Allen & York Ltd

How the recession is affecting environmental careers


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“This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet. Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands.” President Barrack Obama spoke with concern about the future of our planet calling for immediate action to be taken to secure a sustainable future for the next generation. This article identifies the impact the global recession is having on the environmental industry and how environmental professionals may help to bring us out of the current economic downturn.

The recession has been called the ‘downside of gloablisation’ as the crisis began in the United States, the most powerful nation in the world; a knock-on effect was seen in all the major economies. The collapse of global giants such as Lehman Brothers, Wachovia, Washington Mutual and other household names has seen the US unemployment figure rise to above 7%, with over 10 million Americans out of work.

Despite the obvious effect on many individuals one of the most unpredictable effects will be that of job losses across the globe. The US saw 524,000 job cuts in December 2008 alone. Across the UK we have also seen substantial job cuts and many environmental initiatives and developments ‘put on hold’ or abandoned. January saw Boris Johnson, Mayor of London of the Greater London Authority (GLA), cancelled the Green Homes Service, a scheme committed to insulation and renewable energy (such as wind power), in homes. This would have created many green roles in and around the London area. The GLA also announced a further £10 million project cut to the London Cycle Network Plus, which looked to improving the safety of cyclists and encouraging cycling in an effort to reduce carbon emissions.

The ‘restructuring’ City Hall project was put on hold with no less than 50 jobs being lost in the cost minimization process. Protests over potential redundancies have come from the Green Party, however these cuts look imminent and it is not only the GLA who are tightening their purse strings and consequentially trimming back their environmental spend.

WRAP – Waste Resources Action Programme – is a government advisory body that provides resource efficiency advice for businesses and general households and is now to become the only body to deliver Government funded recycling and waste programmes. Businesses will feel an impact from this change as 30% of their funding is being cut from £59m to £43.2m alongside 31 redundancies made this year already and with the expansion, supposedly making it easier for businesses and individuals to access green advice and support, there may be additional job cuts, less services provided and a fall in the overall budget for WRAP.

The construction industry has been hit hard as the housing market has plummeted with 50,000 job losses in 2008 and more expected in 2009. A total of between 7.5% and 8% of the total workforce in the UK have lost their jobs in this market including a high number or environmental monitors, construction waste managers and land condition experts. The unseen effect here was that of the knock-on effect to the lower margin consultancies who support the various developments but for whom the previous abundance of work has dried up.

So how can we be positive about the environmental sector given all this gloom and doom?

In the current crisis it is hard to stay optimistic with only 21% of CEO’s confident their business will grow. The decrease in confidence has changed attitudes to do with the environment, now less than 1 in 10 CEO’s worry about diminishing natural resources and fail to put the issue high on the agenda. Sir Stuart Rose, M&S executive chairman, however insists that green remains high on the agenda. His Plan A is award winning and there is evidence showing that CSR is on an upturn as many more firms instigate their push towards the environment and energy improvements; RBS, Tarmac, Co-Op and Samsung are just some of the large corporates that see the crisis as an opportunity to focus on CSR and grow their business, establishing new positions in their markets above their competitors.

Allen & York Business Manager Joe Heppenstall said, “It is no longer the altruists that are telling people about their ‘Sustainable Strategy’ its becoming more and more common place in the boardroom. By no means is everything looking gloomy!”

Remaining optimistic is difficult but there is evidence that careers in the environmental sector are showing some elasticity and could drive new economic growth. Careers including ecologists, hydrologists, environmental chemists are expected to grow 25% over the next decade - basically jobs that are required and continue in demand when there is no extra discretionary money to spend.

Construction roles may have been reduced but this reduction is being counteracted by huge demand for climate change and carbon-reduction services as the Government introduces its’ low-carbon strategy to create a new green economy to pull us out of the recession and work towards a sustainable future.

Plans have been announced by the Mayor of London that 15,000 jobs could be created in an effort to cut energy and tackle climate change. Targets have been set in place of reducing London’s carbon emissions by 60%, contributing £600m to London’s economy by 2025 and being established as a low carbon hub. Green collar jobs would play an important role therefore employing green professionals would gain a company the best long-term value out of their investment.

The NHS announced a major campaign to reduce their carbon footprint, currently employing one and a half million people, in-house and contracted environmental professionals will lead the campaign. With low carbon targets to achieve and campaigns in place, the new global low carbon economy is worth £3 trillion employing 880,000 people in the UK.

The latter comes under the term the ‘green new deal’ which means spending money to stimulate the use of ‘green technology’ such as renewable energy and public transport to create jobs, environmental preservation and economic upturn.

The UN have been in talks proposing ‘a global green new deal’ to be presented at the G20 where economic stimuli of all countries are expected to devote billions of public spending to green projects. The US economic stimulus has amounted to more than $2,800 bn with around $430 bn (15%) going to be spent on green measures. The UK is only allocating £535 million (7%) of their economic stimulus which is said to be too small with MP’s suggesting the Treasury should spend £11 bn on green stimulus measures as this would lead to net job creation, cut emissions and improve energy security.

Greenpeace suggested that if £5 bn was invested in energy efficiency measures, 55,000 jobs could be created. Green job creation would range from the science behind clean energy systems to their physical installation including every function in between.

EU diplomats have viewed the election of President Barack Obama as the most positive change in the US as Obama commits the US to cut emissions 16% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Obama also plans to spend billions of dollars on renewable energy. The Government in the UK has proposed for the creation of the Office for Renewable Energy Deployment to deliver targets of sourcing 15% of the UK’s energy by 2020. Governments are committing to energy efficiency projects as they are labour intensive creating construction sector jobs, which have been worst hit, energy sector jobs, reducing energy use, producing cost savings, a sustainable future and most importantly it is the best route to economic recovery.

Joe Heppenstall summed up the situation saying, “Lets face it, the US needs a boost and if building a better, bigger environmental industry is what Obama brings then good for them. In terms of the UK we have a great industry and for us it’s about how we adapt to these times in both the Public and Private Sector and what we can do to change in the face of the market conditions.” He went on to say that “The consultants in the UK are some of the best in the world and have a habit of being able to switch strategy to meet demand through retraining, recruiting new skills and refocus on sectors that are very much alive. Similarly the blue chip organizations are recognizing that the green agenda will no away.”

The financial crisis has had large implications on the environment industry but at the same time created huge economic, social and environmental benefits likely to arise from combating climate change and pollution, generating many varied opportunities.

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