Green IT: a freelancer’s guide to environmental tech jobs
With energy consumption and the use of our planet’s natural resources increasing, green technology is primed to become more and more prominent in 2024 and then some.
In-the-know tech freelancers and contractors are already cottoning on to the wealth of opportunities that could come from green tech, writes Matt Collingwood, managing director of specialist technology recruitment agency VIQU.
The future is green
The Paris Agreement, also known as the Accord de Paris, stands as a landmark international treaty addressing the issue of climate change. Adopted in 2015, the agreement has brought together nations from around the world to collectively tackle the multifaceted challenges posed by climate change.
Meeting the ambitious goals outlined in the agreement requires nations globally to intensify their endeavours in shifting towards sustainable energy sources, notably solar and wind power.
This surge in commitment has generated a heightened need for skilled professionals in the field of renewable energy and associated industries, spanning energy storage, electric vehicles, and beyond.
Concurrently, with the average consumer become increasingly aware of their own carbon footprints, companies are striving to innovate, creating exciting new environmentally-friendly products and services.
What is ‘Green Tech’?
Green Tech encompasses any technological development designed to curtail environmental impact and foster sustainability. This term encompasses a wide range of innovations, including renewable energy technologies, energy-efficient buildings, sustainable transportation, and virtually any creation engineered to diminish greenhouse gas emissions, minimise waste, and preserve natural resources.
The green technology and sustainability market size worldwide is expected to grow from $16.5bn (£13.8bn) in 2023 to $61.92bn (£49.1bn) by 2030. When you take into account that there were 185,000 full-time UK workers contributing to the low-carbon and renewable energy economy in 2018, which is expected to rise to 694,000 by 2030, it is very evident that green tech is on the precipice of high growth.
What opportunities await freelancers and contractors in the green tech space?
The sector is still very much in its infancy.
However, we have already started receiving interest from temporary workers looking to understand how they can get involved in the green tech market.
The market is constantly changing. And so far, we are noticing positive shifts in the following areas.
However, first, I must caveat the following top six green tech contractor jobs, by making clear that the rates I specify are for those who can demonstrate experience in sustainability and environmental employments. Individuals eyeing these job titles but with alternative industry experience cannot expect to parachute into the green sector and command these rates, without first gaining experience in green technology or on an IT-related sustainability programme.
Without further ado, here are my top six green tech contractor jobs – for now!
1. EV installation specialist
At the end of 2023, there were 53,906 electric vehicle (EV) charging points across the UK. The UK government is aiming to increase this number to 300,000 by 2030.
We have seen a number of network / infrastructure engineers who are experienced in hardware and cabling, moving into EV installation engineering. When you mix the fact there’s clearly demand, and that the majority of the demand is from average homeowners who require the service, these individuals have the opportunity to be their own boss – self-employment, and very much outside IR35!
From what I’ve seen and been told so far, it’s mainly electricians making the move, but some network/infrastructure professionals are seeing its long-term demand and taking the leap too.
Now, the important part - rates!
Rates are increasing. Self-employed EV installers will charge an average of £1k per installation and some are doing up to four installations a day! That’s £4k in a day, minus materials and the usual expenses.
2. Sustainability cloud architect
Now more than ever before, businesses are becoming aware of their carbon footprints.
When you take into account that social, economic and environmental factors can result in lower costs, more innovation, increased staff retention and enhanced reputation, it’s not surprising that sustainability is a clear motivator for businesses. Likewise, businesses are looking for partners and choosing providers that provide transparency on their sustainability strategy.
Did you know that one internet search produces 0.2g of CO2? In fact, the average website produces up to 1.76g of CO2 per page view.
With estimated global data centre electricity consumption in 2022 accounting for approximately 1-1.3% of global final electricity demand, businesses are playing their part in reducing their impact on this number by looking to hire sustainability cloud architects.
Typically, a cloud architect is responsible for a company’s cloud computing system, determining the best practices for design, development and deployment. A sustainability cloud architect is no different, apart from prioritising sustainability when making such decisions. As a holistic approach, a sustainability cloud architect considers the entire scope of cloud solutions, from adoption plans to design and eventual disposal.
