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Getting a slice of the green economy

Marketplace Staff Apr 13, 2007

Getting a slice of the green economy

Marketplace Staff Apr 13, 2007

TESS VIGELAND: The latest employment figures show the economy added about 180,000 new jobs in March. That’s about what economists were expecting, and another sign that the job market remains strong despite weakness in other parts of the economy.
Most of the new jobs were in construction or health care.

But there’s another part of the economy that’s hot, hot, hot: the green sector.
As in jobs that help the environment.

We asked Sam Eaton from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk to look into just what it takes to go “green collar.”

[SOUND: A flushing toilet]

SAM EATON: Susy Holyhead calls herself the “urinal queen” for a reason.

SUSY HOLYHEAD: Yeah, about an eight-second flush and I see no indication that it’s a low-flow toilet. So there could be some savings there.

Holyhead directs the business greening program for a Los Angeles nonprofit group Sustainable Works. Today, she’s doing an environmental assessment for a large construction firm.

Holyhead writes up a laundry list of changes the business can make in order to be more environmentally conscious. Things like installing low-flow toilets and switching to 100 percent recycled printing paper.

HOLYHEAD: Just simple things like that really make a difference and are really easy to implement and here I am getting paid to do this kind of stuff.

Holyhead says her salary is great for a nonprofit, but her quality of life is even better. She rides her bike between jobs and lives near the beach in Santa Monica, Calif. These so-called green collar jobs are growing faster than almost any other career path.

Take environmental consulting and engineering. Kevin Doyle, with the Environmental Careers Organization in Boston, says jobs in that sector are expected to grow 5.5 percent a year through the end of the decade. And with companies fighting over talent, wages are also rising.

KEVIN DOYLE: I am more optimistic now that not only are there a lot of jobs for people who want to do this kind of work, but that the outcomes of those jobs will actually produce the kinds of results that environmentalists have been thinking about for a long time.

In other words, real changes in things like environmental efficiency and resource use.

Doyle says those considering a move into one of these careers should pick a specific path.

DOYLE: So if climate change turns you on go with that. You might pick air quality or water quality. You might pick biodiversity loss, poverty. Find an issue, get the skills you need, be passionate. And you’ll be fine.

Boning up on green job skills is easier than ever with more colleges offering environmental studies programs and green MBAs. But applying those skills isn’t always easy.

Auden Schendler heads Aspen Skiing Company’s Environmental Affairs department.

AUDEN SCHENDLER: The problem is you come out often from these programs very idealistic. And you get into the real world and it’s like coming over the top of a trench and getting machine-gunned.

Schendler has one of the most coveted green jobs in the country. He gets dozens of resumes everyday from college students hoping he’s hiring. But Schendler says jobs like his often have more to do with luck than anything else. And for that reason, his advice is to reinvent the job you’re already doing, rather than seeking out a new one.

SCHENDLER: Every job is a sustainability job. If you’re working for Exxon-Mobil, we need you in there as an environmentalist and an advocate of sustainability. So my advice has always been turn your job into a green job.

Schendler says many of today’s corporate sustainability departments were formed after employees took the lead. And it doesn’t stop at the cubicle.

Oreatha Ensley is behind a budding movement by the Los Angeles Apollo Alliance to help low-income communities like South LA get a slice of the green economy.

OREATHA ENSLEY: We’re talking about everyday jobs, carpentry. We’re talking about learning how to put windows in or weatherization, or air conditioning for these green buildings. We don’t need college educators to do that. We do need the blue collar, we need trained people.

Ensley says with city-funded, green apprenticeship programs, low-skilled workers would be able to boost their earning power overnight. She says not only would that fill the need for more boots on the ground. it would bring life back to poor and minority neighborhoods that once served as the blue-collar base for cities like Los Angeles.

I’m Sam Eaton for Marketplace Money.

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