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The Best Places for Green Jobs

As the effects from climate change become more and more apparent, many Americans are wondering what they can do. For some that means recycling more or using less water. For others, it might mean attaching a solar panel to their homes, making their homes more affordable and helping the environment. Yet, another group takes it to the next level. They dedicate their professional lives to protecting the environment.

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In order to find the best places for green jobs, we looked at data on seven metrics. Specifically, we looked at the total number green jobs, the average salary for a worker in a green job, the ratio of the average salary of someone in the green industry to the overall average salary, the unemployment rate, housing costs and housing costs as a percent of green workers’ incomes. For more on where we got our data and how we put it together, see the data and methodology.

Key Findings

  • Plenty of green – Working green jobs typically pays well. Our analysis focused on occupations in the green economy sector which protect the environment and these jobs tended to require a lot of education. Across our top 11, the average worker in the green economy sector gets paid around 57% more than the average worker.
  • Texas does well – Texas has four different metro areas in our top 11. In general, Texas offers relatively affordable housing mixed with high incomes.

Best Places for Green Jobs

1. Dallas-Plano-Irving, Texas

This metro area, according to the data, is the best one for green jobs. The average green sector employee earns over $83,000. That is over 60% more than the average worker in the area. Combine that with the low unemployment rate of 3.8% and you have a great area for working in the green industry.

2. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colorado

The Denver area is known as a nature lover’s paradise, so it is no surprise to see that this area also offers plenty of opportunities to protect that environment. Just over 2.2% of all jobs here fall under the environmental protection category, the eighth-most in our study.

The average worker in one of those green jobs also earns over $83,500 per year. If you do move to this metro area, you shouldn’t be looking for a job for too long. Our data shows that the unemployment rate is only 3.1%.

3. Newark, New Jersey-Pennsylvania

Around 2.28% of all workers in the Newark metro area work in the green economy, according to BLS data. On average those workers are well compensated for their work. The average worker in green jobs around the Newark area earns over $90,000. For both of those metrics Newark ranks in the top 10.

One concern may be the unemployment rate which is on the high side. Our data shows that Newark has an unemployment rate of 4.8%.

4. Oakland-Hayward-Berkeley, California

The eastern portion of the Bay Area takes fourth. If you did want to move to Oakland-Hayward-Berkeley and work on protecting the environment, you would likely get paid well. The average green worker here earns just shy of $95,000 per year.

However given the Bay Area’s cost of living and California’s high tax rates, that income is needed. The median home around this metro area costs over $1,400 per month, which equals roughly 18.2% of the average green worker’s income. For both of those metrics, Oakland ranks below average.

5. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas

Houston is known as being an energy hub, especially for oil. So this metro area ranking fifth may surprise some people. However, the green industry is pretty big around Houston, too. For example, there are about 1,250 environmental science and protection technicians in this metro area, one of the highest numbers in the study. Overall about 2.23% of workers here work in the green economy.

One big plus of living and working in this metro area is the relatively affordable homes. Our data shows that the average home costs about $956 per month.

6. Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas

Another Texas metro takes sixth. In general working in the green industry tends to pay well here. People working green jobs around Fort Worth-Arlington earn just shy of $80,000 per year, on average. The average green worker earns 70% more than the area’s average income.

7. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia pays its green workers quite a bit. The average green worker here earns $84,000 on average. That is 1.58 times as much as the citywide average.

Another plus to working around Philly is its relatively affordable housing. Buying a home should not have any green workers declaring bankruptcy. We estimate that the average green worker would only need to spend 13% of their income to cover the monthly cost of the average home.

8. San Antonio-New Braunfels, Texas

Our fourth and final Texas city takes eighth. Working in the green industry in San Antonio-New Braunfels will leave you feeling rich, although you won’t be as wealthy as green workers in other cities. We estimate that the average green worker around San Antonio earns around $73,000 per year.

That is a relatively low figure when compared to green workers in other parts of the country, but compared to other San Antonio employees it’s quite a bit. We estimate that the average San Antonian working a green job earns 62% more than the area’s average income.

9. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida

Florida is one of the state’s most vulnerable to any rise in sea level change so it is good to see a Florida metro area crack this top 11. In ninth is Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida. Around 1.88% of workers here work in the green industry as classified by the O*NET database of occupational information.

The average green worker around Tampa earns $75,000, which is 65% more than the area’s average salary. For that metric, this metro area ranked third. Plus with Florida’s low income tax, $75,000 goes further here than it does in many other parts of the country.

10. (tie) San Francisco-Redwood City- South San Francisco, California

Another Bay Area metro area comes in tied for 10th. Almost 2.4% of all workers here work in the environmental protection sector, the fifth-highest percentage in the country. In particular climate change analyst is a relatively popular profession in this metro area. BLS data shows there are about 1,200 of them in the San Francisco area.

San Francisco is also famous for its high salaries and high costs of living. This study is no different. San Francisco has the highest average salary for green workers ($100,716) and the second-highest median housing cost ($1,840).

10. (tie) Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nevada

Las Vegas takes the final spot in this top 11, coming in tied with San Francisco. Over 2.1% of workers here are employed in green jobs, which is a top 15 rate.

What makes working a green occupation in Las Vegas so great is the pay. We estimate that a worker in a green occupation earns about 77% more than the average worker. For that metric Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise scores first.

Best Places for Green Jobs

Data and Methodology

In order to find the best places for green jobs, we looked at data for the 50 largest metro areas in the U.S. Specifically we looked at data for the following six factors:

  • Percent of workers in green jobs. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for 2016. Data on green industry occupations comes from the O*NET database of occupational information. We specifically looked at data for occupations which are involved in protecting the environment.
  • Average earnings for workers in green jobs. Earnings data comes from the BLS and is from 2016. Occupation classification data comes from O*NET a database of occupation information. We selected occupations which O*NET considered being part of protecting the environment within the green economy sector.
  • Ratio of average green worker’s earnings to average worker’s earnings. This is how much the average worker in a green occupation makes compared to the area’s average income. Data comes from the BLS.
  • Unemployment rate. Data comes from the BLS and is from 2016.
  • Median housing cost. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 1-Year 2015 American Community Survey and is for the biggest city in each metro area.
  • Median housing cost as a percent of green workers’ earnings. Housing cost data comes from the Census Bureau’s 1-Year American Community Survey and earnings data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We ranked each metro area in each metric. Then we found each metro’s average ranking across the metrics. We gave all metrics a full weighting except median housing cost and housing cost as a percent of income for green workers, which received a half weight. We then used this average ranking to create our final score. The city with the best average ranking received a 100, the city with the worst average ranking received a 0.

Tips for Being More Environmentally Conscious

Even if you do not work in a green job there are still ways to be environmentally conscious. Here are some money-saving tips for leading a greener life.

One of the biggest ways to save while helping the environment is to use a bicycle as your primary mode of transportation. You won’t have to pay for gas or auto insurance, plus you’ll stay in shape. In areas with extreme weather, however, biking can be difficult. In that case public transportation is your next best bet.

There are other small things you can do, as well, that don’t require changing your whole life. By turning off lights when you are not in the room or unplugging your appliances when you are not using them, you can save a little extra on electricity while helping the environment. Another tip is to set your thermostat to a slightly colder temperature in winter when you are out of the house or sleeping. The U.S. department of Energy says that turning your thermostat down 15 degrees at night can cut your energy bill down by 10%.

With that extra cash you can contribute more to your 401(k) and get a head start on saving for retirement or simply put it in your high-yield saving account as an emergency fund.

Questions about our study? Contact us at press@smartasset.com.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/wattanachon

Derek Miller, CEPF® Derek Miller is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh where he studied economics. He is passionate about using data to help people make better financial decisions. Derek is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® (CEPF®) and a member of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. He is a data journalist whose expertise is in finding the stories within the numbers. Derek's writing has been featured on Yahoo, AOL, and Huffington Post. He believes the biggest financial mistake people make is waiting too late to save for retirement and missing out on the wonders of compounding interest. Derek lives in Brooklyn.
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