Sustainability, net zero and green skills faqs

What is sustainability?

Sustainability is a much broader goal than simply reducing our carbon emissions or protecting the environment, and encompasses many aspects of human life.

The United Nations defined sustainability in 1987 as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sustainable development requires an integrated approach that takes into consideration environmental concerns along with economic development.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice.

What is net zero?

Burning fossil fuels – whether to heat homes, produce materials or move people and goods – releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Scientists across the world agree that in order to prevent the worst climate damage and preserve a habitable planet, global human-caused net emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching “net zero” around 2050.

Put simply, net zero means cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere by oceans, forests and other carbon capture interventions.

A ‘green economy’ is defined as one which is low-carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.

What does a net zero economy mean for skills and jobs?

According to PCAN’s Just Transition Jobs Tracker, one in five jobs in the UK (approximately 6.3 million workers) are likely to be effected positively or negatively be a transition to a green economy.

The tool provides data for jobs based in UK local authority, parliamentary constituency, local enterprise partnership and combined authority areas.

In particular, it highlights:

  • Jobs requiring upskilling: Approximately 10% of existing UK jobs will require significant changes in skills and knowledge. These include specialised jobs in the manufacturing and extractive sectors, such as petroleum engineers and heavy equipment operators, whose skills need to be adapted to a net-zero economy.
  • Jobs in demand: Approximately 10% of existing UK jobs are expected to be in high demand due to their important role in the net-zero economy. These include specialised positions in the green economy, such as wind turbine installers, but also the skills and expertise of welders, builders and engineers already working to build the infrastructure of a green economy.

What is a green job?

While there is no universal definition of a green job, the Government’s Green Jobs Taskforce have defined a green job as ‘employment in an activity that directly contributes to – or indirectly supports – the achievement of the UK’s net zero emissions target and other environmental goals, such as nature restoration and mitigation against climate risks.’

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills will underpin green jobs that are key to delivering net zero. Scientists will be needed to innovate the technologies for the net zero transition as well as provide vital research on climate adaptation. Engineers will be needed to utilise systems thinking to approach the complex challenges of decarbonisation, and will also have a crucial role to play in enhancing the resilience of infrastructure and buildings to climate change. Technicians and tradespeople will be vital to install, update and retrofit the infrastructure needed.

Training will need to be topped-up over time as some technical skills which are in demand now will become outdated as technologies progress.

What is a green skill?

Successful transition to a green economy will require not just industry specialists with technical skills to match new technologies, but many more people with broader skills that match the demands across the wider economy, such as digital, management, and people skills.

A recent study from the World Economic Forum highlighted that in the green economy, out of the top ten skills identified, only three are industry specific.

The Green Jobs Taskforce identified a number of transferable skills which are critical to a green economy:

  • Digital and data skills will be in demand to build a new energy infrastructure, and AI and digital twin technology can improve efficiencies across many sectors. For example, digital skills are required to develop a smart energy grid infrastructure to which delivers a reliable energy supply; maximise the range on electrical vehicle batteries; and transform logistics by consolidating deliveries and reducing the number of vehicles.
  • Project management skills will be needed across all industries in the transition to net zero to ensure timescales are managed and budgets are met.
  • Education skills are needed to increase green skills provision across both the public and private sector, to inspire green career pathways and job choices, and to facilitate collective technical advancements.
  • Leadership and management skills are needed to drive cultural change for a green economy, implement rapid change in organisations, and influence and guide the transition as new technologies, behaviours and systems are embedded.
  • Creativity and communication skills are also required to effectively engage with the general public, build relationships with colleagues and clients, problem solve and provide genuine support as their customers begin transitioning to greener solutions in all aspects of their daily lives.

What is the potential for green jobs?

By 2030 there could be as many as 694,000 direct jobs employed in the low-carbon and renewable energy economy across England, rising to over 1.18 million by 2050.

Estimates show that West Yorkshire has the potential to create over 70,000 good, new, high skilled jobs in the green economy by the middle of the century, and 40,000 of them by 2030.

What sectors are priorities for green jobs?

Specific sectors within the economy will need to accelerate their emission reductions and decarbonise to meet the UK’s climate targets.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI)’s Skills and training for the green economy report identified three industries with the most immediate and pressing targets to decarbonise the economy:

  • home efficiency
  • automotive and electric vehicles
  • clean power

What support and investment is available for businesses in West Yorkshire?

Almost £5 billion of funding is available from central government to help UK businesses become greener as part of the government’s commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050. See current funding opportunities.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s Industrial Energy Efficiency Accelerator provides funds for companies willing to trial new low carbon technology on-site.

The Clean Growth Fund supports UK entrepreneurs and early-stage businesses who are seeking investment capital for low-carbon activities to rapidly drive their businesses forward.

Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership offers support for businesses in West Yorkshire, Craven, Harrogate, Selby or York on their journey to net carbon emissions, including free consultancy, audits and access to funding.

  • Resource Efficient Business (REBiz) offers SMEs free audits, consultancy and financial support (of up to £40,000 at 40% of project costs) to become more resource efficient and adopt circular business models
  • Circular Economy is a funded programme to assist SMEs reduce costs and stimulate the growth of more sustainable and innovative products and services
  • Travel Plan Network is a scheme for employers to encourage more sustainable travel, with benefits such as discounted rail travel, support for car-sharing and relocation support
  • Made Smarter aims to boost the sustainability of manufacturing businesses, using digital tools and technology
  • Bike-friendly business grants up to £5,000 to make improvements to your on-sit cycling facilities, as well as free consultations

West Yorkshire Consortium of College’s Green Skills Service offers carbon literacy training to employers.

Zero Carbon Business lists sustainability training for businesses to help you reduce your carbon emissions and operate in a more efficient way.

How can employers pledge to create green jobs?

Businesses in West Yorkshire can register interest on the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s website.

How can he providers support businesses to become greener?

Higher education supplies the skills needed for a transition to a green economy.

See our New Skills section for information about how you can upskill or retrain your existing workforce, and our New Talent section for information about how you can recruit the people with the knowledge you need into your organisation.

Higher education experts can help your business keep up with the latest technical, scientific and business innovations, including carbon-reducing strategies. Our New Ideas page presents the many different ways this can be achieved in partnership with universities and colleges.

Students can inject fresh ideas and latest knowledge into your business through live projects, student placements and internships.

Academics can partner with your business to deliver research in a real-world environment, or to share learning and best practice from the latest scientific research.

Another option is the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). This scheme connects you to a HE provider who will develop a project and recruit a suitable graduate to work at your business. The scheme lasts 12-36 months and is part-funded by a grant. You will need to contribute about one-third of the overall cost. For small businesses this is typically about £35,000 per year.

Teaching staff can deliver bespoke or ‘off the shelf’ training to your employees or leadership to upskill your workforce with green skills. See the Green Courses at the bottom of this page for a list of current provision in this area.

National Union of Students’ For Good platform connects businesses with current students and recent graduates. Students can work on projects, dissertations or placements to identify solutions to critical challenges related to environmental, economic or social sustainability.

How are he providers working with industry for a greener society?

Our members work with businesses to support a greener, fairer society by promoting new skills, new jobs and new ideas. Here is a selection of recent activity showcasing how this has been achieved:

  • Bradford College hosted the Future Technologies Centre (FTC) Expo in May 2022, a free jobs, careers, and employer networking event bringing together students and employers to showcase sustainability and future technologies.


  • The University of Bradford has a number of research projects, networks and partnership activity with industry to tackle climate change, such as carrying out an evidence review of the impacts of the adaptations communities and professionals need to when facing more severe and regular flooding; supplying specialist air quality sensing equipment for Breathe Better Bradford, a council-run project to improve air quality in the city; and hosting a global conference on circular economy, which attracted over 200 business and academic delegates from 20 countries.


  • The University of Huddersfield has embedded sustainable partnerships across several different teams, by embedding environmental sustainability principles into the pharmacy degree curriculum, hosting its first ‘Women in Sustainability’ event which explored the business and career opportunities that exist within the wider sustainability sector; and supporting UK Fashion & Textile Association’s (UKFT) ambitious programme for sustainable fashion and textiles alongside designers, manufacturers and innovators, media, retailers and business leaders, as well as government and academia.


  • Kirklees College supports the Kirklees Climate Commission, an independent advisory body to bring people together from the public, private and third sectors to support and oversee ambitious climate actions across all parts of Kirklees. The College’s Head of Estates, Security and Facilities is one of the Climate Commissioners.


  • Leeds Arts University has hosted three Sustainable Practice symposiums, bringing together groups or networks of educators, designers, artists, craftspeople, researchers and students who aim to place sustainability concerns at the heart of their practice.


  • Leeds Beckett University has partnered with Leeds-based ARC Building Solutions to create and bring to market new building insulation products invented and patented by academic Dr Matthew Brooke-Peat.


  • Leeds College of Building students were taken on as apprentices by sustainable urban developers, Citu for a new environmental project, the £125m Climate Innovation District in Leeds’s South Bank.



  • Leeds City College’s Fashion and Textile students collaborated with John Lewis to create a sustainable fashion display using recycled materials.


How can individuals find out about green jobs?

British Council’s Green careers guide provides advice and inspiration from universities, employers and professionals about how to pursue a career in a green industry.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority have launched Go Green, an online resource aimed at explaining what the climate emergency is and how young people can make a difference through jobs which help to lower carbon emissions, develop new technologies and protect the environment.