Morgan O’Donnell reviews the ways she would like to take a proactive role in the environment through work and defines the three categories of jobs that she is interested in pursuing.

by Morgan O’Donnell – Read about her search for a sustainable life at Red Raven Circling.

Defining Your Goals and Search

Maybe you recently watched An Inconvenient Truth or read Hot, Flat, and Crowded or maybe you grew up with parents who encouraged a respect of the land and investigation into ideas such as solar panels. It could even be that your child recently came home and asked you what your family is doing to stop global warming. Whatever the reason, you’ve decided that you want to do more than recycle your soda cans, play (Lil) Green Patch on Facebook, and buy Seventh Generation toilet paper. You have decided you want to have a green job in the green industry. Before you fire up the computer and start sending out your resume, you might spend a little time thinking about exactly what kind of job you want.

Once I decided to take a proactive role in the environment through work, I realized there were different ways that I could approach it. After several months of looking at jobs and organizations, I came up with 3 categories of jobs: eco-friendly, green, or sustainable. Here is how I define these categories.

Eco-friendly – You work for a company that has environmentally friendly policies, but your job does not directly interact with or impact the environment. For example, I consider my current job to be eco-friendly. I work for a large university (aka an academic city), which is taking significant steps to become greener from constructing LEED certified buildings to hiring a director of sustainability to switching to green cleaning products for the custodial staff. However, my position is in an academic program and my only real impact is through ordering environmentally friendly office supplies and schlepping all the used plastic bottles people leave in our offices down to the recycling container. Additionally, I make enough money to feed myself, but not enough to trade in my rusty, gas-guzzling jalopy for a hybrid Honda Civic. Plus, if I ever hope to install solar panels, I’d probably have to work another 20 years.

Green – A green job involves working for an organization whose primary focus is the environment, clean energy/technology, etc. A possible example of this might be working for a nonprofit activist organization where you are expected to work 50-60 hours per week, driving all over the place in your beat up, gas-guzzler. You probably earn barely enough to feed yourself and that half-starved, semi-feral cat living on your doorstep.

Some people thrive in this kind of job. I do not. I worry about all the pollution I am creating while driving my jalopy all over meanwhile trying to calculate in my head exactly how much gas will be left on the planet once I’m done with the driving. And, even though my family sometimes gets tired of my attempts to green them, they still like to have meals with me on a regular basis. Also, just for the record, I’d like to earn enough to comfortably feed myself (this includes regular doses of chocolate) and a clowder (this is a real word!) of feral cats as well as be able to save up enough to trade in my gas-guzzler for something more efficient.

Sustainable – A sustainable job involves either working in a direct impact position with an eco-friendly company or working for a green organization, but the distinguishing element (for me) is that the company takes a holistic view of sustainability. I think some examples will make clearer what I mean. Here are two possible scenarios that my fevered green brain has dreamed up.

  1. Still working for my university, I am now working in the Office of Sustainability where I help coordinate educational events, do outreach, and assist the director in researching ways to make the university even greener.I am paid enough to feed myself and the cats and have the option of working one day a week from home.I am able to ride the city bus to campus or drive my hybrid Honda Civic, which I can now afford. In my sustainable dream job, my boss also understands that I do indeed have a life outside of work (including volunteer work). Additionally, she or he allows/encourages me to participate in the university wellness plan because she or he realizes that sustainability encompasses much more than just the environment.
  2. I am hired by a local, nonprofit organization as an outreach/public relations person where I blog, manage the website, do web/social marketing, and design/write the publicity and educational materials. I primarily work from home (thereby saving gas and preventing more pollution), going into the office only once or twice per week. I am paid enough to feed myself, the cats, and to afford the hybrid Honda Civic. My boss realizes that I am a professional who will get the job done even though I may actually be updating the website and writing the blog while in my pajamas. This boss also understands that although I work primarily from home it doesn’t mean that I am on call 24 hours 7 days a week. For my part, I understand that should the office manager need to be out for a week for surgery or a trip to Hawaii, I will need to work at the office that week to help provide office coverage. My boss knows that I will do this without griping (or possibly only whining in my head). I also realize that there may be some weeks/activities that require me to be in the office, travel locally, or work evenings or weekends.

Telecommuting as a Green Option

In my second scenario above, I talk about a possible position, which allows telecommuting for part of the week. In this scenario, the organization was a local organization and presumably, I would meet and interview for the position in the traditional way. However, what if you want to apply for a position that is totally telecommuting and the organization’s headquarters isn’t even in your time zone? This is certainly an option, especially as more and more organizations realize the potential savings in money and benefit to the employee. However, I recommend that you check out The Search for a Sustainable Occupation Part II –  Green Ethical next week before you start applying.  I will share with you a few of my own green telecommuting stories…or should I say nightmares?

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about what kind of a sustainable occupation you are interested in.

UMassOnline Certificate in Sustainability Studies The UMassOnline Certificate in Sustainability Studies helps students gain an understanding of the theory and practice of sustainability. This program is available for both full time students and working professionals. Sustainability Studies looks to discover and examine humanity’s philosophies and practices, past and present, as they relate to the natural and social world, and consider what new or alternative philosophies and practices might be capable of providing a sustainable, balanced, and ethical future for the planet and its inhabitants. Click here, for more information about the UMassOnline Certificate in Sustainability Studies.

