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Wanted: Green Collar Workers

By Franke James, Founder, Office-Politics.com
(Article originally published on www.MyGreenConscience.com)

Would you — or your kids — rather work at a ‘McJob’ or a ‘Green Collar’ job? Let’s hope we can convince lots of young people that green collar jobs offer far brighter opportunities than any McJob, because the world needs a lot of cleaning up (even without further disasters like the oil spills in San Francisco Bay and the Black Sea in 2007).

I happened to be visiting San Francisco on November 8th, 2007, the day after a cargo ship crashed into the Oakland San Francisco Bay bridge spilling 58,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel oil into San Francisco Bay. The spill is a tragedy that has damaged wildlife, fish stocks, plants and tourism. It may take years, and an unknown number of man hours, to clean up. Beaches were closed, police cordoned off sensitive areas, and numerous signs were posted warning of the environmental damage.

oil spill photo november 8 2007 by franke jamesWhile we walked along the waterfront, I snapped the photo (above) of the seagull with the sticky oil on its neck, and also took shots of oil floating in the water (right). It was obviously a huge ecological disaster. Many thoughts raced through my mind, “How could it have happened? How could it be prevented? And how are they ever going to clean it up?”

At times like these, the notion that humanity will ever win the climate change battle can seem unlikely and overwhelming. But I look for signs of hope that we can wake people up to the need to train eco-janitors / eco-disaster relief workers so that we can limit the damage from environmental accidents. Green Collar jobs represent a need and therefore an opportunity. Green jobs could mean gainful employment for millions, and a cleaner world — and unlike Blue Collar jobs they can’t be shipped offshore. They can offer far more interesting and lucrative opportunities than any job in the fast food industry.

Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times columnist and author of the ‘World is Flat’, recently wrote about the green collar opportunity as a pathway out of poverty. The excerpt which jumped out at me is this:

“…a crusade to help underprivileged blacks and other disadvantaged communities understand why they would be the biggest beneficiaries of a greener America. It’s about jobs. The more government requires buildings to be more energy efficient, the more work there will be retrofitting buildings all across America with solar panels, insulation and other weatherizing materials. Those are manual-labor jobs that can’t be outsourced.

“You can’t take a building you want to weatherize, put it on a ship to China and then have them do it and send it back,” said Jones. “So we are going to have to put people to work in this country – weatherizing millions of buildings, putting up solar panels, constructing wind farms. Those green-collar jobs can provide a pathway out of poverty for someone who has not gone to college.”

Let’s tell our disaffected youth: “You can make more money if you put down that handgun and pick up a caulk gun.”

Remember, adds Jones, “a big chunk of the African-American community is economically stranded. The blue-collar, stepping-stone, manufacturing jobs are leaving. And they’re not being replaced by anything. So you have this whole generation of young blacks who are basically in economic free fall.” Green-collar retrofitting jobs are a great way to catch them.”

E - The Environmental Magazine's Nov Dec IssueE- The Environmental Magazine’s November Issue features an article on Great Green Jobs and also discusses pending U.S. legislation called “The Green Jobs Act”, which contains specific language about using the green economy as a “pathway out of poverty.” Below is their list of 10 green collar opportunities.

(Ironically eco-janitor/eco-disaster relief worker does not appear on their list!)

10 Great Green Opportunities
By Brita Belli, K. Gutlebar, J. Hirsch, J. Knoblauch, S. Query

Everything’s coming up green. Across every industry, new job possibilities are emerging for those with the skills to bridge the divide between the old, fossil-fuel-based economy and the new, energy-efficient one. Corporations once demonized for their role in creating pollution and exploiting workers are being held accountable; they are partnering with nonprofits and hiring corporate social responsibility managers. They are finding that reducing their impact is as good for future profits as for the planet at large. There’s no secret to getting a job in the new green economy. It’s as basic as applying the job skills you’ve already developed (web design, sales, management) to a nonprofit or sustainable industry, or coordinating sustainable practices from within a corporate entity. Sometimes, as in green building or solar panel installing, these green jobs require a specific set of skills—and classes are organizing to fill the growing need. Other times, as in the organic food industry, ecotourism or sales and marketing of energy-efficient technology, anyone with a good work ethic can get in and create a great green career.

Green Globetrotters: Travel and Hospitality

1. Tourism is the largest business sector in the world economy, so it’s no wonder that people are finding entry-level work greening the industry. Ecotourism is growing at three times the rate of the tourism sector itself, and demanding more knowledgeable workers committed to sustainability. “There is great diversity within the field,” says Ayako Etaka of the International Ecotourism Society (TIES). Green travel employees generally work for private companies, government and public institutions and nonprofits.

