We know more about green jobs than we did!

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“Don’t believe the doubters who claim that we have to make a choice between protecting the environment or growing the economy. That’s a lie. There are millions of jobs to be created, businesses to be built, fortunes to be made in tapping the potential of renewable energy… And in the years ahead, we will need an all-out global commitment to clean air, clean harbors, clean coasts …and the preservation of our endangered ocean and marine resources.” Secretary John Kerry, in his Commencement address at Northeastern University, May 6, 2016

The semester has begun, and I am again teaching a Green Careers Exploration class (this semester at Holyoke Community College in Holyoke, Massachusetts). In the first class, all of us build a definition for a green job: does not increase greenhouse gasses emissions, operates on a Cradle to Cradle basis, rather than a cradle to grave basis, is efficient in its use of energy, water, inputs, and the list goes on. We consider whether our definition is based on products created, services offered, processes used, or some combination. One of the best examples of this consideration is whether PV solar manufacturing jobs meet our definition. Does the energy-and-input-intensive process cancel out the end product of a panel that creates electricity from the Sun? (See this National Geographic article on PV panel production.) And, we identify jobs that we might name as ‘green’.

I think this is the eighth time I’ve taught this class or a version of it (and likely the 50th time I’ve facilitated these conversations). This year, I listened as the students named jobs that six or seven years ago students in those early classes would never have listed, partly because those jobs, if they existed, weren’t well-known or understood, and partly because we all know much more about the complexity of climate impacts and climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Students in this semester’s class listed jobs like sustainability specialist, a job which certainly did exist but wasn’t well known. Now, big institutions (universities, large corporations and hospitals) have these positions and look to these professionals to manage energy generation and use, construction and renovation, employee education and training and other things. Students also named automotive engineers working to build alternative fuel vehicles, biofuel manufacturing technicians, brownfields redevelopment project directors. And, most exciting, they named managers and bookkeepers at small renewable energy and energy efficiency companies as being green jobs, recognizing that the administrative operations at a small business allow for services and sales of renewable energy products.

What Secretary Kerry says grows truer every day: more jobs, more businesses. More important, though, I believe, is that we are also coming to see the ways in which all jobs can contribute to climate adaptation and mitigation. Tell us, what are the ways your work contributes to climate adaptation and mitigation?

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