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Green Technology: Where the Jobs Are
Joel Makower, 5 Mar 06

If the e-mails and calls I'm getting are any indication, there's a rapidly growing realization out there that clean and green technology is where the jobs are. Nearly once a day, someone calls or writes for help in finding employment in the clean-tech space. (Note to those of you now tempted to call or write: Please don't.)

These job seekers aren't just diploma-fresh twenty-somethings. They're mid-career and even late-career job changers, accomplished individuals with advanced technical degrees and impressive career paths. Some have made conscious career changes; others are less voluntarily seeking new work. In any case, they are drawn to the promise, and the financial (and possibly psychic) benefits, of working to advance clean energy, advanced materials, organic products, locally based business, or any of a number of other opportunities.

Politicians are drawn to clean-tech, too. Over the past few years, a succession of cities, counties, regions, and states have sought to brand themselves as the "Silicon Valley" of clean technology, or some such moniker. For example, San Francisco has explored what it would take to become a clean-tech Mecca. Other studies have show the potential for clean energy and related technologies to create jobs in Arizona, New Mexico, New York, the Midwest U.S., the Northwest U.S. (PDF), and America as a whole.

And then there's the Apollo Alliance, the coalition of labor and environmental groups, that has been advocating a Ten-Point Plan for Good Jobs and Energy Independence. You get the idea.

Comes now the City of Angels, heralding "green technology" (in its parlance) as the new job-creation machine for Southern California. According to Jobs in L.A.'s Green Technology Sector, released last week by the Economic Roundtable, "Los Angeles has unrealized opportunities to become a growing provider of 'green' goods and services, and through this growth to create decent jobs that benefit all residents of the city."

The Los Angeles study is noteworthy for the level of detail it offers, and for the broad occupational territory it covers. To qualify as a "green-tech" industry in the study required meeting three filtering criteria: that the industry be responsible for at least 500 jobs in the city of L.A., that it have a stable or growing employment base, and that it offered average monthly wages of at least $2,500 (in 2002).

Seventeen green-tech industries qualified, from water and sewage systems to a variety of building contractor types to petroleum product recycling. Plus: wholesale electronics, legal services, computer systems design, scientific and technical consulting, and "miscellaneous durable goods wholesaling." You'll have to dig into the report to see how each of these qualifies as "green tech."

The types of job opportunities was similarly broad. Among the "green technology occupations" listed are electricians, carpenters, plumbers, laborers, and secretaries -- not typically the tree huggers that come to mind when one thinks about "green jobs."

Therein lies both the problem and the promise of green- and clean-tech jobs. The problem is how to define a clean/green job from a conventional one. What, exactly, is the substantive difference in job descriptions between a "green" plumber and her non-green counterpart? Do "green" bookkeepers tally accounts differently than the others? The L.A. report begs the question, though it doesn't quite answer it.

But that's also the good news: Anyone, with almost any skill set, can tap into the growing green economy as a source of jobs and careers.

That's the story I tell all those job-seekers who call or write me, and I'm sticking to it.

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Important topic! Possibly a survey of sorts might just prove how important.

Is it worth considering that of all potential "green" initiatives, helping people (define) find their way toward contributing through their daily work seems rather promising.

Not a judgement of the article, maybe just hope that, with some expert contribution/guidance, sustainability might be enhanced.

Maybe the time is right for a "call to action" in the work place. Not phony PR campaigns. Maybe "Green Awards" from this organization recognizing/highlighting specific businesses making real contributions.

Could help attract the 'best and brightest' to the effort.

Posted by: H Lomen on 5 Mar 06

I work at a career services office, and I’m very interested in the sustainable initiatives taken on by organizations, businesses, entrepreneurs, and community outfits. Here’s my contribution to this discussion.

Many people aren’t accustomed to thinking of their job search as something they do intentionally. Rather, it’s an unfortunate side effect of graduation/unemployment/being broke.

Yes, you can make a positive contribution to society and make a living at the same time, but it helps to do some research into potential employers and occupations that you find interesting. When you introduce yourself to your company of choice, you should be able to tell them how you can contribute to their success because you already have a sense of what they need from employees.