Openings are also coming from businesses that are looking to turn over a new green leaf. According to the Green Hotels Association (GHA), “Guidance from an employed ‘Green Team’ can turn hotels into educators, showing us simple steps we can take to be more sustainable.” Working within the ecotourism field also provides employees with the opportunity to travel while communicating the importance of the global environment.

“Giving guests an understanding of ecological changes invites them to participate in protecting the environment,” says Mary Jo Viederman of Lindblad Expeditions. Jobs in ecotourism can be high-risk and adventurous, but also limited by season or temporary. Salaries for ecotourism managers, operators and guides can be difficult to predict, because of vast differences between employers and the tourism market itself. But as Etaka says, “There are always opportunities to extend your experience in the field.” —Kathryn Gutleber

CONTACT: International Ecotourism Society, (202)347-9203; Green Hotels Association, (713) 789-8889; Lindblad Expeditions, (800) EXPEDITION

Sustainability Stewards: Planning and Land Use

2. Local governments are increasingly interested in how they can reduce their communities’ carbon footprint, and turning to city planning professionals for direction. Megan Lewis, senior research associate for the American Planning Association, says wetlands restoration, stormwater management, transportation and urban design are coming to the forefront of the profession.

“The planning community is very interested in climate change issues and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions,” she says. “We need to be thinking about our buildings and how they can be carbon neutral.”

New urbanism, which emphasizes sustainable and transit-oriented development is also a growing trend in such places as the Southeast, California and the Pacific Northwest, says Meghan Sharp, assistant project manager for the Livable Communities team at the International City/County Management Association. She says architects and designers are adapting their skills to accommodate this type of city planning.

“There’s a market demand for more sustainable community design,” Sharp says. “As communities change their zoning regulations, there’s a learning curve that architects and planners need to overcome.”

Geographic Information System (GIS) specialists are also assets to planning departments, Lewis says. In the private sector, planning consultants can help communities look at the big picture by connecting transportation lines and designing more sustainable living and working environments. —Shawn Query

CONTACTS: American Planning Association, (202)872-0611; International City/County Management Association, 202-289-(ICMA)

Complementary Care: Health and Medicine

3. According to a survey conducted in 2002 by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), 36 percent of U.S. adults use some form of alternative care. NCCAM is a group of diverse medical and health-care systems, practices and products outside of conventional medicine. Victor Kumar, a licensed acupuncturist at Creative Wellness in Michigan, says his job allows him a great deal of doctor-patient interaction. “There are many practices where MDs just aren’t able to spend the time,” says Kumar. “With acupuncture, you have more time to treat people not just the disease.”

Dr. Matthew Fisel, a naturopathic physician based in New Haven, Connecticut, says you can’t just tap into the built-in network that comes with a traditional medical degree. “This field is a lot more dependent on individual talents,”Fisel says. He offers a range of treatments, from detoxification to nutritional counseling, spinal manipulation to adjunctive cancer therapy. “It’s really satisfying seeing people become their own advocates for health,” he says. While both coasts (and the Northwest) are stocked with natural-care physicians, the need for alt-docs is spreading across the rural U.S. —Jessica Knoblauch & Brita Belli

CONTACTS: Dr. Matthew Fisel, (203)294-9772; National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, (888)644-6226; Creative Wellness, (517)351-9240

Power Pushers: Energy and Renewables

4. When Peter Beadle launched the site Greenjobs.com in 2005, he couldn’t charge for the service. “The first year was slow,” Beadle says. Now, with the explosive interest in renewable energy jobs, Greenjobs.com is getting noticed.

With his background in the solar industry, Beadle knows the career potential in renewables. “Solar and wind are already multibillion-dollar industries,” he says, “and hydrogen and fuel cell production are still in the nascent stages.” Industries like hydropower and geothermal tend to recruit engineers from conventional fields, he says. But it’s in marketing and sales where job-seekers will have the easiest time breaking in to the renewables industry. There are also those who install and maintain the solar panels and wind turbines. Installers are in high demand, says Beadle, and certification is readily available.

Renewable energy careers have the potential to re-establish America’s lost middle class. “If we’re going to be serious about building a wind program, it should be local,” says Kate Gordon, program director at the Apollo Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to the creation of clean energy jobs. “It’s the same with solar panels and energy-efficiency technology.” Renewable energy requires more manpower than fossil fuel—wind power creates 2.77 jobs for every megawatt produced, solar PV creates 7.24 jobs per megawatt—but the U.S. lags behind Japan and Germany both in technology and jobs in the renewable energies race, according to industry site Solarbuzz.com. “The U.S. used to lead in solar,” says Beadle, “but it lost some impetus because of incentives offered in Germany and Japan.” —B.B.

