Innovative professions: what are the jobs of the future in ecology

Connectivity, environmental sustainability and materials destined to make a difference: which professional figures will be most in demand in the future

Innovative professions: the professions of the future driven by environmental sustainability
Tubular algae bioreactors, fixing CO2 to make biofuel: Sustainability creates new professions (Photo: iStock)

Experienced professionals in Artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, but also renewable energy engineers and specialists in sustainability: many of the professions destined to emerge in the near future have just been born, and are destined to transform the job market in the next 5 years: these are the innovative professions.

La environmental sustainability is now an indispensable aspect in the design of materials and processes: thus the figures involved in design specialize more and more, and the development of intelligent materials becomes the application heart of research in chemical field and chemical-physical.

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The professions of the future: the predictions of the World Economic Forum for the next 5 years
One of the infographics released by the World Economic Forum on the occasion of the publication of "The future of jobs report 2023" (Photo: World Economic Forum, "The future of jobs report", 2023)

Sustainability and new technologies: the professions of the future

Over the next five years, the labor market will be driven by Big Data and the development of technologies and systems capable of dealing with the effects of climate change. Together with AI and Internet of Things specialists, sustainability specialists, renewable energy engineers and photovoltaic system installers will be needed.

It is the picture drawn by the publication “The future of jobs report 2023” of the World Economic Forum, which traces alabor market analysis and makes some predictions about the transformations it will go through in the coming years.

“Globally, the energy transition can create 30 million jobs”, reads the report just published by the WEF: according to the latest estimates of theIEA (International Energy Agency), the green transition can account for up to 3,5 percent of global GDP growth, also thanks to the creation of 9 million new jobs every year.

Among the professions that will most revolutionize the labor market are those related to sustainability: alongside specialists in new technologies and Artificial Intelligence, professionals capable of reducing the impact of production activities and studying will be needed more efficient systems and materials.

In the period 2023-27, according to WEF estimates, we will see an increase in the demand for renewable energy engineers and for new figures such as that of specialist of sustainability, which deals with improving the environmental efficiency of production activities by intervening on processes, from packaging to reducing consumption.

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The jobs of the future in the connected and sustainable Smart Home
Las Vegas, CES 2023: exhibitors of high tech products for the home (Photo: Consumer Technology Association)

Inside the smart home: Artificial Intelligence and sustainability

A good picture of what will be the professions of the future can be obtained by taking a closer look at the rapid evolution of technologies and products related to living: from Salone del Mobile.Milano al CES of Las Vegas, sustainability and smart technologies they seem to go hand in hand.

Lighting systems and appliances become smart, e the house independently manages its energy efficiency: I'2023 edition of CES offers an overview of the level achieved in the field of high-tech products for the home.

Among the most popular novelties at the great Las Vegas fair, lighting systems intelligent and washing machines that allow to reduce the dispersion of microplastics in the sea thanks to filters and new technologies but also intelligent systems for monitoring water use and biodegradable batteries.

Smart ovens and refrigerators they connect to home networks to interact with the other elements of the house, so that the oven can elaborate a menu based on the contents of the fridge, but also and above all to optimize processes and reduce consumption.

Looking at the house, it is easy to understand why the sectors driving the creation of new jobs are those linked to the development of Artificial intelligence and IoT devices, closely followed by specializations in the field of sustainability and energy efficiency.

But it's not just about technologies: even the buildings change, starting with the materials. And if, on the one hand, new professional figures linked to thesustainable architecture, the role of disciplines related to physics and chemistry, the indispensable basis of the materials development and increasingly innovative processes.

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Professions of the future: chemistry and architecture of new materials
The Bloom installation by Doris Sung, in Silver Lake, California: Thermobiometal reacts to heat and allows city areas to be shaded and ventilated, avoiding the heat island effect (Photo: Doris Sung/DOSU Studio Architecture)

Sustainable architecture: the revolution of materials

While Switzerland has already introduced the profession of Master of Planning in Building Thermal, in Italy the demand for architects and engineers specialized in sustainable design is increasingly widespread.

The application for green building is growing throughout Europe, and with it, the importance of figures such as those of the bio-architect and the engineer for sustainable building, who study among other things the best solutions for the correct energy design of buildings.

The last frontier in this sense is represented by the development of smart materials, who know how to react to climatic conditions and minimize the environmental impact of buildings.

A particularly brilliant example in the field of smart materials is that of Thermobiometal developed by the architect's studio Doris Sung. In the InVert auto-darkening roller shutters, for example, the thermobiometal reacts to the temperature by flexing, with the result that the rooms are automatically shaded when necessary.

The thermobiometals developed by Doris Sung, also used for futuristic urban structures capable of eliminating heat islands in the city, are among the most promising materials for thearchitecture of the future, which aims to use them for the construction of smart buildings able to "breathe" and reduce consumption by allowing the movement of air through the walls.

Also 'hydroceramics developed by Barcelona's Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) allows for breathable buildings: in this case the hydrogel, an insoluble polymer trapped in the ceramic, allows the panels to absorb the humidity present in the air and let it evaporate.

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Innovative professions: the materials of the future at the center of the new specializations
The kinetic energy-powered mechanoluminescent plastic display invented by See Soon Moon Jeong's team in 2014 (Photo: See Soon Moon Jeong et al., Energy Environ. Sci., 2014, 7, 3338)

Chemistry and development of new materials for the cities of the future

In addition to ceramics and metals, the development of innovative materials also involves plastic materials, which today can be more resistant than steel and have the memory of a form assumed in the past.

In 2014, a research team from the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology, in South Korea, published the discovery of a special mechanoluminescent plastic, that is capable of lighting up when subjected to physical stress thanks to the addition of “Coloured phosphors made of copper-activated zinc sulphide”.

Not even 10 years later, a study byRitsumeikan University, in Japan, proposes a very similar chemical solution, based on copper-activated zinc sulphide nanocrystals, for the creation of photochromic materials, which find perfect application in objects such as auto-dimming windows and 3D screens.

even the cement it will be different, in city ​​of the future: it will be able to self-repair thanks to bacteria that react to humidity and to perceive small structural damage. Used as road pavement, smart concrete can instead exploit the sensitivity of its conductive network, which reacts to stress and tension, to identify the position, speed and weight of vehicles on the road.

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Innovative professions and new materials: chemistry at the centre
A Michigan State University scientist shows the transparent solar cell capable of storing solar energy and transforming it into electricity (Photo: Richard Lunt/Michigan State University)

Salts, polymers, nanotechnologies: chemistry for sustainability

the premium transparent solar cells, capable of storing solar energy and transforming it into electricity, were created thanks to the TLSC (transparent luminescent solar concentrator) based on organic salts developed in 2014 by Michigan State University.

Today, with the first solar greenhouses already installed and several buildings having already adopted transparent solar panels, research has moved to the study of new polymers and nanotechnologies, in order to improve the conversion efficiency of the devices.

Meanwhile, several building materials are being replaced with mortar-based ones mycelia mushrooms, while the now widespread use of carbon fiber makes it possible to “electrify” concrete but also to build lifts up to a kilometer high.

Buildings, city streets, shutters and home lighting systems become more efficient and be sustainable thanks to the integration into smart grids and the research opportunities offered by the microcosm of chemistry.

La progressive transformation of everyday objects is played on an invisible level, made of materials that respond to stimuli and connected devices capable of learning from our habits: at the basis of everything, the work of scientists and professionals of the infinitely small able to create technologies “indistinguishable from magic”.

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Chemistry and physics at the heart of the development of innovative materials: the professions of the future driven by sustainability (Photo: iStock)