5. Environment and Green Jobs

Sustainable Development

Decent work

Economy Social Environment Employment Protection Rights Dialogue
Relevant SDG Targets
8.4, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15
Relevant Policy Outcomes
4, 10

On this page: DWA-SDG Relationship | Cross-cutting policy drivers | Partnerships | ILO Capacity | Resources

Climate change is perhaps the greatest threat to sustainable development of the 21st century, and the global concern about this phenomenon paved the way for the adoption of the Paris Agreement by the COP 21 in December 2015. The changing climate itself; the adaptation to these changes by the people, countries and economic sectors most affected; and the mitigation measures required to reduce, if not arrest global warming and to move towards low-carbon economies have far-reaching implications for economic and social development, for production and consumption patterns and, naturally, for employment, productivity and incomes. The effects of climate change will alter the structure of employment; new jobs and new job families will emerge, others will disappear or become unsustainable, and enterprises must find ways to organize work and production differently. Moreover, the impacts of climate change, and mitigation or adaptation measures that exclude women in decision-making and overall ignore their specific needs, can compound the challenges of achieving gender equality in the world of work. At least half of the global workforce – the equivalent of 1.5 billion people – will be affected by the transition to a greener economy (25). It is against this backdrop that ILO has included a “Green Initiative” into the suite of seven Centenary Initiatives launched by the Director-General in 2012. The Green Initiative aims to scale up the ILO’s office-wide knowledge, policy advice and tools for managing a just transition to a low-carbon, sustainable future.

The objective of the Green Initiative is to equip the actors of the world of work with the understanding of the challenges and opportunities of the coming transition, and to help them take up the active role they must play in managing this change. It will further build the case that decent work approaches and social dialogue are indispensable for truly transformative change.

To that end, the ILO will continue to strengthen its role as a unique policy reference on the connections between climate change, low-carbon and resource efficient strategies, on the one hand, and employment, social protection, rights, equality and social dialogue on the other. Building on the existing Green Jobs Programme (see below), and integrating with ILO country programmes and strategic outcomes, the Green Initiative catalyses the ILO’s work in four broad areas:
  • Global level: to boost the ILO’s standing as the global centre of excellence on current and future implications for the world of work, climate change and the transition to a greener economy.
  • National level: to enable countries to adopt and implement employment and social policies in support of national commitments on climate change, using the Just Transition policy framework and the related ILO guidance.
  • Sectors and enterprises: to incorporate ILO core values and practical approaches in global, regional, sectoral and industry policy frameworks for environmental sustainability.
  • ILO policies and practices: to increase the understanding and use by member states, social partners, relevant UN agencies and international development partners of the importance of employment, social protection and equality in the transition to a greener economy (26).
The ILO Green Jobs programme promotes the “greening” of enterprises, workplace practices and the labour market as a whole. These efforts create decent employment opportunities, enhance resource efficiency and build low-carbon sustainable societies. Green jobs are defined as “decent jobs that contribute to preserve or restore the environment”, be they in traditional sectors such as manufacturing and construction, or in new, emerging green sectors such as renewable energy and energy efficiency. Such jobs help to:
  • improve energy and raw materials efficiency;
  • limit greenhouse gas emissions;
  • minimize waste and pollution;
  • protect and restore ecosystems; and
  • support adaptation to the effects of climate change.
ILO’s work on Green Jobs is guided by the Conclusions concerning achieving decent work, green jobs and sustainable development adopted by the 102nd ILC in 2013 (27), further concretized through the “Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all”, adopted in November 2015 by the 325th session of the ILO Governing Body.

ILO’s Green Jobs Programme
  • provides evidence based policy advice to assess the impact of economic and environmental policies on employment and social outcomes for the formulation and implementation of effective national or sectoral policies that create green jobs, foster social inclusion and improve sustainability;
  • builds capacity by providing stakeholders with opportunities to learn about key green jobs concepts, approaches, tools and best practices;
  • focuses on enterprise and skills development for technical skills, environmental sector employment, green business start-ups, greening enterprises and sectoral interventions in construction, waste, energy, tourism, forestry and agriculture, among others;
  • works towards building a broader knowledge base by participating in global policy research and knowledge networks; and
  • advocates for the integration of decent work into climate agendas by engaging in dialogues and key negotiation processes (28). 
The centrality of environmental sustainability for ILO’s work is further underlined by the fact that the topic has been proposed as one of the Office’s cross-cutting policy drivers for the 2018-19 Programme and Budget.

