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Green collar (II): where jobs are

The green economy has arrived. Its demand for workers rivals the Internet boom. Business schools are preparing alumni and politicians want to keep America competitive. So where are the jobs?

Including professions as diverse as water catchment specialists and bio-mimicry engineers, the green workforce is difficult to quantify, but everyone recognizes that it’s growing, and fast.

In a July 26, 2007 article for Newsweek, writer Anna Kuchment proclaimed, “graduates of the class of 2007 are finding that being environmentally friendly is a growth industry“. And they are finding that no matter what their major, there are jobs available.

Kevin Doyle is president of consulting company Green Economy Inc. and has coauthored the book The ECO Guide to Careers That Make a Difference. He estimates that the U.S. green industry in 2005 totalled about $265 billion and employed 1.6 million people in about 118,000 different job titles.

In an article entitled For Job Market, Green Means Growth (Forbes magazine, July 3, 2007), writer Brian Wingfield outlines some of the new professions that soon may be as common as doctor, lawyer and teacher.

  • Emissions brokers: like brokers in the stock market, but helping to trade greenhouse gas credits. “If the U.S. ever moves to a mandatory trading system, expect this field to boom.”
  • Bio-mimicry engineers: engineers who use nature as a model for solving problems. “For example, Atlanta’s Sto Corporation created a self-cleaning paint that repels dirt whenever it gets wet, just like the lotus leaf does.”
  • Sustainability coordinators: corporations (like Wal-Mart) use managers to oversee the economic and environmental components of company efforts.

There will most likely be hundreds, if not thousands, of new job titles as the green economy matures, but there will be some industries- both new and traditional- that will suddenly have hundreds, if not thousands of new jobs.

A cleantech gold rush

If you follow the money, there will be a lot of work in cleantech. “At $55 billion, the global market for biofuels, solar, wind, and fuel cells are now considerably larger than the global recorded music industry”, says Ron Pernick, co-founder and principal of the cleantech research firm Clean Edge.

Much touted by Silicon Valley’s superstar venture capitalists Vinod Khosla and John Doerr (as discussed in a previous faircompanies article), cleantech companies aren’t having trouble finding funding. VC investment in energy-tech start-ups increased by 262% in 2006, according to the Clean Edge/Nth Power’s Clean-Energy Trends 2007 report.

Nth power founder and managing director Nancy Floyd has witnessed this outstanding growth since she started investing in cleantech back in 1993. “Ten years ago there was less than 50 million dollars invested in this sector. Last year [there] was 2.4 billion. And if you look at the first quarter of this year it was 900 million which means we’re on a runway to have 2.6 billion of venture capital invested in this sector.”

And this growth may be just the beginning. The report predicts that global clean energy markets could quadruple in the coming decade, growing from $55.4 billion in revenues in 2006 to more than $226.5 billion by 2016 for four benchmark technologies:

  • The biofuels market globally reached $20.5 billion in 2006 and is projected to grow to over $80 billion by 2016.
    solar photovoltaics (modules, system components, and installations) is forecast to grow from a $15.6 billion market in 2006 to $69.3 billion by 2016.
  • Wind power installations will expand from $17.9 billion in 2006 to $60.8 billion in 2016.
  • Fuel cells and distributed hydrogen will grow from $1.4 billion in 2006 to $15.6 billion in 2016.

As we discussed in part 1 of this report, the predictions for new solar jobs fall in line with this data. According to a report from the SolarTech organization, Silicon Valley alone will need between 10,000 to 20,000 new workers to fill solar jobs in the next decade.

But the cleantech jobs aren’t just in Silicon Valley. In Massachusetts the clean energy cluster will soon be the 10th largest industry in the state and according to the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative report, Massachusetts renewable energy companies are the fastest growing sector in their green economy.

In the U.S. there are hotspots for cleantech investment, and the corresponding labor market growth. According to research group SustainLane, the top five cities for cleantech incubation -and thus job growth- are:

  • Austin, Texas, home to the Austin Clean Energy Incubator, formed here in 2001.
  • San Jose, California, has an incubator -the Environmental Business Cluster- and is located on the edge of Silicon Valley which assures access venture capital.
  • Berkeley, California, soon to house a $500 million center for biofuels and energy research (funded mostly by British Petroleum).
  • Pasadena, California, home to the venture capital flush California Technical Institute of Technology (CalTech) and the non-profit Entretec incubator.
  • Greater Boston, Massachusetts, supportive state policies for renewable energy and energy efficiency and MIT and its future cleantech incubator

Sustainable construction fever

Another rapidly growing part of the green economy is the green building sector. While it was impossible to put a number on its size a decade ago, in 2007 green building construction starts are expected to exceed $12 billion.

