The Future Is Green and Growing Fast
Demand for sustainable solutions at global scale is an enormous entrepreneurial opportunity.
Even as President Donald Trump repeals environmental “job-killing” regulations and promises to double down on fossil fuels, jobs in sustainability-related fields rank near the top of the list for fastest-growing professions in the United States. Solar and wind-industry jobs are growing at a rate of about 20 percent per year -- 12 times faster than the general economy.
Solar power currently employs more than twice as many people as the coal industry, and entry-level jobs pay a much higher wage than average. There's a solid argument that coal workers could be retained to work in solar jobs. Given aging coal plants and the long, steady decline of the industry, putting coal miners to work in less-hazardous jobs seems both practical and appealing.
Entrepreneurs can find huge opportunities in the rapidly-changing energy industry. In an interview with Business Insider, EDF Climate Corps program director Liz Delaney dropped a juicy tidbit of information about the nature of green energy jobs: Of the 2.2 million Americans who work in energy efficiency jobs, 70 percent are employed by companies with 10 or fewer employees.
Many big businesses might be ignoring green energy because it will lead to lower oil profits in the long run. Still, with rising awareness, falling prices and more interest, it's a great time to get into the industry -- or invent the next thing destined to take the industry by storm.
Recycling is ripe for disruption.
Clean energy isn't the only sector in rapid expansion. While the U.S. is recycling or composting less than 35 percent of its solid waste, other countries are using new technologies. In Sweden, 99 percent of household waste is recycled or incinerated to make energy used to heat homes, and even the ashes are mined for reusable metals. Known as The Swedish Recycling Revolution, the initiative has been so successful that the country has run out of trash for its recycling plants and has started importing it from other countries.
The plastic-recycling industry is expected to top $56 billion by 2024. With all the consumer plastics used by Americans, you'd think the U.S. would have the biggest piece of the pie. In reality, China claims greater than a 50 percent market share.
Plastics are a big issue but not the only one. Small companies are springing up every day to collect and repurpose electronics, metals, junk cars and more. In every stage of the process -- from collection to producing recycled goods -- recycling is an industry sector full of problems that need innovative new solutions.
The organic-market trend continues to rise.
Farm-to-table is sweeping the nation. Fueled by social media, consumer pushback against big Agro is so pervasive, even Wal-Mart has organic and local-sourced food sections.
It doesn't take a lot of land to grow organic produce. Success stories based on small-acreage farms are becoming increasingly common, and urban agriculture shows no signs of slowing down. Even apartment dwellers with limited space can grow a money crop with a rooftop, balcony or spare room and grow lights.
It's easy to get started. Research which trendy foods are popular in your area and reasonably easy to grow. A very small investment puts you in business. Successful crops that do well in tiny areas include lemongrass, mushrooms, herbs, microgreens and heirloom tomatoes. Before you start delivering your homegrown goodies, though, be sure to check state, local and federal laws.
As challenges stemming from our growing population and changing climate become more serious, progress falls to entrepreneurs with the drive and imagination to advance the industry. World-changing innovation often starts with one person and a really big idea. Can you change the world?
Sherry Gray is a freelance content writer from Key West, Fla., currently suffering the suburbs of Orlando. She's a science geek, a social media junkie and an unapologetic fan of all things bacon.