Career Counseling for a Green Economy

By Willa Smith Davis


It wasn't long ago that when people thought of "green jobs" they conjured park ranger, ecologist, or activist for an environmental group like Greenpeace. Now there's a new green economy that's stretching its fingertips in all directions and touching just about any industry one can think of.

The Awareness and Definition of Green
"Green" is basically a short way to say that something is good for the environment, that it is "environmentally sustainable". So, why do people suddenly care so much? There are a lot of reasons, but the biggest one is that the crisis of global warming has become a concern for everyday people throughout the country. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina and high-profile media efforts like Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth have put global warming in the international spotlight.

This attention is translating into broad public support for a new industry of products, services and technologies designed with the environment in mind. There's so much, in fact, that an entire green economy is emerging. Solar panels, wind turbines, green buildings, hybrid cars, and organic agriculture are all part of the rapidly growing "green awareness and action" that is taking the US (and the world) by storm.

We know that global warming concerns are driving "green values", the importance of doing what's possible for "environmental sustainability", but how does that work with the need for "green jobs" and why the push for a "green economy"?  The answer is due to our dependence on fossil fuels, both to run our vehicles and to power our homes and other buildings.  Everything that is produced or operates in some way requires "energy": 

  • Nationwide, buildings and homes are responsible for:
    • 36% of energy usage
    • 30% of greenhouse-gas emissions
    • 30% of waste production.

 "Each non-weatherized building is an open spigot for pollution and wastes energy dollars," says Van Jones, author of The Green Collar Economy. 

  • Van goes on to write, ". . . our food system is a major consumer of precious resources and has, between its production processes and global distribution, a significant carbon footprint."
  • Cars, trucks, and airplanes account for roughly 66% of the petroleum we consume.
  • The World Bank predicts that two-thirds of the global population will suffer from lack of access to freshwater by 2025. 

Sustainability and its Factors  
The Bruntland Commission in 1987 defined "sustainability" as  "The ability to provide for the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs." It includes not only the environmental factor to describe this concept, but also "economic" and "social" factors.  Also known as Our Common Future, the Brundtland Report alerted the world to the urgency of making progress toward economic development that could be sustained without depleting natural resources or harming the environment.  The following diagram shows how all these factors are intertwined to create "sustainability" to round out the "triple bottom line".


Sustainability Factors 
When the "Environment" and "Economics" are both taken care of, a community is created that has the capacity to be competitive, resilient and attractive to private and public enterprise, and it contributes to the financial well-being of its residents.  This makes it "viable" meaning that the community will be "able to survive".

When both the "Economics" and "Social" factors are taken care of, a community is created that enables citizens to enjoy satisfying, self-sufficient jobs and a high quality of life.  It also encourages and recognizes innovation, hard work, good character, and community involvement of citizens and business.  This makes it "equitable", meaning that economic actions are "just" and "fair" to all. 

Likewise, when the "Environment" and "Social" factors are taken care of, a community is created that is "bearable" meaning that it creates an enduring and tolerable condition for both.

Thus the goal of a plan for "sustainability" would benefit the environment, improve the lives of humans, and make money at the same time. 

Green Employment
The call for "green jobs" is increasing everywhere.  In February 2009, the "Good Jobs, Green Jobs" National Conference was held in Washington D.C.  It brought together over 2,000 leaders from every sector of society - the labor movement, business and industry, environmental organizations and community groups, social justice advocates, elected officials and governmental decision makers to forge a "New Green Deal".

What is a "green job" vs. a "green collar job" and where do they fit in the "world of work" per the ACT's "World of Work" map?  Van Jones's defines a "green collar job" as "blue-collar employment that has been upgraded to better respect the environment.  . . . (it is) family-supporting, career-track, vocational, or trade-level employment in environmentally-friendly fields."  Some examples include: 

  • Electricians installing solar panels
  • Plumbers retrofitting water heaters to use solar energy
  • Farmers engaging in organic agriculture and some bio-fuel production
  • Construction workers building energy-efficient green buildings, wind power farms, solar farms, and wave energy farms

So it turns out that what's good for the environment is going to be good for America's workforce.  And there are already career pathways and education and training programs in place to build a workforce ready to create a healthier, cleaner, greener, more sustainable world.  (See Resource List)

Green jobs include jobs at all levels of education, skill and experience. As stated in Jim Cassio's "Green Careers Resource Guide", "a job's title rarely reveals whether it's a green job or not."  He continues, "An occupation is a way of categorizing similar jobs. For example, the occupation of journalist encompasses a variety of journalist jobs, including those that specialize in subjects ranging from politics to entertainment to environmental issues. Journalists who specialize in environmental issues can be said to work in "green jobs".

An Exercise to Use with Clients
Based on the "world of work" map, think about and make a list of the possible industries that would employ "green and sustainable" jobs.  First, make the list of each industry, such as automotive, landscaping, etc.  Then, brainstorm and list as many "green and sustainable" job titles that you can think of, even if they don't exist yet.   Remember the statistics about jobs - approximately one third of the jobs today didn't exist 10 years ago, about a third of the jobs that exist today won't exist 10 years from now, and about one third of the jobs that will exist in 10 years haven't been created yet.  Start envisioning what those jobs are.

Unique opportunities abound for "sustainable" and "green" jobs in virtually every career field.  And there's already a plethora of job lists and blogs attesting to the need for workers in a variety of green and sustainable jobs.  According to a recent report, total US wind jobs now outnumber that of the coal industry at more than 85,000 jobs in 2008 (compared to 81,000 jobs in the coal industry).

As a career counselor what difference can you make to support your clients and a sustainable world? 

  • Develop a "sustainable mindset"; embrace sustainable values
  • Implement energy efficiency strategies
  • Use mass transit and carpool whenever possible
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
  • Support students/clients in aligning career and education goals with their personal green values
  • Join like-minded social networking groups
  • Contact and support elected officials to take action

Sustainability Salute - Peace Sign Plus One Peace plus one


Editor's Note:  This is an excerpt from a longer article by the same name.  Contact the author at the email below for the complete article.  NCDA members will receive the next issue of Career Developments (Winter 2009) in early December, which will focus on this topic, specifically "Developing a Greener Career".


Willa Davis, MS, NCC, RPCC, is a National Certified Counselor and a Registered Professional Career Counselor in California.  She is also a certified Career Development Facilitator Instructor.  She also has a private practice as a career and educational services consultant whose goal is "to facilitate the visualization and actualization of one's vocational calling."  Currently, she works at Yuba College, a community college in Northern California.  She sits on the college's "Green Future" project team whose mission is to spearhead the college's efforts to "green" its campuses and to lead by example to the wider community.  She can be reached by e-mail at wsmithdavis@gmail.com.   


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