Europe and Central Asia
31 May 2017

Green Jobs: not man the less, but Nature more

Red Natura 2000 © SEO/BirdLife
Red Natura 2000 © SEO/BirdLife
By Christopher Sands

It’s EU Green Week and the theme is ‘Green Jobs for a Greener Future’! Christopher Sands examines the meaning of the term ‘Green Jobs’, arguing that its essence is ‘not man the less, but Nature more’.


There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,

There is a rapture on the lonely shore,

There is society, where none intrudes,

By the deep sea, and music in its roar:

I love not man the less, but Nature more…

Lord Byron (1788 - 1824)


Right now, in Brussels and across Europe, the European Union is holding its annual ‘Green Week’ (29 May – 2 June). This year, the theme is ‘Green Jobs for a Greener Future’. But what does this term ‘Green Jobs’ really mean? As is the case with many expressions used for promotional purposes, it’s important to cut through the attractiveness of the few words strung together to seduce us and try to get at the root of the idea. Many institutional definitions can help in this, of course, but it’s fair to say that they all boil down to work that helps to improve, restore and protect our natural environment, and overall help us all meet the critical Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).

The instinctive response, however, may be in some fashion to dismiss the economic viability and benefit that this rapidly developing economic sector offers, in the here and now, and instead dismiss it as just some peripheral ‘feel-good’ sop to the environmental tree-hugging lobbyists and their followers.

"We just celebrated the first NATURA 2000 day - dedicated to raising the visibility of our unique and extraordinary Europe-wide network of protected nature sites"

Nothing could be farther from the truth! One of the many singular accomplishments of the EU, the European Commission, and its DG Environment is to have begun to quantify the specific benefits of the economy developing around meeting the SDG’s.

We just celebrated the first NATURA 2000 day - dedicated to raising the visibility of our unique and extraordinary Europe-wide network of protected nature sites - the largest in the world, with over 18% of our land mass and 6% of our seas strung together in an ever increasingly connected set of parks, reserves and settings to protect, save and enhance our threatened flora and fauna, the very land, air and water upon which we depend for life.  One unique attribute of these sites is that they are not always sterile areas closed off to human activity, but rather places in which nature and people coexist in harmony, allowing sustainable business activity for peoples’ economic survival to unfold without destroying and depleting nature.

"Agro-ecological farming can give a decent living to many farmers..."

And this is a roadmap to the kind of overall economic transformation which must take place outside of these areas if we are to survive on this fragile planet. The good news is that many of the right things are mutually reinforcing. Conserving biodiversity and restoring ecosystems is cheap, but job intensive. A circular economy creates lots of good jobs locally while the fossil fuel economy siphons resources away to a handful of faraway dictators, to say nothing of the devastating impact on climate change. Agro-ecological farming can give a decent living to many farmers, while intensive and industrial monocultures are done with just a handful of people - who then often are made sick from pesticide use to boot. Grey infrastructures often generate debt, corruption and few jobs, while green infrastructure revitalizes local communities, get different sectors to work together and eventually pay for themselves. Taxing labour often kills jobs while taxing pollution creates innovation and new jobs in clean technologies.

"Natura 2000 generates 4.4 million diverse jobs a year through a wide range of businesses with a value of over 405 billion euros"

A few numbers; if these ecosystem benefits are quantified, in the Natura2000 network alone, this adds up to about 200 to 300 billion euros a year, tantamount to 1.7% to 2.5% of the EU’s GDP. Indeed, already Natura 2000 generates 4.4 million diverse jobs a year through a wide range of businesses with a value of over 405 billion euros. One recent independent study shows that for each 1 million euros spent on CAP, if spent on Natura2000 sites, 7 times the jobs supported would be made possible. Our Spanish BirdLife partner, SEO, reports tourism income from their Spanish Natura2000 sites already creates revenue worth over 2 billion euros and tourism revenue alone of up to 85 billion euros across the whole Natura 2000 network.

Furthermore, independent news media coverage now regularly trumpets how wind and solar are crushing the fossil fuel industry in attracting investment, reducing energy costs and growing market share. The public’s imagination and our politicians’ rhetoric is far behind the curve.

So hats off to the EU and DG Environment for beginning to highlight this desperately critical part of our sustainable economic and environmental future on planet Earth. Nature tells us that eternal growth is not possible and the ways in which we organize our economies must reflect this essential truth. Green jobs for a greener future is an excellent starting place.


Christopher Sands, Head of Communications - BirdLife Europe & Central Asia

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.