I recommend looking into your local convention center to see if any trade shows or conferences are going to come into town, you might be able to buy a ticket and do a little research and networking: very graciously ask different reps how someone with your skill set can contribute to that industry/company/profession. Go to the convention center’s website, and look at the events coming for this year. This will also point you to some professional organizations that you might want to join.

It also helps to have access to the major business databases like LexisNexis, Hoovers, Corporate Affiliations etc. These databases will allow you to do more in-depth research. Local libraries may well subscribe to some or all of these.

The best advice I received (after emailing dozens of different notables in the field and asking for advice) was to do work that would lend me credibility as someone who can effect positive changes that demonstrate knowledge of sustainability and best practice. You might have mad skills--but have you ever worked on an environmental campaign (not exactly) have you convinced anyone to adopt sustainable measures (not really) did you ever figure out how to put a photovoltaic tile on your roof or compost toilet in your bathroom (no, but I reallllly want to). Then you’ll say--but I read treehugger and worldchanging every day, and I bike to work, and I don’t flush it down unless it’s brown etc. etc… None of which necessarily implies professional competencies.

Credibility through volunteer work, community government (some towns ban composting toilets, is yours one of them? Hey- you’ve got an issue to take up), tech work for local non-profits (I’d rather get paid to, but…), support those already doing good work and positively contribute to their initiatives.

So, you job-seekers, get to your local library, get volunteering, and get going to conventions.

Oh, for those of you looking for a guide to green career information, here's a modest list of helpful links:

(more coming on that website regarding researching employers and green industries soon…)

Posted by: L Redlinski on 5 Mar 06

How about starting a job board at Worldchanging?

Posted by: Kim on 5 Mar 06

Are there enough jobs available in this field to use all the qualified people? Or is it like graphic design-completely over-saturated?

Posted by: happy bunny on 5 Mar 06

Durn it Joel, I was just about ready with my nice cover letter to you...just kidding. Seriously though, a very interesting post since I'm one of those looking to jump. Someday, we might find that the green and sustainable business as hot as the internet boom-driven hiring, and I hope that will be the case because it means more than a job; it means that people are finally starting to pay attention. But, that is not the reality today. Look at the and you'll see the slim pickings, especially for someone who can't back down from their present income. In today's world, L Red.'s advice is the most realistic. You're going to have to wedge your way in through means other than job postings on Monster. You are also most likely to move into these industries as Joel suggests by making a move to them within your existing profession. For example, I'm an IT guy and a project manager. I suspect that skill could be used by any business including green ones. I have also taken the job-hunting steps that L Red suggested, and it has yet to produce anything, but I hope it's getting me closer. Maybe I should put a compost toilet in that newly remodeled basement...

Posted by: Erik on 5 Mar 06

As we are approaching a transition period from oil to post-oil, green alternatives are the natural way to go. The loss of a major fuel and material source will force a great number of technological and social changes. This will be for the better as the carbon output will drop dramatically and local alternatives with higher efficiency and community value will emerge. Way of the future, baby.

Posted by: Xavier on 6 Mar 06


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Posted by: Angelica on 9 Mar 06

Another aspect of this, that might be helpful to those of us working in fields that aren't considered "green" - you could also seek work in your own field, in a company that is looking for green-minded staff. For example, I work in entertainment marketing - not a tech job, not construction, etc. I don't plan on jumping to a new skill set any time soon. HOWEVER, I can take everything I have learned here, at TreeHugger, etc, and bring it to my own field; ie, find a green office supply company to provide all the paper and pens in our offices; educate the executives and talent (actors, directors, etc) I work with about green alternatives they can use in their work; make sure my company has extensive recycling programs for unusual objects like electronics, DVDs/CDs, videotapes, floppy disks, etc.

We can all do our part even if we're not going to make a big jump right now. I do also believe, as it's been said on this site many times: eventually, every company in every field, is going to need sustainability staffers.

Posted by: Prog Grrl on 11 Mar 06



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