The first edition of Green at Work contained tools and strategies for launching an environmental career and was intended to help present and future business leaders find or create green jobs. I chose that focus because environmental literacy can be a competitive advantage in the marketplace and in one's career, and because business is in a unique position to improve our quality of life and to help sustain a healthy environment. As business provides jobs and goods and services, it may develop leaders, new technology, more efficient processes, and more environmentally sound choices.
The second edition of Green at Work also offers tools and strategies for launching a green career, but I have expanded the scope of this edition beyond business to include many more career profiles, company listings, and resources; it covers people and organizations making "green" work in different ways across a range of professional fields. Just as it expands its scope, this edition also expands its definition of "environment." It uses the term to refer not to a separate entity from which we derive our resources, but rather to a process that influences our day-to-day lives in ways we may not even recognize. We are not observers outside the process; we are part of the ongoing system. As it goes, we go.
When we reframe win-lose "environmental" questions and integrate them into a view of a whole system of quality of life, environ-mentalism becomes not just a point of contention but a point of view based on interrelationships beyond traditionally defined categories. Issues such as resource consumption and waste disposal are not separate. They intersect with each other and with issues not traditionally considered environmental, such as poverty, urban violence, and human rights. To design effective solutions, we must recognize those interrelationships and understand them in the context of culture, history, attitudes, traditions, and available resources. This requires a variety of abilities, perspectives, and approaches, both conceptual and practical. Society needs people in all careers who recognize the value of environmental integrity, and who work along different routes to improve our approaches to solving our environmental problems. There are not always clear paths to greening a career, but the career profiles in this book provide examples that illustrate the variety of abilities, perspectives, and approaches that are possible.
Both editions of Green at Work have the same underlying theme: Rather than wait for people to tell you what to do, see from your own unique perspective what needs to be done and design a way to do it. Recognize and create alternatives beyond traditional fields. Green at Work offers strategies to help you make choices, tools to help you take action, and a community of people to help you find inspiration and information. It encourages you to envision a future that is cleaner and greener and to make decisions that can make a positive difference in the quality of all our lives.
My interest in greening careers comes out of my experience working in Alaska, in small Eskimo villages above the Arctic Circle, from 1982-1985. I went to Alaska to work for the Mauneluk Association, a nonprofit arm of Northwest Alaska Native Association, to run gardening programs and to work on renewable resource development projects in agriculture and fisheries. The projects were intended to improve native commercial and subsistence fishing, to provide jobs for village youth, and to produce a more varied diet of greens for village residents. My work involved creating employment opportunities for the Inupiaq that did not interfere with their subsistence activities.
Living in those villages, I learned to draw my water for laundry, drinking, and cooking from the river in buckets. In the fall and spring men on snow machines bring caribou to the villages, where I helped the women cut and dry the meat. I went to fish camps where families lived along the Mauneluk River during the spawning period in late summer and fall and helped cut hundreds of fish to be dried and put away for winter use. During this time, we also hiked along the tundra to pick salmonberries, cranberries, and blueberries to store for the rest of the year. While the women picked berries and cut and dried fish, men went out onto the tundra and often came back with caribou, moose, or bear. Every day we ate salmon, whatever fresh meat might have been caught, and berries with condensed milk for dessert. At night we slept in canvas tents with wood-burning stoves. The temperatures dropped below freezing even in the fall, and before bed we would eat some dry fish dipped in seal oil, which would provide calories to keep us warm during nights bright with northern lights.
In their subsistence activities, the Inupiaq wasted very little. They would invent ingenious ways to reuse materials when possible. Paper was used to start fires in wood stoves; five-gallon plastic containers became "honey buckets," or toilets; 55-gallon drums became wood stoves. They took only what they needed. The only waste I found there was introduced to the villages in over-packaged commodities flown in from Anchorage to the village general store.
In the village of Shungnak, residents explained to me their belief that work is central to a person's sense of power. Subsistence hunting and fishing had been their work; now rapid modernization created a need for money and employment. People needed jobs to support life in the oncoming Western culture and to pay for products they needed or desired, such as motor boats for fishing and hunting, satellite television hook-ups, and gas and electricity.
The dozen villages in the northwest region of Alaska have many government-subsidized houses, built with no attention to the knowledge and practices of the people there. The Inupiaq live successfully in one of the harshest climates on the planet, but architects and planners did not consult local inhabitants before building. The result was poor design: prefabricated structures that are not energy efficient, and that shake in the wind because their construction materials aren't appropriate to the terrain. In summer, the weight of any construction can thaw the top layers of permafrost, the permanently frozen subsoil that stretches across the tundra, and make buildings unstable. Indigenous knowledge of sod houses or cabins would have been useful in the design and construction of structures for that environment.
Living in Eskimo villages for almost three years, I saw clearly the value of both economic development and ecological conservation. Economic development was necessary for meeting basic needs in a rapidly changing economy. Conservation was critical to the Inupiaq, whose history, values, and basic needs were intricately tied to their environment. Any economic development in that region had to be evaluated against its potential effect on the ecosystem. To destroy the land was to destroy the main food supply and threaten Inupiaq culture. I have spent many years since my time in Alaska asking questions about how to create jobs while preserving ecological integrity. How do we move toward minimizing waste and valuing nature as we meet our daily needs and wants in industrial society?
In the two years since the first edition of this book was published, there has been progress toward environmental efficiency in the marketplace. Nevertheless, a choice is often presented between preservation of the environment and preservation of the livelihoods of human beings. We need to move beyond such polarized win-lose positions to explore new categories of questions and find common ground from which to define win-win objectives. We need both a healthy environment and jobs. We need both clean air and paychecks. "Quality of life" means that economic questions are environmental questions.
To find viable solutions, we have to see beyond entrenched positions toward a clearer view of our role in shaping and designing our environment. We must recognize the short-term and long-term consequences of our choices. The reality of our environmental problems does not fall into neatly defined categories. To create effective solutions, we need to consider a wide spectrum of approaches, not just prefabricated answers, which, like prefabricated houses, do not efficiently improve or appropriately preserve environmental integrity and quality of life.
I welcome letters, thoughts, and ideas from my readers. Please address any correspondence to Green at Work, c/o Susan Cohn, 61 East 8th Street, Suite 160, New York, NY 10003.
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