© 2009 – 2010, morgan_odonnell. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: morgan_odonnell (2 Articles)

Morgan O’Donnell, a writer, poet, and speaker, previously blogged at GreenZone Online where she used humor and a light-hearted approach to explore eco-issues. Using that same approach she examined green job-seeking topics as a contributing writer at Green Gigs. A member of Toastmasters since 2002, Morgan has shared her passion for helping people overcome their fear of public speaking by serving as an officer, mentor, and charter member in different clubs. She has also published essays and poetry in the Stars and Stripes newspaper, Army Times, Red River Review, Potomac Review, Amarillo Bay, and more. You can follow her musings on nature, poetry, writing, and the search for a sustainable life at Red Raven Circling.

  • Valerie Borgfield

    Thanks for the re-print. I had missed this one before, & it’s a great article!

  • Lindy Barnes

    Hi Morgan, This is great food for thought.

    I personally am on the countdown toward retiring from my profession as a teacher. However, I am not interested in staying home and doing nothing. Your ideas are a most welcome and thought provoking platform from which to help launch my next “career”.


  • Michelle

    I am getting back into the work force after being a stay at home mom and I want to do something in sustainability. The way I group it is….
    companies that want to be sustainable
    —work for them in the area of sustainability
    —just work for them in any position
    Companies that aren’t interested in sustainability
    —lead them into the new century
    companies that work on certifying and doing unbiased, third party auditting to confirm that the company is still meeting requirements to whatever they were certified to do
    –i.e. participate in greenwashing prevention.

    I’m getting nowhere fast on any of this. Suggestions?

    • Doreen

      I can totally relate. I have been back in the work force now full-time now for 4 years after having been a stay at home mom for 10 years. I went back into outside sales, which is where I came from and eventually fell into a job with a waste hauling and recycling company. I am now self-employed and consulting on my own. What is your skill set? Are you working now outside the home?

      • Morgan O’Donnell

        Doreen, thanks for stopping in. It sounds like you’ve found your niche. What areas do you consult in?

      • sophia

        good for you. what kind of consulting do you do?

  • Daniel

    You have a great idea about the solar products.
    We are the best manufacturer of all kinds of solar products in China.We can supply solar panel,solar heat water,solar collector and solar lamps ect.
    If you need some help,we are glad to help
    Much regards

  • Linda Peterson

    I enjoyed this and will print it out to use in my college class in composition (the theme? sustainable living.) because it provides a useful way to begin thinking, as one of your commenters has noted.

    I hesitate to bring up teaching because I am at the end of a long career and tired because educational institutuions at every level seem to have fogottten that the healthy human individual should be the central reference point for all of their decisions. These systems create so many unhealthy and unsustainable lives.

    All that said, I have used Fast Food Nation in class for several years now, and I see the impact it can have on some young people. Most of them are on a career juggernaut and do not question the status quo (“I am overwhelmed but have lots of stuff therefore I am.”). Anything, anything at all, to break through the mindless grasping of the dominant cultural narrative provides a two-fer–if the teacher and students can find ways to sustain themselves in their institutions. And so I dream.

    • Morgan O’Donnell

      Hi Linda,

      So glad that you enjoyed the article and found it useful! I am particularly delighted that you will be able to use it in your classroom.

      I understand your feelings about educational institutions. Certainly, we seem to have gotten off track in many ways in providing education. Still, you yourself are an example of one of the positive aspects in education: teachers committed to providing thought-provoking assignments. Having taught myself, I know also that there are many times it seems as if very few students in the class get it…till a semester or a year or two later. Seeing that there are teachers like yourself planting seeds of thought and knowing that there are students out there who are growing those seeds are what give me hope that we are shifting our current, material-oriented way of life to a more sustainable way of life.

      Don’t stop dreaming and don’t give up hope. YOU are part of the change.

  • Morgan O’Donnell

    @Valerie, glad you enjoyed it!

    @Lindy, glad I could provide some food for thought. I think we will see more and more opportunities in green careers. Maybe you could use your teaching skills to create your own green niche.

  • Morgan O’Donnell

    MIchelle, that sounds great that you want to get back into the workforce by doing something in sustainability. You didn’t mention your background such as education, experience, or skills. Obviously, those will play a role in determining the kind of sustainability job you target.

    However, I would suggest you start by asking yourself what area(s) interest you the most. Working for an alternative energy company? Nature preserve? Then think about the kind of job that you want. What kinds of things do you like to do? Research? Overseeing an office? Helping people learn new skills? Some other things you can do to help you explore your options are to volunteer at an organization or take a class at your local college.

    Best of luck in finding a good fit!

  • Janet Siderman

    Hi Morgan-

    Your blog is right on point. As a mother of two, divorced in the last 3 years, I started a Sustainable Consulting company in my local area, Malibu, CA to try and do exactly what you are talking about. While I love the work, flexibility, and I have passion for what i’m doing, this economy is not helping at all and I’m really struggling to get my clients, or potential clients to pay for my services, even though they want my help. Needless to say, I’m starting the job search process and in fact came to the very same conclusion as you have in your above post. Funny but great:)

    Thank you.

