Employment in environmental protection breaks the 2-million mark

Declines in key Energiewende sectors

worker with tools and crash helmetClick to enlarge
Environmental protection employs nearly 2 million
Source: industrieblick / Fotolia.com

Some 2.2 million people were employed in the environmental protection sector in Germany in 2012, say updated figures from the German Environment Agency (UBA), which is an increase of 245,000 jobs (12.5%) compared to 2010. Great increases in employment have notably occurred in the services sector associated with environmental protection. Rising exports of environmental goods also resulted in higher rates of employment. Other sectors, however –photovoltaics and energy upgrades for buildings – are experiencing a job decline. UBA President Maria Krautzberger said: “The numbers point out the significance of environmental protection for the German market. The Energiewende sectors require a rapid expansion of grids to avoid negative effects on employment in the renewable energy sector.”

One in every 20 workers in Germany is employed in the service of environmental protection: either immediately by executing tasks to protect the environment, or indirectly through jobs which are in upstream production sectors. The majority of jobs are in environmental services, with employment at nearly 1.4 million, which was about 63 per cent of total recorded employment in the environmental sector in 2012. These services include energy and facilities management, organic farming, water pollution control and waste disposal. In addition, there is employment through environmental protection agencies, merchants of organically grown products or environmental education staff.

Although the latest data on total employment in the environment sector is from 2012 due to a lack of more updated information, there are estimates for the renewable energy sector up to 2014. Those figures point to a notable decline in the solar energy sector and photovoltaics in particular, which must be considered against the background of the boom in photovoltaics in 2009-2012 which exceeded all expansion margins. The rise in employment in the wind energy industry partly offset this decline so that overall employment concurrent with the development and use of renewable energy has decreased. Despite the decline, the roughly 350,000 people employed in the renewable energy sector in 2014 are still twice as many as ten years prior to that.

There has also been a decline in the energy upgrading of buildings. It is a trend which could be reversed if the Federal Government were to pursue in earnest its objective to double the annual rate of energy upgrades in buildings, from its current level of less than one per cent to two per cent of the building stock.

On an international level, Germany has been a frontrunner on the market for environmental goods, a market which shows dynamic growth. Exports of these goods already provided jobs for 97,000 people in 2012, which is 19,000 more than two years earlier. If the jobs in exports of installations and components needed for the use of renewable energy are included, the figure for exports of environmental protection goods in 2012 totals 191,000. "Global demand for environmental technology is on the rise, and Germany is well positioned on those markets. However, we can only maintain that lead if we take the lead in environmental protection and promote innovation in the environmental sector", said Ms Krautzberger.

A number of sectors, for example ecotourism, the environmentally minded insurance industry and product-integrated environmental protection, have still not or only inadequately been taken into account due to lacking data. The estimated figure of 2.2 million employees for 2012 is therefore assumed to be the floor.

The report on the employment effects of environmental protection was authored by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) for the Federal Environment Ministry and the German Environment Agency. A summary of results is available in a background paper.

Further information

Established methods for estimation

The empirical process of estimating employment in environmental protection has a long tradition in Germany. The first studies on the subject were carried out in the 1970s. Since 2002 the German Environment Agency has commissioned an estimation of (gross) employment in environmental protection once every two years according to a standardised method. The employment effects of environmental protection go beyond the production of wind turbines, catalytic converters or recycling plants and cannot be distinguished with statistical precision. Goods, building and services in environmental protection are produced in many traditional industries, which include: steel, mechanical engineering, car manufacturing, electronics, and construction. Many companies today are also taking environmental aspects into consideration in systems planning and product development. Environmental protection is becoming more and more an integral part of operations. Therefore, while it is important in many companies and factories, it is not always easy to quantify.

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