such as Environmentalist Magazine and relevant sections of the national press, such as the environmental section of The Guardian. This will help you find employers in, and information about, the green sector as well as raising your awareness of the sector, helping you to demonstrate your interest when it comes to interviewing for a role. The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Green Chemistry journal could also be helpful. 

I would encourage you, as always, to volunteer in an area which interests you, for example environment, conservation, research or something similar. Not only will it look good on your CV, but it will also help develop your knowledge and networks. 

You can also build your network by attending RSC events on environmental topics through interest groups, divisions, conferences and lectures, as well as through social media sites such as LinkedIn. 

If you have more advice you’d like to share about this month’s question – or have your own career conundrum for Charlotte – please write to