    Janet Siderman
    GREEN Solutions

    • Morgan O’Donnell

      Hi Janet,

      Thanks for your comments!

      I can certainly empathize with your situation. As a writer, I have had people approach me for assistance and/ or advice on various writing projects; however, they don’t want to pay for my time and experience. And, as you pointed out, the economy is certainly not helping with that.

      I think it’s wonderful that you started your own sustainable consulting company! That certainly adds to your resume. You said you have started the job search process. Do you plan to continue your consulting on the side or are you switching gears and seeking to put all of your energy into a more traditional, full-time position?

      Right now, there is a lot of uncertainty and change, which, obviously, can be very stressful, but I also think there are a lot of opportunities for new jobs and, maybe more importantly, for new ways of thinking about working.

      Best of luck to you with your consulting and job search!

  • Lisa

    Hey Morgan,

    #2 sounds perfect. I’m struggling myself with the 24/7 issue. It’s hard to explain that what I do does not equal CNN web site.

    • Morgan O’Donnell

      Hi Lisa,

      Sadly, I hear a lot of people say they struggle with the amount of work they do or are expected to do…many with 50, 60, or more hours a week. The current economy is certainly not helping that situation, but that’s exactly why I think now is the perfect time to start rethinking how we “think” about work. The big question, of course, is how.

      One of the answers is by having discussions like this. I’d love to hear any ideas you have as well!

  • Jas

    Good one..thanks for the post Morgan. I would like to pursue a career in carbon accounting; I am a qualified Chartered Accountant from India, currently pursuing my CPA from the United States. I would ideally love to do an internship with an accounting firm in the US that is into carbon accounting/ audits and then go back to India and implement what I have learnt. Would you know of any such firms (apart from the Big 4) that do carbon accounting?

    • Tracey de Morsella

      Hi Jas:

      One that comes to mind is AgRefresh, they specialize in Carbon Accounting. I also did an article on carbon accounting earlier this year that might point you in the right direction. Calling All Accountants Seeking a Green Career also check out The Business Case For Carbon Management Software: CFOs Will Be Compelled To Invest In It

      • Jas

        Thanks Tracey. Actually, your post was what led me to this one :) I have inquired with the GHG Mgmt Institute and am planning to take their carbon accounting course. I will look into AgRefresh too. Thanks a lot!

        • Tracey de Morsella

          You are welcome. Let me know how the course at the GHG Management Institute goes. Happy Holidays!

    • Morgan O’Donnell

      Hi Jas,

      Thanks for stopping in. It sounds like Tracey has pointed you in the direction of some good resources. Another thing you could do is to check out the career center at your college, if you are currently attending one. Finally, network, network, network. Tell everyone you talk to that you are seeking an internship. They may have a friend or colleague who can get you in the door or point you to further resources.

      Best of luck in finding an internship and implementing your plan!

    • Anuj

      Hi Jas,

      I could not help noticing that you are from India and pursuing CPA from US. I am a recent graduate from IIT-G and currently working in a analytical firm. I would be happy if you provide me some assistance in the field of carbon credits. What are the current scenario and opportunities in India. You said that you would like to come back to India, do you plan to start your own firm or join an existing one
      Add me on ganuj.iit@gmail.comif you wish.

      Anuj Gupta

  • Gail Russell

    This post was insightful and quite informative!! Thanks Green Economy Post. I would like to hear more from this contributor.

  • Morgan O’Donnell

    Thanks, Gail! I’d love know of any other topics you are interested in or would like to learn more about.

  • Whui-Mei, Yeo

    Hi Morgan,

    your article came at a right time for me. I’m at the same phase as you are in right now and have been gathering information on the type of jobs in this area. I’m currently in the mobile phone manufacturer business and my company is starting to build up its green credentials, though most of it is on the supplier practice governance at the moment. I think it could be interesting and possible to ‘help out’ at the sustainability office, giving them ideas on how we can make a more sustainable product. Sadly the business model in the consumer electronics business today is all about creating the latest fad to entice consumers to buy new, expensive toys every few months.

    Another option that could be possible would be to work for a company that produces solutions that help to ‘save’ the environment, be it intelligent energy consumption systems for households & offices to influence consumer usage behaviour to a company that produces water purification pumps to enable water to be re-used for more uses.

    • Morgan O’Donnell

      Whui-Mei, I’m glad this was a timely article for you. I agree with you that the basic model most businesses seem to follow tends to be counterproductive to sustainability principles. How do we change consumer behavior? How do we change business practices so that a business can be successful without needing to”entice consumers to buy new, expensive toys every few months?” These are some of the questions I think about and I am sure there are others out there as well who are trying to come up with different answers to these.

      Yes, there are certainly more positions available now that focus on changing behavior. There are several cities in my area that have environmental education specialists or water education coordinator.

      Best of all, I think there is a lot of potential for jobs that we haven’t even thought of yet. Maybe you will even create some sort of sustainability position for your current company!