Green Job Search in a Carbon Economy

The World Changing Careers symposium, held at UBC from July 23 – 27, sought to sharpen the picture of a fragmented industry for green job seekers. Issues and optics covered: Where does one’s skill set and credentials fit in with the sustainability sector? How does a job seeker find his/her entry and beget change in a carbon economy, based on 20th century political and economic power bases and mindsets? How does s/he deal with the root causes of unsustainable businesses, government policies, and lifestyles?

World Changing Careers (2009) - Registration in UBC Forest Sciences Centre atrium (IMG_5222).jpg

The event was chock full of insightful keynote speeches, thought-provoking panel debates, and sobering career workshops spanning various “dark to light green” career paths. The five-day event offered something for both: (1) university grads armed with a career-specific education in environmental or sustainable development-related studies and a passion to “make a difference”; and, (2) mid-career changers seeking career fulfillment, an environmentally- and socially-responsible employer, a move to being an independent consultant, or how to transition from a career in a deteriorating carbon-based industry.

In the opening of the symposium, Alysia Garmulewicz, director of World Changing Careers, described WCC as being all “about connections – what the future entails and how we get there.” More specifically, WCC helps green job seekers “look at current paradigms and ways of thinking and use the power of ideas to create a compelling vision where reality and the vision come together.”

Alycia Garmulewicz, Opening Remarks at World Changing Careers (2009) (IMG_5207).jpg

To some critics, that may sound somewhat idealistic. However, we have a systemic problem in our economic and political system. Systemic change is required. If you understand how economic, social, and environmental systems are interrelated, how economic and political power bases drive those systems, and what motivates big business and their detrimental long-term impact on the vast majority of people, you will realize that green jobs are not simply about jobs in the environmental industry or sustainability sector. Nor is green technology a silver bullet. It’s about acknowledging that ‘the system’ is not working for us and plausibly working against us, creating a new model, setting the goals, and working towards making it happen.

(Refer to the documentaries such as: ‘The Corporation‘, ‘Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room‘, ‘Who Killed the Electric Car?‘, ‘The World According to Monsanto‘, ‘Food, Inc.‘, ‘The Idiot Cycle‘),

Dave Waldron, co-founder of Synapse Strategies, set the tone for the symposium in his keynote speech, ‘Sustainability and Transformational Change’ and echoed and complemented Garmulewicz’s remarks. Waldon sees that, “we typically plan for forecasting and reductionism based on trends, looking towards what might happen, and correcting problems. But trends are really unpredictable, especially when acceptable zones are well below our options.” Moreover, “we should actually envision where we want to be and work towards a sustainable future [for] understanding our constraints, frees you to create.” It’s a basic premise of The Natural Step, a Swedish program which combines a scientifically-relevant understanding of sustainability with a systems approach to leadership development.

Garmulewicz referred to a recent statement by Barack Obama: “Green Jobs are the jobs of the future.” That may be true enough. But, as Garmulewicz points out, there are many different types of green jobs, each having their own degree of impact on society.

Providing some clarity, three broad categories of green jobs were presented by Waldon in a slide, ‘Future Options: Shades of Green’ (adapted from the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) report, ‘Green Jobs: Towards Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World‘):

Future Options - Shades of Green, by Synapse Strategies (IMG_5208).jpg

Future Options #2 - Shades of Green, by Synapse Strategies.JPG

There are, however, more “shades” of green jobs.

Revisit this week for further coverage of the World Changing Careers‘ keynote speakers, career workshop facilitators, and their views of the green economy, sustainability sectors, and job opportunities.


In the meantime, here are a couple of quotes as food for thought:

There are costs and risks to a program of action, but they are far less than the long range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.” – John F. Kennedy

I for one believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of what confronts them and the basic causes that produce it, they’ll create their own program, and when the people create a program, you get action.” – by Malcolm X

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