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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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