About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Going Green: Preparing the UK workforce for the transition to a net-zero economy

To tackle the climate crisis, the UK Government has set a target of net-zero greenhouse gases by 2050. To achieve this target, a major transformation is required to prepare sectors and workers for the green economy.

This report analyses the scale of the challenge and considers how sectors can adapt to avoid unemployment through the transition and ensure people are reskilled to do a ‘green job’. By analysing 10 datasets (including Office of National Statistics, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and Eurostat), this report includes an ‘Eco-Transformation of Industries Matrix’. This brand new taxonomy classifies industries as ‘leaders’, ‘neutrals’, ‘followers’ or ‘laggards’ based on: how high (or low) their carbon emissions are, and how high (or low) they are engaged in environmental activities.

Our main findings include:

  • The transition to a net-zero economy is likely to have a significant impact on employment in the brown sector. Highly-polluting industries – responsible for 93 per cent of the UK's carbon emissions – such as mining transportation and manufacturing - employ 45 per cent of the UK’s workforce. Male, younger and lower-educated workers are overrepresented in this sector.
  • Employment in the environmental goods and services sector accounts for just 1.3 per cent of total employment in the UK. An increase in jobs related to environmental activities could lead to reduction of emissions and employment gains.
  • The shift to green growth requires significant investment and incentives for some regions in order to reduce the production of fossil fuels and make the switch to environment activities.
  • To prepare workers for the green economy, millions of people need to be reskilled and upskilled. The green industries are retraining about 21 per cent of employees compared to only 11 per cent in highly polluting industries.


This report provides a series of recommendations on how to make the transition smoother for individuals and regions through new kinds of targeted skills and innovation support. In particular, this report calls for:

  • Creating an eco-jobs classification to indicate ‘leader’ jobs that actively help to fight the climate crisis and a ‘laggard’ or ‘brown jobs’ classification, so that people understand what employment may be negatively impacted by the climate crisis.
  • Funding training for people transitioning out of brown jobs to those sectors less affected by environmental change.
  • Tasking a single organisation with leading a mission-oriented approach (e.g. the Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges) to tackle the biggest issues with transitioning at-risk workers to more sustainable jobs.
  • Developing regional clusters of green innovation capacity, including funding green skills, research and business innovation partnerships to act as growth centres for the transition to a net-zero economy.

To learn more about our efforts, visit our FutureFit project page – a major training intervention focused on upskilling and reskilling workers and doing innovative, robust research about what works.

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Chrystalla Kapetaniou

Chrystalla Kapetaniou

Chrystalla Kapetaniou

Principal Researcher, Future of Work

Dr Chrystalla Kapetaniou is a Principal Researcher.

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Charles McIvor

Charles McIvor

Charles McIvor

Policy Adviser, Future of Work

Based in Nesta's Research, Analysis and Policy team, Charles conducted policy analysis regarding the impact of technology on work and jobs.

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