CONTACTS: Greenjobs; Apollo Alliance, (202)955-5665

Planet Protectors: Legal Careers

5. When a power plant is polluting more than its fair share, or an imperiled mammal needs recognition under the Endangered Species Act, environmental law groups go to court and fight the good fight.

Bill Funk teaches environmental law at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. “Sometimes you need to go to court to make sure that going green happens,” he says.

Students at Lewis and Clark can get environmental law certification with their degree, and most go on to work in government at the state and federal levels or private practices with an environmental bent. But you don’t need a law degree to help win big cases for the environment.

Earthjustice, a nonprofit which started as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund in 1971, employs more than 150 people including lawyers, communications specialists, fundraising and general support positions, says Shelie Luperine, Earthjustice human resources generalist. Earthjustice keeps an online list of job openings, and Luperine says most employees have one thing in common—their passion for the environment.

“People seek out this type of job because they want to tackle issues about the air they breathe or the water they’re drinking,” she says.

Earthjustice was instrumental in the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that says greenhouse gas must be regulated under the Clean Air Act. It has fought against mountaintop removal mining, and for endangered species listings. The organization is also always looking for volunteers to help with mailing and fundraising, Luperine says. —S.Q.

CONTACTS: Lewis & Clark Law School, (503)768-6600; Earthjustice, (800)584-6460

Green Geeks: Information Technology (IT)

6. Joe Kosisek, IT specialist for the Washington State Department of Ecology, is trained to work in any type of corporate situation; he just happens to be environmentally inclined. With a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology, a master’s in systems management and extensive electronics training, Kosisek uses his skills for a “green” cause. “People think there is some kind of mystery, ‘Where are the ‘green’ jobs?’” says Marie Kerpan, founder of consulting practice Green Careers, “There are a bazillion companies where you can take your skills and put it to work in a ‘green company.’”

In the nonprofit sector, IT work may not require extensive training. “I fell into the IT side of things by working for a small nonprofit in which people wear many hats,” says Megan Hill, program coordinator at EcoVentures International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of sustainable communities and livelihoods. For global organizations like EcoVentures, the Internet is a valuable tool. “The idea that the web can be used for outreach, fundraising and political awareness is very powerful,” says Kerpan. But finding the funds to pay for IT or technical services is a challenge for these organizations. “We must be economically sustainable as well as environmentally sustainable,” says Hill.

For those looking to apply their technical skills toward a “green” career, Hill offers a word of advice. “Be open to starting with little to no pay. It will give you the experience you need to be able to be hired by those few organizations and businesses that can afford to provide the salary that you want.” —Julia Hirsch

CONTACT: EcoVentures International, (202)667-0802

Eco Educators: Green Learning

7. Over the past few years, sustainability coordinators—a job position that didn’t even exist a few years ago—have been joining the ranks of educational institutions looking to “go green.”

“We get calls constantly from institutions looking to hire sustainability professionals,” said Tom Kimmerer, executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). In turn, green educators often find job availability in businesses looking for people who have strengths in some aspect of environmental management. “The demand for these people is sector-wide,” says Kimmerer.

Though there aren’t many schools offering degrees in sustainability, that’s beginning to change. “The schools are either converting existing programs or starting new ones,” said Kimmerer.

Dedee DeLongpre, director of the Office of Sustainability at the University of Florida, was part of a pioneer program at Presidio School of Management in San Francisco, which began offering an MBA in Sustainable Management in 2003. “They wove principles of sustainability into all of the coursework,” said DeLongpre. “It was an amazing opportunity.”

DeLongpre says that the best part about her job is working with the students. “Their world isn’t about obstacles,” said DeLongpre, “It’s inspired by possibilities and innovation.” — J.A.K.

CONTACTS: Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, (859)402-9272; Presidio School of Management, (415) 561-6555

Better Builders: Design and Construction

8. Green builders already have a competitive advantage over traditional builders, according to Ashley Katz, communications coordinator for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). And that advantage will continue to grow as sustainable, energy-efficient building practices become the norm.

