A green plumber for a greener economy

The transition towards a greener economy is expected to affect about half of the global labour force or roughly 1.5 billion people. This means changes in terms of job types and workers’ skills – a topic that is high on the Rio+20 agenda.

Reportage | 21 juin 2012
GENEVA – Up to 70 per cent of the water and energy savings in buildings in Australia are due to the work of local plumbers, who have developed specific skills to adapt to water shortages in the country.

The idea started in the year 2000, when employers and trade unions created a qualification known as “the Green Plumber”. Training is provided by a joint employer-union enterprise.

During training plumbers learn to advise consumers on the benefits of energy efficiency, water conservation and the most appropriate and cost-effective appliances, among other issues.

By 2010, over 9,000 plumbers from 4,000 companies had already been trained all across Australia. The programme has recently been expanded to New Zealand and the United States. The State of California has purchased a licence for training up to 40,000 people.

The recently-launched ILO-UNEP report on Working towards sustainable development: Opportunities for decent work and social inclusion in a green economy provides other examples of new skills requirements that are needed in the building sector.

Just as plumbers will have to consider water recycling, electricians may require an understanding of photovoltaic technology. Carpenters will have to think more and more about insulation work while roofers will have to install more and more solar panels.

According to the ILO-UNEP study, the transformation to a greener economy could generate 15 to 60 million additional jobs globally over the next two decades and lift tens of millions of workers out of poverty.

However, these gains will depend on whether the right set of policies is put in place. This is the message the ILO is taking to the Rio+20 Summit.

Tens of millions of jobs have already been created. For example, the renewable energy sector now employs close to 5 million workers, more than doubling the number of jobs from 2006-2010.

The report shows that at least half of the global workforce – the equivalent of 1.5 billion people – will be affected by the switch to a greener economy.

While changes will be felt throughout the economy, eight key sectors are expected to play a central role and be mostly affected: agriculture, forestry, fishing, energy, resource-intensive manufacturing, recycling, building and transport.