The world has moved on since "green jobs" were largely low- paid, worthy occupations on the edges of recycling and litter reduction. Now experts in energy reduction, sustainability and conservation are sought after and can command impressive salaries. In recognition of this, employment agencies have introduced "green" noticeboards to showcase specialist positions. Vacancies advertised on, for example, include one of the Big 4 accountancy firms in London who are looking for a senior solar consultant at a salary of up to £120,000 a year plus bonus and benefits. The successful applicant will offer taxation and financial structuring advice to global solar project developers and prepare business plans for new entrants.

Then there is a company seeking an environmental and sustainability project manager at £60,000 to £80,000 a year and a large education institution looking for a £55,000 energy and environmental manager for its property and estates department.

Two factors are working in tandem to swell the demand for people with green credentials – the climate of public opinion that can give environmentally friendly companies an edge in the marketplace and recruitment, and government regulation in the form of the Carbon Reduction Commitment, now renamed the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme.

Companies have been gearing up over the last two years for the CRC, the UK's first mandatory carbon trading scheme which officially begins this month. Large public and private organisations using more than 6,000 MWh of electricity – worth around £500,000 at today's prices – have to purchase allowances and then surrender them to cover their CO2 emissions. The proceeds will be redistributed as bonuses or penalties, according to the reduction in their emissions.

Companies are looking to hire professionals to make their businesses more environment friendly, says Richard Marshall, the managing director of At the same time experienced professionals have been losing their jobs in the recession. "Some have decided this is an opportunity for a career change, others have come to us from other industries such as construction and engineering, wanting to transfer their existing skills into the environmental or renewable energy sector," he says.

"With more and more media and political focus on 'green jobs' not just in the UK but in the rest of Europe and the USA and with more investment on the horizon, we are seeing the beginning of what we believe will be a huge surge in this sector."

Universities report a boom in enrolments for postgraduate "green" courses, such as the MSc in water, energy and the environment at Liverpool John Moores University and the suite of sustainability Masters degrees offered by the school of earth and environment at the University of Leeds.

Dr Louise Ellis, a lecturer in sustainability at Leeds, says students go on to a wide range of jobs, from environment consultancies and think-tanks to working in industry.

"They get involved in anything from the environmental social and economic impact of big schemes such as the 2012 Olympics to energy reduction, waste management and sustainability in big companies, local authorities and Government departments," she says.

For those unable to switch to more environmentally friendly positions, a range of organisations offer part-time volunteer posts, such as British Waterways, which relies heavily on voluntary workers to keep open the country's 2,200 miles of canals and rivers.

Environmental jobs

David Kaye ,24, turned down a £35,000-a-year salary in the City when he graduated from Imperial College London with a physics degree and experience in nanotechnology. Instead he joined powerPerfector, a small company started up in 2005 that saves energy by reducing the voltage flow. "I'm in a growing, dynamic industry and when I come to work I know I'm doing a small bit for the planet."

Kim Bailey enrolled on the four-year MEnvSci in environmental science at Kingston University with the third year spent on a work placement in Surrey County Council's sustainability department. She now works to help local companies, businesses, schools and colleges to reduce and recycle waste. "People don't always see the value in waste. But it could be just what someone else needs."

Paul Arrowsmith, 49, is the UK's first "green" refrigeration engineer after training to tackle leaking gas that accounts for 30 per cent of supermarket emissions. "The course gives us the knowledge to help customers get a better overview of the need to reduce leakage."