Friday, September 6, 2013

Green Job Series: Careers in Green Construction [Second Installment]

This installment of The Daily Leap's green job series describes some of the most common green design jobs with a focus on commercial and office sites.

Design Occupations

Designers of green buildings work together to make their projects as environmentally friendly as possible. These workers are required to evaluate both standard construction issues, such as the number of load-bearing columns required in a structure, and new ones, such as a building's orientation to the sun.

To make buildings that appeal to the masses, designers have to strike the correct balance between being attractive and being environmentally friendly.

Job Duties

The work of architects is critical to determining how green a building is. For example, architects designing a green building might devise ways to maximize the building's energy efficiency. To accomplish this, they might apply daylighting principles and design a building with large banks of windows that face the sun. Or because buildings consume significantly more energy as they grow in size, the architects might design a building with little extra space.

The knowledge of civil engineers possess allows them to be involved in just about every part of green building design. They might work on issues as diverse as erosion control and traffic flow patterns. By adopting green practices in every piece of a building, civil engineers can ensure that the final product is environmentally friendly.

Electrical engineers frequently design the lighting systems of buildings. The importance of energy efficiency in green buildings places a premium on well-trained electrical engineers. For example, electrical engineers might work closely with architects to plan areas of a building where daylighting is the primary source of light. They may use sensors that automatically trigger traditional lighting only when the daylight is insufficient, thereby helping to reduce energy usage.

Landscape architects who work on green building sites apply their expertise to plan attractive scenery while also conserving water. To do this, they practice xeriscaping, or using local plants that require less water. Landscape architects working on green buildings also might plan drainage channels to diffuse rainwater throughout planting beds.

When designing green buildings, mechanical engineers are consulted on any proposed equipment. Mechanical engineers specializing in air-conditioning systems, for example, would be able to provide valuable input on the strengths and weaknesses of different setups. They also might install systems to record and measure energy savings.

Urban planners specializing in green development work with local authorities to develop zoning areas in which new buildings are required to meet standards of environmental efficiency. They also help guide infrastructure additions, such as new roads, to benefit the maximum number of people possible. When determining the ideal location for a green building, urban planners work closely with the rest of the building design staff.

Some planners might help make decisions about protecting ecologically sensitive regions. They are involved in environmental issues, including pollution control, wetland preservation, forest conservation, and the location of new landfills.

Education and Training

Architects, engineers, and urban planners who work in green building design usually have at least a bachelor's degree in a relevant discipline. However, many jobs require more education, such as a master's degree or professional degree, and many architects, engineers, and urban planners who work in green construction have the LEED Accredited Professional (AP) credential.

Architects need to complete the requirements for either a bachelor of architecture—frequently a 5-year program—or master of architecture degree. A master's degree in architecture usually takes 2 or 3 years and requires the previous completion of a bachelor's degree (bachelor of arts or bachelor of science). Licensure is a requirement for all architects working in the United States. Becoming licensed usually requires earning a professional degree from an accredited school, completing a 3-year internship, and passing a national exam.

Engineers typically are licensed and are expected to complete continuing education to keep current with rapidly changing technology. Most companies prefer to hire engineers with 3–5 years of experience in their respective fields and who have knowledge of commonly used building techniques. Entry-level engineers may be hired as interns or junior team members and work under the close supervision of more senior engineers. As they gain experience and knowledge, they are assigned more difficult tasks and given greater independence.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not currently have wage data specific to the green construction industry. However, BLS does have wage data for the nonresidential building construction industry group, which includes construction of commercial and office buildings. The table shows BLS data for design occupations in this industry group for May 2010. The wages shown are median annual wages for the United States as a whole; wages vary by employer and location.

Occupation Median annual wage
Architects, except landscape and naval $77,210
Civil engineers $76,120
Electrical engineers $84,350
Landscape architects $62,090
Mechanical engineers $80,400
Urban and regional planners $63,040

For more detailed information on design occupations in the green construction industry, follow the Occupational Outlook Handbook link.

Next week's green construction industry series installment: Specialty Trade Occupations.

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