Finding Your Dream Green Job

The green economy may be bigger than ever

Max Haines-Stiles, founder of Foodia, makes it his mission to encourage people to eat local, seasonal food.

Photographs by Lane Johnson

If you’ve ever considered turning your passion for sustainability into a career, there may no better time than now. While some industries such as green energy and transportation receive more media attention than others, “green jobs” exist in almost every sector of the economy. Governments, businesses, and consumers have recognized the synergies between environmental and economic objectives. If you’re excited about protecting the environment, there may be a niche in the green economy for you.

Jim Cassio, author of Green Careers: Choosing Work for a Sustainable Future, defines a green job as any job that is good for the environment. “Green jobs are found in virtually all industries and sectors,” he says. “The green economy includes about 15 different industries ranging from renewable energy generation to energy efficiency to clean-tech R&D and manufacturing. Then you have mixed industries where you can find some green businesses and some green jobs, for example, pesticide services that specialize in using natural and organic pesticides, and clothing and accessories industries that use organic and recycled material.”

Katrina Cope, a career advisor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, agrees. “Many people have no idea of the spectrum of opportunities,” Cope says. “The breadth of what’s considered a green job is surprising, and the biggest challenge is to narrow your interests and develop a target in your job search.”

Letha McClaren is Vice President of Product Management at iControl Networks, a Palo Alto-based firm specializing in remote home monitoring and energy management systems. “My definition of a green job would be any job that is working towards the conservation of our natural resources,” says McLaren. “iControl is helping consumers understand their energy consumption and providing an easy way to achieve conservation, so my job meets that criterion.”

Nicole Wires, a graduate of Stanford University’s Earth Systems program, found her green job in agriculture and sustainable food systems. She is the Food Systems Change Coordinator for Collective Roots, a nonprofit organization bringing garden-based education and urban farming to East Palo Alto. “Collective Roots is my dream job,” Wires says. “I’ve known that I wanted to work in this field since I was a sophomore in college.”

Wires’ boss and Collective Roots executive director Kris Jensen says that although it may not be the first industry that comes to mind, urban farming definitely fits the definition of a green career. “I think the media focuses so much on things like alternative energy… We don’t think much about how growing food and farming can be a green job. Organic farming, local farming-—those things are very ‘green.’ We’re creating gardens; we’re helping people to learn how to grow their own food.”

Bay Area entrepreneur Max Haines-Stiles combines Wires’ and Jensen’s passion for growing food with McClaren’s enthusiasm for consumer education. Last summer, Haines-Stiles founded his current venture, Foodia, in San Francisco. “Foodia helps consumers find good food,” says Haines-Stiles. “We’re building web and mobile applications to help users organize and understand the information they need to make informed decisions about the food they buy. One of my goals is to disprove the myth that eating in a sustainable manner means paying more. Eating simple, seasonal food that is produced locally is one of the cheapest ways to eat.”

Green jobs can also be found in the sustainable management of food scraps and other waste. As a principal at San Jose-based Cascadia Consulting, Richard Gertman specializes in helping businesses and governments implement recycling and composting programs. Gertman, a self-described zealot when it comes to sustainable waste management, started a campus recycling program while studying geology at the University of California at Davis. “I eventually realized that the work I was doing in recycling had more impact on the earth than the work I was doing in the geology department,” he says.

Gertman’s enthusiasm is shared by his colleagues, including Cascadia consultant John Mulrow. “The job is a lot of hours, but I don’t mind because it’s fun,” Mulrow says. He considers his job “green” not just in terms of what he does each day, but also because Cascadia Consulting supports its employees’ efforts to live sustainable lives. “I want to maximize public transportation, so I keep a company car at the farthest stop on the BART train, and I take BART from the city to there. I think a green job could be any job that has those kinds of principles built in, even if it’s not directly related to an environmental topic.”

How easy is it to find a green job? Author Jim Cassio says, “Many people ask me if the green jobs they hear so much about are a bunch of hype, since they can’t find them among the job ads. You’ll need to learn how to utilize the hidden job market if you hope to have success in finding a green job. While it is true that green jobs are rich in variety, growing in number, and have a bright outlook, it is supply and demand that determines how competitive the job market is for a given type of job. Today’s market for green jobs is just as competitive as for non-green jobs, and sometimes even more so.”

To narrow your interests and improve your credibility in the job market, career advisor Katrina Cope suggests setting up informational interviews and pursuing internship and volunteer opportunities with green employers. Once you identify a particular area of interest, let your enthusiasm help you stand out. A genuine passion and eagerness to contribute can be more important than your depth of experience.

“I seek potential employees who are passionate and innovative,” says Letha McLaren of iControl. “Energy management is such a new and evolving market, it’s important that employees possess those traits.”

Collective Roots executive director Kris Jensen agrees. “Employers want to hire people who are really committed to a mission. Sometimes that’s more important than any particular skill set.”

The bottom line? Whatever you do, don’t give up on finding your dream green job. “It took me a while to get established in this sector, but there are jobs out there,” Jensen says. “Find out what your passion is and just pursue it.”

Back to School for Green Careers
In the pursuit of a green career, going back to school may be a good option, especially for mid-career employees looking to make a major change in their fields. For those seeking to beef up their green educational credentials, these California universities offer advanced degrees or certificates in sustainability:
Antioch University (Los Angeles); M.A. in Urban Sustainability
Dominican University of California (Marin County); MBA in Sustainable Enterprise
Monterey Institute of International Studies (Monterey); M.A. in International Environmental Policy (MAIEP)
Presidio Graduate School (San Francisco); MBA in Sustainable Management
San Francisco State University College of Business (San Francisco); MBA with an emphasis in sustainable business
University of California at Berkeley (Berkeley); Haas School of Business, MBA program with sustainability integrated throughout
University of California at Davis (Sacramento and San Ramon); Graduate School of Management MBA program with sustainability integrated throughout

If your dream job requires a college education, consider one of these online degrees to save time and get ahead in your career and academic goals.

Please join us for the Eucalyptus Green Careers Expo 2011!


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