DWA-SDG Relationship

Sustainable development is only possible with the active engagement of the world of work. The actors in the world of work – governments, workers and employers – can be agents of change, able to develop new ways of working that safeguard the environment for present and future generations, eradicate poverty and promote social justice by fostering sustainable enterprises and creating decent work for all.

Environmental sustainability constitutes one of the three dimensions of sustainable development, and several SDGs are considered primarily “environmental”: SDG 11 (human settlements), SDG 12 (sustainable production and consumption), SDG 13 (climate change), SDG 14 (oceans) and SDG 15 (ecosystems). The ILO can contribute in one way or another to the achievement of all those goals, as explained in a recent brochure (29). For the purpose of this publication, however, SDG target 8.4 (“improve global resource efficiency in consumption and production, and decouple economic growth from environmental degradation…”) appears the most relevant.

Environmental sustainability is a precondition for sustainable development and decent jobs. Progress towards the "SDGs for decent work for all" objective will require societies to move towards sustainable consumption and production patterns that safeguard the natural environment. This explains why environmental sustainability has been proposed as a cross-cutting policy driver; in addition, policy outcomes 4 (Enterprises) and 10 (workers and employers) have explicitly prioritized SDG target 8.4 within their implementation strategies.

Cross-cutting policy drivers

In addition to serving as a cross-cutting policy driver, social dialogue, with the engagement of workers’ and employers' organizations at all levels, is considered an essential mechanism for developing strategies that ensure that the transition towards a greener economy is both efficient and equitable. Moreover, the ILO’s green jobs programme distinguishes itself from other environmental job creation programmes in that it incorporates all relevant labour standards in its implementation. In so doing, it supports a just transition to a green economy.

As a means of promoting employment and the overall functioning of labour markets in the green economy, the ILO supports the integration of gender equality and non-discrimination into the broader policy agenda (climate-resilient strategies, sustainable growth and poverty reduction). Strategies and approaches to develop the green economy must therefore be fully gender mainstreamed. The connection between gender equality and green jobs is explained in greater detail in a dedicated ILO brochure (30). The important role of indigenous peoples in this context is also highlighted in an ILO brochure.


The ILO Green Jobs programme has established (or takes part in) a number of multi-agency networks and partnerships, namely A full list of Green Jobs-related projects is provided here.

ILO Capacity

The ILO Green Jobs programme is coordinated by a relatively small team based at headquarters within the Enterprises Department, and is represented in the various regions by technical specialists working on enterprise development, and by development cooperation experts working for Green Jobs-related projects. In addition, many other ILO specialists and experts, working in areas such as employment policy, employment-intensive investments, enterprise and cooperative development, working conditions, skills development, workers' and employers’ activities, and sectoral activities, contribute to ILO’s broader work on environmental sustainability.


ILO’s green jobs portal provides numerous links to related publications, events, multi-media resources and training opportunities. Further information on the latter can be found at the ITC Turin’s green jobs page.

25. ILO & UNEP. Working towards Sustainable Development: Opportunities for decent work and social inclusion in a green economy. Geneva : ILO, 2012.

26. ILO. The Green Initiative. ILO. [Online] 18 November 2016. https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/history/centenary/WCMS_467270/lang--en/index.htm.

27. ILC. Conclusions concerning achieving decent work, green jobs. Geneva : ILO, 2013.

28. ILO. SDG Note: Green Jobs. Geneva : ILO, 2016.

29. —. Decent work and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Geneva : ILO, 2016.

30. —. Gender Equality and Green Jobs. Geneva : ILO Green Jobs Programme, 2015.