“USGBC’s vision is sustainability within a generation,” Katz says. “People who are already involved in the green building market are ahead of the curve—they’ll be the ones who are in demand.” USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system, which once applied primarily to commercial buildings, has now been adapted to homes, retail, schools and healthcare buildings, creating a need for more LEED-accredited professionals (LEED APs) and other green-minded engineers, contractors, architects and designers. There’s also room for more employees in service businesses making green products and materials, from recycled roofing to energy-efficient heating systems.

Montana-based CTA Architects and Engineers employs 47 LEED APs and took on the role of developer for its latest sustainable project, Amsterdam Village. The 350-acre development in Southwest Montana includes sustainable requirements for homes, 50 percent open space, an organic farm, walking trails and wetlands. “There’s a synergy that goes on when your neighbors are doing the same thing you are,” says lead CTA architect Wayne Freeman. “There’s the desire to keep up with the Jones’.” What’s more, says Freeman, “Lots of clients are starting to like this idea. It’s a free market society and that’s where people’s values are shifting.” —B.B.

CONTACTS: U.S. Green Building Council, (800) 795-1747; Amsterdam Village, (406) 570-9199

Improving Industry: Corporate Social Responsibility

9. In the age of Halliburton and ExxonMobil scandals, the idea of holding corporations accountable for their actions might sound naïve. But with companies working to establish guidelines for social responsibility, the word “corporation” could sill take on new meaning in the 21st century. To make corporations more responsive to environmental, human rights and health issues, corporate responsibility advocates start from business’ bottom line and work their way up. Using the idea of the integrative “triple bottom line,” activists have persuaded some corporations to move from thinking solely about profits to the three P’s—people, planet and profits.

“Triple bottom line is explicit and disseminated in terms of how a business operates on a day-to-day basis,” says Erica Dreisbach of Social Venture Network, a nonprofit designed to educate businesses on social responsibility. “The fact that corporations are starting to talk about reform means that corporate social responsibility is going to become more mainstream in the future.”

To wield some clout, you need knowledge of labor law and human resource management. As corporations link their future to turning green, they are able to recognize the competitive advantage of an environmental edge. —K.G.

CONTACT: Social Venture Network, (415) 561-6501

Organic Occupations: Food and Farming

10. The promise of organic’s higher price tags has not been lost on farmers. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, land used for organic crops increased from 48,000 acres in 1997 to 122,000 acres in 2005. That increase has opened doors, especially for students seeking a hands-on experience on a working farm through the likes of WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms). And finding full-time work on an organic farm is not as far-fetched as it might sound.

Some manage organic farms without actually owning the land, leasing it through a land trust. “Other people are starting farms on an acre and a half to two acres,” says Bill Duesing, executive director of the Connecticut Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA). And there is more job potential around farmer’s markets. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures, farmer’s markets increased seven percent between 2005 and 2006, to 4,385. “The most successful farmer’s markets have this infrastructure of people who run and promote them,” says Duesing, citing CitySeed in New Haven, Connecticut as bringing area farm stands and community outreach under one umbrella. There are also jobs in farmland protection, education opportunities at on-campus student farms and even a need for chefs specializing in local food.

And the market for organic food has opened channels well beyond the local farm stands. Albert’s Organics is the nation’s leading organic foods distributor and its staff is continually expanding, from warehouse workers to operations and sales staff and administration and computer systems. The company supplies 5,000 supermarkets, natural food stores and restaurants with some 250 seasonal fruits and vegetables. They are always actively recruiting new growers, says Frank McCarthy, Albert’s vice president of marketing. “From farming to harvesting and post-harvest handling, distribution, sales and retailing,” McCarthy says, “almost any food industry career is also available in the organic food industry.” —B.B.

Northeast Organic Farming Association, (203) 888-5146;
Albert’s Organics, (800) 671-0707

10 Great Green Opportunities Reprinted with permission from E- The Environmental Magazine: Welcome to Green-Collar America Does the Future of the American Middle Class Lie in Sustainable Business?

WANTED: Green Collar Workers © 2007 Franke James;
Photos and writing by Franke James, MFA
  1. 4 Answers to “Wanted: Green Collar Workers”

  2. There are a lot of lessons that can be learned from this article. We need to step back and take a serious look at the economy of the world right now. We need to look at the environment and take into account what we can do to improve it.

    By Geothermicist on Sep 2, 2008

  3. As a writer, educator, and active proponent for stewardship and sustainability, it is my intense desire to find, or create, an employment opportunity for myself here in a state where blatant disregard for the environment is reaching crisis proportions.

    Can you suggest places for me to promote my talents and desire to become another green collar contributor?

    Thanks, in advance.
    Venice, Florida

    By kathy powers on Feb 4, 2009

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