The words “sustainable” and “green” are attached to everything around us: new products, life style choices, energy and jobs. The “in” position is to sustainably green in whatever you do. You are asked to eat, think, drink, live and work green. But what does that mean? Why is there such a “buzz” about green and sustainability? What is a “green sustainable” job?
It means that there is a growing recognition that mankind must alter dramatically some of its actions because we cannot afford the cost of doing things the same old way. Our lives are build around a complex system of inter dependent actions that affects us all. We get our food and feed, our fuel, our fibers, flowers, and our forests from these ecological systems. When there were not many of us on Earth, the supply of resources seemed infinite and we planned and acted accordingly. Now the population of Earth is approaching 6 billion and some basic resources are becoming difficult to afford such as energy and food as well as water and in some places clean air.
Just as there are more people there are more opportunities and more costs. Competition for diminishing or limited resources is growing with demand. Old ideas that made the United States great now rest on no longer valid assumptions. China will soon be the number one speaking country in the world; 25% of India’s population with the highest IQ is greater than the total population of the Untied States, which means that India has more honor students than the US has children. According to a marketing video for SONY, the top ten in-demand jobs today di not exist in 2004. Today we as a standard practice are training our children for jobs that do not yet exist, but we live our lives as if everything will be just as it was yesterday. With technologies not yet discovered we are getting our next generation ready to solve problems we do not yet know exist. This is the green sustainable world of the next hour. We no longer have the luxury of waiting a few years to make decisions, for in our hesitation or inaction we will be left behind in the tsunami of humanity’s growth and technology’s relentless progress.
The US Department of Labor estimates that the children of today will have had 10- 14 jobs by the time they are 38; the old paradigms of the past have fallen and most of us are unaware. The internet has made MySpace the 5th most populous country in the world and growing; are you a citizen? It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million people television took 13, and the Internet took 4 years. From the SONY video: “A weeks’ worth of information in the New York Times contains more information than a person was likely to come across in a lifetime in the 18th century” The amount of information generated this year will be around 4 X1019; if you cannot read this number and do not understand it, you are watching the future leave the station without you. And, this amount of information is more than all the information accrued in the last 5000 years. The amount of new technological information doubles every two years. So half of what student learns is outdated by year three.
To add to this fast moving dynamic workplace are the pressures human activities are putting on Earth’s ecosystems. We are racing through our oil deposits to supply our growing energy needs and in doing so we are pouring carbon into the air which is raising the temperature that in turn is melting the ice at the poles causing some people to run for their lives as water levels rise. Of course if you have enough money already, you simply will move to higher ground and say there is no problem, but most of the world is too poor to do so. In addition mankind is adding methane and nitrogen through its insatiable demand for low quality food sources (corn syrup) that come from industrial agriculture by adding fertilizers and pesticides to lands that cannot sustain the crops in the first place. We do this so that we can provide a quick energy fix to the workers of the world while we poison the environment around us because we have not yet invent an adaptive sustainable technology that will allow us to feed an even larger human population.
The green and sustainable movement is a dynamic market and life style choice that seeks to regulate, repair and restore a balance to human actions and the systems environment that support quality of life for humanity. Conceptual definitions such as these are the easy part of the conversation; how we translate these ideas and concepts into personal, real world decisions right now is our challenge. Green or sustainable jobs, therefore, are well paying, career track jobs adding directly to preservation or enhancement of environmental quality.
It is important to keep in mind that positions designed to improve environmental quality are not guaranteed to provide a stable living wage job that provides workers with essential benefits. It is also unclear if local green collar jobs will benefit low-income people and families, a familiar refrain from the environmental justice movement. Yet the people most likely to be negatively impacted by climate change and energy costs are those with economic challenges.
Entry level jobs, for those with the basic work skills of being responsible, being on time, having good communication skills, include green building retrofitting enterprises that “fix up” buildings so that they leak less energy helping homeowners and businesses save on energy bills, lowering the use of dirty energy. Additional entry level green jobs for example include energy auditor, green carpenter, and insulation installer as well as solar and PV (photo-voltaics) installers and mass transit operators. At a professional level we find job categories such as, Eco-Tourism and Hospitality, Planning and Land Use, Health and Medicine, Environmental legal careers, Eco-educators, Design build specialties in Architecture and Landscaping, Food and Farming, and Corporate Social Responsibility officers. The list is by no means exhaustive but rather an attempt to show that everything will be a green job eventually. However, right now, today we need to sort out the immediate choices that face us everyday keeping an eye.
Post high school, college degrees are one way of acquiring the skills necessary to meet the demands of the new green movement, as are certification processes that are beginning to spring up for what were once called blue collar and now are referred to as green collar jobs. The plethora of certification opportunities come with their own challenges as the job seeker must sort through competing claims through accreditation. All of this becomes overwhelming and certainly confusing as well as full of the potential for small business start up entrepreneurs.
Sustainable and green define a mind set that tries to bring added value to the technological progress of mankind. These two concepts hope to mitigate environmental excesses in order to enhance the quality and affordability of life for the greatest number of people.
As the dynamics of climate change, up or down, begin to interact with food and energy supplies, the possibilities and demands for jobs not yet imagined will only grow. And given the complexities of the issues the need for continuing educational opportunities will become a normative standard. Knowledge, whether wiring a building or designing a wind turbine, will require detailed skill sets acquired through a life time of learning. Green and sustainable will require broad-based education and will demand the ability to change course on a dime.