Green skills needed for mainstream economy

Designing, protecting and restoring ecosystems rich in biodiversity requires a wide range of skills now in high demand

The World Economic Forum has stated that 50 per cent of the global economy is under threat from biodiversity loss and 85 per cent of the world’s largest companies have a significant dependency on nature.

Biodiversity-adjusted sovereign risk ratings show that degradation of fisheries, timber and pollinators has the potential to downgrade national risk ratings, substantially increasing the risk of government borrowing and leaving high-risk countries at risk of sovereign debt default. These pronouncements from economic “heavyweights” and affecting all sectors of the economy should bring urgency to the mainstreaming of biodiversity into business, making “green jobs” part of the regular economy.

Businesses are working to reduce nature-related risks throughout their supply chain. This is good news for nature, if it is done well. Regulation around environmental social and governance criteria is tightening to prevent “greenwashing”, where companies do not actually live up to the environmentally friendly image they have cultivated. The European Union taxonomy regulation, which lists environmentally sustainable activities, establishes six environmental objectives including the protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems. One of the key limitations for mainstreaming biodiversity into business practice is the lack of trained people to take up jobs in the green economy.

A key new sector is the use of nature as infrastructure or nature-based solutions, where existing or restored ecosystems are used, designed or augmented to provide benefits such as protection from extreme weather, water filtration, flood control and pest control. The World Economic Forum estimates that the business opportunity created by using nature as infrastructure could total $160 billion and create four million jobs by 2030.


Specialists such as ecologists, environmental engineers and landscape designers are required to design and test nature-based solutions but an understanding of nature-related issues also needs to be mainstreamed throughout the economy into the planning system, “grey” engineering solutions, government regulation and agriculture.

With almost full employment in Ireland companies here are faced with skills shortages across a range of different areas, including green skills. There are a range of solutions including training more graduates in courses such as zoology, botany, environmental science, ecology, biodiversity and conservation and combinations of traditional disciplines such as environmental science and engineering or statistics and sustainability. There are also opportunities for lifelong learning and upskilling within existing jobs through on-the-job training and continuing professional development and reskilling. Skillnet Ireland has a climate ready programme to prepare businesses for climate change impacts.

The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management has developed a “green jobs for nature” website with details of a range of different career options such as in advising, conservation, data and mapping, ecology, environmental education, media and communications, policy development, project management and research. The renewable energy sector on land and in the sea needs knowledgeable ecologists and biodiversity specialists to help design minimal-impact wind and solar farms to ensure our renewable energy is truly “green”.

Younger workers are particularly concerned with environmental, social and governance commitments of the companies they work for; a report from KPMG earlier this year showing that a third of 18-24 year old UK workers have turned down job offers from companies which do not align with their values. Therefore the move towards nature positivity in business is not just good for the planet, it also helps ensure sustainability of the business model itself by reducing external risk factors and maintaining a skilled and motivated workforce.

Biodiversity is a complex concept ranging from genetic diversity to species diversity to the diversity of functions within an ecosystem. Designing, protecting and restoring ecosystems rich in biodiversity requires a wide range of skills, some of which were previously considered overspecialised but which are now in high demand. The ability to recognise habitats, plants and animals, understand their functions and what contributions they make to people are critical to how global economies will function and how we will live and work over the coming decades.

Yvonne Buckley is an ecologist at the Irish Research Council and laureate and professor of zoology at Trinity College Dublin