The Economist, in an article entitled Intelligent design from July 2, 2007, reports that “a craze for ‘green’ buildings is sweeping American business. As each company seeks to be greener than the next, so demand is growing to get buildings certified by the Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Design programme (LEED).”

The LEED certification, run by the non-profit Green Building Council, is currently highly valued by big corporations who are under pressure to construct or remodel their headquarters in a sustainable fashion. In New York City Bank of America is currently building it’s Bryant Park headquarters to achieve LEED platinum status (the construction can be seen in this faircompanies video) and JPMorgan has announced plans that their new investment-banking headquarters in New York’s World Trade Center will try for this highest level of energy efficiency and sustainability, according to LEED standards.

This “craze” for sustainable buildings has spread to homeowners as well. Today, all architects now need to be at least familiar with sustainable building materials, but there are some who are basing their careers on it.

Nathan Good, a “green” architect who works in Portland, Oregon, told faircompanies that now all of his clients “have aspirations for green homes- both new and remodeled. There is a wide range to the shades of green that my clients seek – from aggressive net-zero, carbon-neutral and restorative designs to homes that do the best they can with the limited budgets available”. And when it comes to hiring, Good has had no problem building a staff “who prefer to craft their careers in sustainable design over conventional architecture.”

Green architects are also finding inspiration in what others may see as limitations. For Construmat 2007- Europe’s largest construction tradefair held every two years in Barcelona-, Spanish architect Luis de Garrido designed a home entirely from recycled, reused and reclaimed materials with a net zero energy use. “R4 house doesn’t consume energy.

It only uses natural breezes, the sun and the heating and cooling of the earth, geothermal energy. There was no waste it its fabrication and construction”. It’s constructed in a modular fashion from recycled shipping containers, reclaimed wood and glass and insulated with fabric remnants. (For a glimpse, De Garrido gave us a tour of R4 House, in Spanish).

Roof gardeners

The green building has affected architects and builders, as well as a crop of new jobs like the green roof gardener. In March of 2007, The New York Times reported on this new- and curious- type of work. Cooper Scollan is responsible for planting and maintaining 1.7 million individual plants that cover the living roof of San Francisco’s new California of Sciences building, designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano.

Scollan, 30 years old, is defined by The New York Times as “a green collar worker, responsible for the safety and well-being of what soon will be the largest continuous swath of native vegetation in San Francisco.”

A more expansive job category that includes green roof work is that of Josiah Raison Cane of California’s landscape design firm Rana Creek. He bills himself a “native systems specialist” and when we talked to him in September of 2006, he summarized his, and his firms, work as such “we specialize in vegetative architectural systems, in living infrastructures: everything from green roofs, vegetation, even endangered species habitat on the roof to the way you move water through your building, recycling water on your site, using non-potable water for irrigation instead of drinking water.”

Water catchers

As awareness grows of our global water crisis- worldwide water consumption has been doubling every 20 years, more than twice the rate of human population growth, and the worst offenders are North Americans (North Americans use 1,280 cubic meters, as opposed to the 694 of Europeans and Australians and 186 of Africans)-, the demand grows for smarter water planning at home.

At the West Coast Green building conference in 2006, we talked to Dylan Coleman who as president of Wonderwater (Mount Shasta, California) he helps homeowners save and recycle water in and outside their homes.

“What I promote is rainwater collection, recycling and re-use systems. So basically I sell storage options for water collection, I have a subservice irrigation system that’s passive, and a stormwater and wastewater management system”.

Green home sales: EcoBrokers and green lenders

To sell, resell or buy these super sustainable homes (Energy Star features, green landscaping, solar, water management, etc), there is a new breed of realtors called EcoBrokers.

Chris Bartle, interviewed by faircompanies in San Francisco in 2006 (a video where Chris Bartle talks about his work as a “green” realtor), went through the ecobroker training and feels his improved skillset sets him apart. “How do you differentiate yourself as a realtor, everybody says the same thing… in the EcoBroker training, you learn about renewable energy systems, energy efficient appliances, indoor air quality, and you learn about marketing and how you sell the benefits of green features.”

