Green roles are diverse and across all sectors in property
The average green collar salary is above $100,000
Sustainability is entering the supply chain in Australia with strong community engagement
There is a lack of strong candidates for green jobs in Australia
Organisations are offering sustainability training to staff
When the property industry first started hiring people to help it become greener, the range of jobs defined as ‘green collar’ was extremely broad. So broad, that it became clear almost every aspect of the property sector’s business needed someone to scrutinise it through a green filter to look for opportunities to improve.
Smart young professionals sought ‘green’ tasks to add to their CVs to show their community responsibility. But the green collar sector was in its infancy. If it fired their enthusiasm, options for building a green career path were both limited and hard to find. Now, it seems some paths are opening up, but while they pay more in property than in other industries, there are still very few openings at the top of the earnings ladder for green professionals.
Turning Green’s 2011 Sustainability Roles and Salary survey found the range of green property roles still so widespread and diverse that it had to limit its respondents to members of appropriate organisations, including the Green Building Council, the Environmental Jobs Network and the Australian Green Infrastructure Council. Turning Green also found sustainability and environment-focused roles in all industry sectors, with most jobs in consulting professional services, next in environmental services, then engineering services.
The average annual green collar salary was $106,456.26. Property and real estate beat other industry sectors with a $144,405.61 average. The lowest salary was $78,310 in the not-for-profit sector, which incidentally reported the highest job satisfaction rate, beating professional consulting and education by just one percentage point. The lowest satisfaction levels were reported for property and real estate, and construction.
The length of time working in green collar roles determines salary level according to the respondents. Those with more than 10 years of experience command salaries more than double those with two or less.
“Shall I remind you that it isn’t easy being green, because you are battling uphill against the market forces,” says management and human resources consultant, Rita Avdiev of The Avdiev Group. Career paths in major corporates are limited, but you can go further in a consultancy, providing it’s a large, multi-disciplinary one.
Mandatory disclosure is now in force and Avdiev says a few corporates are hiring professionals to handle the reporting.
Some who already have sustainability divisions have expanded in anticipation of the extra work. But while the need for green specialists is slowly being recognised and met, existing roles are rapidly being tweaked to include a green component in their job descriptions. “All property roles now have an ESD component,” says Avdiev.
If you are ambitious, she says, “at some stage you have to get out of green and step into the real world”. She adds that even though a sustainability role will become more important with time, “it will not be as important as being the rainmaker in an organisation in a role that produces income”.
And though green collar income is greater in property than in other industries, it doesn’t compare with the earnings of our top job holders. “Green jobs don’t pay terribly well. It depends on the level, but they are in line with consulting organisations. There’s a ceiling on the income. The green path is always seen as a support role.”
Commentators say the new green jobs will be in building performance and will stay that way for some time. Robin Mellon, executive director – advocacy and international at the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA), says it is no longer just about how we design or build premises, it is “also about how we run them, how we buy and sell them, how we occupy them”.
Colonial First State Global Asset Management has recently completed a relatively small project in Adelaide. “All they did was put in stairwell motion detectors so that the lights didn’t have to be on the entire time,” says Mellon. The cost was around $22,000 and the payback period 3.24 years. He says today’s valuable green skills involve recognising opportunities, including the smaller ones such as this.
He says mandatory disclosure requirements will tighten and “we’re going to start to see this for things like water. We have a close working relationship with the FMA (Facility Management Association) and they are very conscious of the fact that facilities managers are being asked to be across a whole lot of new technologies. They are upskilling their members.”
Mellon suggests considering indoor environment quality. A whole industry, he says, is growing around measuring pollutants and specifying appropriately green materials.
On July 1, 2012, a $1 billion Federal program, Tax Breaks for Green Buildings, starts. It will involve job opportunities in administration, making applications, finding funding, and making the business case for green initiatives.
Another potentially big career area is life cycle analysis and materials. Mellon says the carbon price will encourage businesses to compare different materials, furniture and building types to make the most cost-efficient choices.
Many jobs are about staying abreast of these developments and updating your green education regularly has become part of many property jobs, says Mellon. “There’s a lot more education needed across the board.”
Who is doing this well?
“There are certainly individual organisations like Stockland identifying opportunities,” says Mellon. “Westfield is targeting inefficiencies and remedying them, as well as using the skills in their new projects. Investa looks across its whole portfolio and identifies areas in which it has to focus.”
Ben Cartland, national sustainability consultant, Judd Farris Recruitment, says the market is moving fast. “For a lot of organisations within Australia, their property portfolio is their largest environmental and sustainability risk, and that is driving recruitment at the moment.”
The banks in Australia are showing the way, he says. “They are very, very strong in terms of their property portfolio management and the way in which it is linked to their sustainability program.” Their diverse teams are now looking at the longer-term risk. BHP Billiton, he says, is also on board. “Their sustainability team is very commercial.”
Sustainability is entering the supply chain in Australia. Cartland believes this will encourage suppliers to recruit and build expertise to stay competitive. Many property firms in Australia have really strong community engagement teams, he says.
They will build similar teams for energy efficiency.
And we are now seeing examples of where it can head. Marks & Spencer in Europe attributes a percentage of its profitability to its sustainability performance. And local companies will be able to do likewise. “What has held it up so far has been a case of ‘why should we’? I foresee that there will be large-scale recruitment in the sector.
“At present there is a lack of strong candidates in the market in Australia,” he says. Europe reached a demand-driven tipping point and the tight talent pool drove prices up, which attracted other professionals to switch careers. “In Europe, sustainability is now a significant part of the business’ core function, and increasing its role.” The signs are there, he says, of Australia moving towards that tipping point and when it does happen, the green specialist role may disappear, being subsumed into other jobs.
Learning the skills
A web search will yield plenty of degree and diploma courses available on sustainable development. There are post-graduate courses and sustainability streams in several disciplines. Courses are available in most states and regions and some institutions offer online courses.
It seems such courses are becoming a basic job requirement. Turning Green’s inaugural report on sustainable salaries and roles found 35 percent of respondents are expecting a serious green-skills shortage. The survey noted that an objective of the Council of Australian Governments Green Skills Agreement was to develop national standards in skills for sustainability.
This, despite its finding that respondents were highly qualified – 90 percent at tertiary level or above, and over 50 percent with related qualifications in climate change, environment or sustainability. Just 18 percent had bachelor degrees, and the rest had masters or higher. But employers still found the degree alone wasn’t enough and salaries reflect years of experience rather than formal education.
It’s arguable that post-graduate qualifications are just the start of the green collar worker’s formal education. The market isn’t exactly bristling with jobs for new graduates, according to Rita Avdiev. She notes that organisations are sending existing staff to sustainability training, pointing out that every property industry association offers seminars, conferences and forums. She expects green property training businesses to emerge into the market soon.
The GBCA has a priority to embed green skills “across all industry training at all job levels”. The situation is currently patchy, says Robin Mellon. “Go to UNSW and do an interior architecture course, sustainability is still an elective. The University of Tasmania has sustainability as a part of every module in its interior architecture course.” And while there is plenty of training on how to green a building, he says there is very little on how to use it well. Go into a green career and you will continually have to upskill just to keep up, he adds. He envisages online training modules, broken down into smaller and smaller training packages so a green collar worker will be able to fill specific skills gaps.
Ben Cartland points out that the preference in Europe has been to move existing staff into sustainable jobs, providing training as necessary. “There are plenty of internships available with the consultancies,” he says. “And you can do industrial placements as part of your course too.”