A lot of what’s currently happening in the sustainable cloud space is project-based, and this leans very well towards clients using contractors and freelancers for their specialist skills. We are starting to see this transpire into heightened demand for sustainability cloud architects too.
Those with demonstrable sustainable experience, can expect to command anywhere from £900 to £1,500 a day.
3. Renewables data scientist
In the green tech space, data has emerged as a critical asset in optimising facilities and consumption. Companies are increasingly recognising the importance of harnessing the power of data, leading to a growing demand for skilled data scientist contractors and freelancers.
Data scientists in the renewable space play a pivotal role in programming, maintaining, and analysing vast systems using sophisticated algorithms rooted in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Their responsibilities extend to collaborating with diverse teams, including data engineers, to gain deeper insights into addressing customer complaints and needs more efficiently.
While the demand for renewable freelance data scientists is on the rise, it’s still a long way from maturing. Contractors in this space are mostly working for energy companies, less, ‘green’ end-user clients.
This area of data science has fantastic opportunities on the horizon. Gain valuable experience as a renewables data scientist now, and you can expect rates of £625-875 a day.
4. Sustainability tech project manager
Just like with sustainability cloud architects, ‘green’ or sustainability tech project managers take a more holistic approach, with the assessment of environmental, economic and social factors playing a pivotal role in decision-making and project planning.
Viewing tech projects through an environmental lens both encourages long-term thinking and allows the project to meet the company's sustainability and green goals. And it’s not just companies of course – organisations in the public and third sectors are expected to lead by example in the green tech space, although IT contractors should be aware -- they are likely to start off as more budget-constrained than their commercial counterparts.
Regardless of sector, ‘going green’ is an area some existing project managers might be able to explore in their current contracts, depending on the client’s appetite for sustainability. To secure experience in the future, I’d recommend gaining a GPM certification (more details are here).
As to pay, experienced ‘green’ project managers can expect to earn between £550-800 a day.
5. ‘Green’ software developer
Software developers can minimise the environmental impact of software from the early stage of development.
So-called ‘green’ software developers look to do this on everything they develop by reducing data usage, detecting and removing loops, monitoring energy consumption and adapting app behaviour to the device’s power mode.
Some green software developers use their skills directly on green technology - building green software applications to look at efficiencies for example, while embedded programmers are coding chips which might be used in sustainability technologies or products such as solar panels, electric cars and wind turbines.
An estimate based on our experience is that experienced green software developers can expect rates of £450 to £750 a day, depending on their skills/background and the project.
6. Renewables business analyst
Renewable business analysts are playing a crucial role in forging a sustainable path towards energy efficiency in buildings.
Their multifaceted job involves a range of responsibilities aimed at optimising renewable energy sources and promoting eco-friendly practices.
The highest demand (as you might expect) is in utilities companies, or companies that use huge volumes of renewables.
Want to see the money? Well, rates for experienced renewables business analysts can range from £450-875 a day.
But please note, there is a barrier to entry for average BAs to get involved. Often these roles are taken by those with utilities sector experience, who then learn BA skills.
Green tech contractor jobs – final thoughts
To conclude, the sustainable tech sector has a long road ahead before its true potential is realised, both in terms of a labour market for freelance and contract workers and what it can achieve for our world. But be under no illusion - that doesn’t mean eco-conscious, smart contractors and freelancers, especially those with transferable IT skills can’t look to break into it today. My advice to those interested in tapping into this nascent, but massively promising and undoubtedly lucrative, up-and-coming sector like green technology? Lower your rate to secure experience. Short-term pain for long-term gain!
Additionally, and quite visible in the environmental tech work space, a lot of corporates and organisations are unashamedly just asking for their existing people - not necessarily excluding contractors - to put themselves forward to help drive sustainability in the business. So volunteer! We’ve not noticed that it adversely matters if you’re a temporary worker; this is a global movement that needs all hands on deck – and if you want the opportunity on a professional basis, take it and jump in feet first!
Managing Director of VIQU
Matt Collingwood is the Managing Director of VIQU Ltd. an IT recruitment and project-based consultancy company with offices in Birmingham and Southampton. Matt is also the co-founder of the Recruitment Canaries, a network of West Midlands based recruitment agencies who encourage collaboration, best practice and upholding the standards and ethics of the recruitment industry.