Newsweek writer Jane Bryant Quinn, in her December 4, 2006 column, outlined the expanding roles within the new greener real estate industry, including that of EcoBroker which at the time numbered 250, with 500 more awaiting certification.

Besides the job of green realtor, Quinn includes ecobuilders (working on homes labeled by groups like Energy Star Home, Built Green, Build It Green, etc.), and green mortgage brokers.

There are now green mortgage companies, or even conventional mortgage brokers, who provide Energy Efficient Mortgages (EEMs). These mortgages often let you borrow more money than normal given that a more efficient home should provide the borrower with future savings on energy bills.


From more efficient toothpaste packaging to flushable diapers, the world of product design has been turned upside down by the rush to go sustainable.

One of the unlikely instigators of this move is Wal-Mart. Promising to be “packaging neutral” by 2025, they are pressuring their vendors to cut down on packaging, all 66,000 of them.

There are plenty of companies that had begun to develop more efficient packaging before Wal-Mart’s conversion. In May of 2007, The New York Times detailed the efforts for more sustainable packaging of many major corporations:

  • Procter & Gamble now uses rigid tubes for their Crest toothpaste so it can be shipped and displayed without boxes.
  • Coca-Cola plans to reduce the plastic used to make their Dasani water bottles by 7% over the next 5 years, by changing the shape of the bottle and cap.
  • Nestlé Waters North America (owner of brands like Poland Spring and Deer Park) claims to have saved 20 million pounds of paper in the past 5 years by using narrower labels.
  • McDonald’s has been reducing the amount of virgin paper and plastic in their fries boxes and coffee lids.

To help transform the way our products are delivered are a new breed of designers trained in cradle to cradle principles and knowledgeable of sustainable materials.

Long before green was a buzzword, the O2 Global Network has gathered designers in locations around the world to share knowledge about new technologies around sustainability.

“At debates, meetings and international events, the people in this unique forum have been grappling with the problems of a throw-away culture, formulating nonpolluting production methods, sourcing nontoxic, sustainably managed materials– and crucially, passing on the knowledge.”

In June of 2006 we talked to Alice Hartley, events and development coordinator for the NY branch, O2NYC about the designers role in the end product. “I’ve heard it said that designers have about 80% of the ultimate, where things go in the product cycle… once it reaches the consumer, it’s already packaged and if it’s packaged in a lot of plastic they have to decide what to do with it, but as designers you have a lot of influence over how things look in the marketplace and how things end up.”

Clothing redesigners

Like industrial design and architecture, the world of fashion hasn’t been left behind by the eco-movement. Designers are now having to learn about totally new materials and not just fabrics that have been around awhile, like those made from hemp and soy, but a whole new world of highly renewable textile like those derived from corn (Ingeo) and cellulose (Tencel).

Eco-designer Catherine Soucie has gone so far as to experiment with pricey Crabyon (made from shellfish shells) and Seacell (made from seaweed), but she’s moved beyond just commercially-marketed textiles and created her own definition of what can be used to make clothing. “This is made of used dryer sheets (points to dress)… I am always looking at textiles that have been designed for disposability. There’s so many things that are produced out there that are supposed to be disposable and they’re not.”

She has an entire line of clothing based on discarded and overstocked hosiery. Her passion for giving trash a second life, or trashion, began as a textile student in Vancouver. “A lot of the things I was working on was taking disposable, nonfunctional materials… and making them functional so that they can be made into another product.”

Now that there’s a market for the clothing, there’s room for eco-fashion entrepreneurs like Ursula Stahl and Callie Smith, who started the Boston-based green clothing store Envi. For Smith, this was a way to sculpt a career in the fashion industry that was consistent with her moral vision.

“When I started my own store I started doing research into sweatshops and the environmental impact of fashion and then I started seeing all of these, at that time there were a few, great designers who were doing stuff with environmentally conscious clothing and I thought wow, that’s a really cool idea. And since then the industry has just blown up, hundreds of designers have been added in the past couple of years.”

Co-owner Stahl recognizes that their dream jobs, like so many other green collar positions, most likely wouldn’t have been possible just a few years ago. “When we first started talking about it and Callie started doing all this research, you probably couldn’t have filled the store with the amount of designers or it would have been really repetitive… and now it just seems like everyday there’s just wonderful new designers popping up and for the first time there really is no sacrifice of style or quality or craftsmanship.”

“It’s just a brand new world.”