Think Green, Go Green

November 5th, 2009

By Jan Barry

Green JobsAmerica is in the midst of massive change as sweeping as the transformation in daily life from horse-drawn wagons to horseless carriages, candle light to electric lights, and farm work to factory work that swirled through the nation a century ago.

A cutting edge of 21st century change is the spiraling use of computers and cell phones, which have morphed from curiosities for techies to hugely popular gadgets for instant communication among people in far flung places. Amid the flurries of texting and emailing, a sea change is also taking place in what Americans do for a living. This is a transformation—slowed down, but also highlighted by the worst economic downturn since World War II—from fast fading industrial jobs and stagnant service jobs to a rising wave of green jobs.

Wary of the boom and bust cycles of previous eras, advocates of the sustainability movement are trying to direct the energy of the trendy green wave to safer shores.

“Something that’s unsustainable undermines the very system on which it depends,” notes Jaimie Cloud, head of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability in New York City. She cites the example of overhavesting popular seafood—such as the long gone oysters that once thrived in New York waters—to the point of extinction. She often challenges school groups and other audiences to come up with a long-range plan for sustainable fishing. “If we want different results,” Cloud argues, “it begins with a change in thinking.”

Cloud was keynote speaker at a “Think Green…Teach Green Conference” this week in the epicenter of New Jersey’s most populous county. More than a million people live in Bergen County amid remnants of farmland that during the past 50 years was turned into wall-to-wall housing subdivisions, sprawling but now abandoned or struggling factories, and infamous traffic jams amid gleaming signs advertising luxurious pleasures at hard-sell, high-turnover shopping malls.

For Kathleen Sawryt, the key to doing things in a sustainable way is “adding green skills sets in all jobs.” Sawryt heads the Green Career Pathways program at Bergen Community College. The conference was sponsored by the college, The Record of Bergen County and several large industries including Konica Minolta and Verizon. The college, Sawryt said, is developing a training center for students, workers, homeowners and business owners to learn the latest techniques in construction and renovation with recycled materials and energy-efficient elements that incorporate solar, wind or geothermal heating and energy devices.

A nearby example is the state of the art Center for Scientific and Environmental Education at the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission headquarters, constructed on the side of a massive trash landfill that looms beside a sparkling expanse of tidal marshes. When it opened in 2008 to host environmental education programs run by Ramapo College of New Jersey, the $5.8-million center was the first public building in the state to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum standards. It offers a working model for school groups and businesses in the region to study. Visitors “get to see and feel what a green building is like,” Meadowlands Commission Executive Director Robert Ceberio said at the conference at Bergen Community College.

So what’s the wave of the future look like out beyond the buzz on campus? According to a recent issue of Time magazine, a “report by the RAND Corporation and University of Tennessee found that if 25% of all American energy were produced from renewable sources by 2025, we would generate at least 5 million new green jobs.”

For example, Time continued, “hundreds of employees … now work for the Spanish wind company Gamesa at its new plant in Fairless Hills, Pa. — a plant built on the site of an old U.S. Steel manufacturing facility. If you make wind turbines or solar panels, your job is reliably green.” Looked at more broadly, “a green-collar job can be anything that helps put America on the path to a cleaner, more energy efficient future. That means jobs in the public transit sector, jobs in green building, jobs in energy efficiency — even traditional, blue-collar manufacturing jobs, provided what you’re making is more or less green. (Building an SUV? Blue-collar. Building a hybrid? Green-collar.)”

I’d add another green collar category—farming. There are good models of turning abandoned city lots into community gardens in New York, Detroit and other cities. The pay’s not great, but sustained gardening can help cut grocery bills. And as older farmers retire, there’s a chance to turn gardening skills into a farming career, furnishing food to city farmers’ markets. Or perhaps launch a career as a designer of rooftop gardens. At the conference at Bergen Community College, student Nirva Singh described how the Environmental Club and the Green Team turned cafeteria leftovers into compost used on a community garden on campus. Another project they want to tackle next, he said, is to create a rain garden on the roof of the student center.

For more information:

The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education
New Jersey Meadowlands Commission
What Is a Green-Collar Job, Exactly?, Time.com
Urban gardens ease bills, brighten cityscape, USAToday.com

(This article was also posted at Earth Legacy.)


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5 Responses to “Think Green, Go Green”



  1. larry |

    I doubt that we as a nation can stand around waiting for Al Gore’s dreams to come true. Basing our employment chances on your article’s examples we might be well into the next century before there are enough jobs.


  2. Tom |

    That might be true if everything else stops while the evolution to green jobs is underway. But that’s not the way it’s happening. The process really is evolutionary — as environmental programs advance and technology improves, more and more jobs will become “green.” The example Jan cited is a good one — making SUVs is blue-collar, making hybrids is green-collar.

    You don’t have to be a global warming doubter, as I tend to be, to see that anything we can do to improve our environment and reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy is a good thing. Even though I love my politically incorrect Jeep Grand Cherokee, I understand the path we (everyone, all countries) must take. The green jobs emphasis simply shows that progress will continue even as people work more and more in environmentally friendly jobs.


  3. Brianna |

    I have no objection to “green” development. All I ask is that it be economically sustainable as well as ecologically, i.e. not subsidized with government money. Partially because I object to paying for it, but mostly because I think government funded schemes a) have no reason to be economically sustainable, b) will not work long-term because they are not economically sustainable, and c) get in the way of the people who might actually have a sustainable energy scheme up their sleeve somewhere, but can’t obtain the money to develop it.


  4. Elizabeth Barrette |

    I would love to see more green-collar jobs. Neither the economy nor the energy system we have now is sustainable in the long term; that means we need to change them. I would prefer to see rational, gradual change than collapse or revolution. I am encouraged by some developments in renewable energy, such as solar power; and by growing interest in organic farming methods.


  5. Brian |

    When the economics of a free market support “green jobs,” is when those jobs will show up, and not one second before. The only way government can “encourage” (here used as a euphemism for “force”) green jobs is by penalizing industries that are not green.

    The opinions of people (pundits, actors, and most especially the elected) that are not invested in productive business are useless and meaningless. If “green jobs” are such a damned fine idea, then they should put their money where their mouths are. Having no dog in the hunt means you don’t get to tell the pack-masters how to run their hounds.

    As others have written, I am not opposed to people investing their money in green enterprises as long as they chose to do so of their own free will. Screwing a pistol in my ear and telling me that I must invest in green enterprises is another matter entirely, even, and most especially, if it is “for my own good.”


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