For about 3 years now, I’ve been involved with TerraPass, Inc., a San Francisco company that uses carbon credit sales to finance greenhouse gas emission reduction projects, first as CEO and now as Executive Chairman. So I’ve got a green job, and plenty of people call me up to ask:
Let me try to answer here…
From my point of view, a green job is any job that involves a net improvement to the environment. In fact, my first rule of thumb for what constitutes a green job is that it’s not generally the job that’s green, it’s the context. For example:
- An engineer can work on a coal-fired power plant, or on capturing fugitive emissions from landfills.
- A financier can work on raising money for tobacco companies, or for alternative energy companies.
- A lawyer can structure business development deals in the entertainment business, or in the organic foods business.
The day–to-day mechanics involved with each pair of jobs would be pretty similar, but the end results are strikingly different.
Decide what you want to get out of the job
If you want to have a big impact on the quality of the environment, that’s great. If you want to make a lot of money while building your career, that’s great too. But usually there are going to be trade-offs involved, so I advise thinking this question through in advance.
A couple of examples: If you go to work as a marketing coordinator for a local company that uses only natural fibers in its clothing, you might get great satisfaction out of the company’s low environmental impact while at the same time feeling frustrated at the limitations of the strategy, the potential size of the company, and therefore the career path it presents for you. On the other hand if you go to work as a business development manager for a conglomerate that makes wind turbines, you might find yourself making a good living as you win contracts every day, but wondering whether it’s so great to work at a place where the next division over on the organization chart makes turbines for coal-fired power plants (not to mention how you’ll feel on the day when your next logical promotion is into that group!).
Figure out how you can best balance career and income
Can you find a job that combines just the right balance of economic and career potential and a clear green conscience? Yes, but they are rare. So before you start in on a green job search, ask yourself what you want to get out of a green job. You’ll save yourself a lot of time talking to people and looking at companies that are out of balance with what you’re looking for.