The Greening of Job Sectors

The following is a rough overview that lists a cross-section of professional fields and a sampling of ways that environmental concerns are influencing them. These categories of professional fields intersect, and many are rapidly changing. The field of environmental justice is one example. It is part public health, part law, part communications, part finance, part community development, and part nonprofit work as it addresses such issues as crime, violence, and the disproportionate number of toxic sites located in or near poor and minority communities.

Opportunities exist in many different categories: on the international, national, state, and local levels; in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors; within different fields and industries; and in different organizations and job functions. One area of expertise will intersect with others as more and more environmental issues demand interdisciplinary groups of problem solvers possessing diverse sets of skills.

Here is a sample of industries that are being affected by environmental legislation, consumer demands, and environmental management practices:

Agriculture & Food Processing. More and more people are becoming interested in petrochemical-free, pesticide-free food and fabrics. This has increased the demand for organically grown fruits, vegetables, and grains; fibers such as cotton; and niche products such as baby food, and chocolates made from organic cocoa. Opportunities in these fields range from nontoxic pest management to retail of organic food and clothing.

Banking & Finance. Many banks are integrating environmental priorities into their internal operations, investment criteria, and financial services. Many are structuring corporate environmental policies to promote internal energy efficiency and reduce waste. They are factoring environmental assessments into loan and investment criteria. Banks are also performing debt-for-nature swaps with countries containing threatened land areas (such as rain forests) and offering investment funds and portfolios screened for environmental performance.

Chemicals. Top management in the chemical industry continues to prioritize environmental issues because profits depend on remaining in compliance with environmental regulations. Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Kodak, and others spend several million dollars per year meeting environmental regulations. As a result, almost all top and middle managers in the chemicals industry may be said to have an environmental component in their job descriptions. Environmental engineers, compliance administrators, and product and marketing managers who have and can communicate environmental knowledge are in demand by chemical firms.

Communications. As the communications field continues to grow with telecommunications, cable networks, and on-line computer networks (including eco-net, bio-net, and others), there is a demand for people who can translate environmental information to the general public. Opportunities for public relations managers, researchers, writers, journalists, and media personalities who gather, analyze, and disseminate environmental information exist in both publication businesses and corporations. People with computer skills, a CD-ROM design background, and/or electronic publishing experience can use those skills in translating technical data and environmental information to the general public.

Consulting. Many consultants help companies become more efficient in areas ranging from energy use to packaging design to manufacturing processes to employee training and development. For example, as companies begin to provide more environmental information to their stakeholders and to the public, accounting firms will be needed to develop green audits and full-cost accounting systems to quantify and track environmental management and performance in company operations. Consulting continues to present opportunities for people interested in environmental management, especially for those with some technical background and management skills.

Consumer Products. As consumers educate themselves and demand cleaner and greener products, companies will look for ways to green their product lines to meet that demand. Product managers need to stay informed about environmental regulations affecting the packaged goods industry. They need to know trends in recycling and packaging design for products ranging from laundry detergent to toothpaste.

Design & the Arts. As our natural ecosystems become more threatened and our technologies more advanced, design becomes essential to how we define our material culture. Designers are problem solvers who have an opportunity to plan and provide blueprints and concepts that offer creative solutions to our environmental problems. Architects, industrial designers, graphic designers, and fashion designers have a choice of many different structures, forms, processes, and materials for their products. Until recently, many designed products were intentionally designed for obsolescence. Today, designers have an opportunity to create products that are more energy efficient and use fewer natural resources in manufacturing or construction. Additionally, artists such as Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Jean Blackburn, Mel Chin, Meg Webster, Michael Singer, Alan Sonfist, and others are offering powerful critiques of the relationship between art and nature. Artists are working with city agencies and offering innovative and inventive solutions to urban environmental problems.

Education. Education is in part the reason environmental concerns permeate all facets of life, and as we realize how little we understand the interconnectedness of all living things, we become increasingly aware of how much we have to learn. The ever increasing amount of new data and theories continually increase our need for education. Opportunities, in growing demand in the 1990s, will stem from the importance of environmental literacy and expertise in daily life and work. Teachers, trainers, and program developers will be needed to educate our present and future workforce about environmental issues.

Energy. Programs ranging from EPA's Green Lights to conservation programs from public utilities are reframing perspectives on energy use to include energy conservation practices. Opportunities for communications specialists, planners, and technical experts will grow as our energy needs are evaluated for office buildings and commercial real estate, mass transit, and households. Opportunities for the construction trades and for architectural design firms to better serve client energy conservation needs will also grow in coming years.

Entrepreneurs & Small Business. Small firms and start-ups may be better able to fill niches and adapt to rapidly changing markets.

People are creating their own consulting companies, products, and services to meet consumer demands and solve environmental problems. Opportunities hinge on the creativity, access to capital, and management skills of the entrepreneur. From technology to eco-fur-niture design, from retail to health services, opportunities for environmental entrepreneurship are growing.

Environmental Services. Environmental cleanup, including maintenance services of municipalities and the growth of recycling programs, along with the development of prevention technologies for industry, will provide employment opportunites for people with skills as varied as finance, water monitoring and testing, accounting, and marketing of new products. From cleanup of Superfund sites to pollution control, asbestos abatement, and solid-waste disposal, opportunities in existing companies and for start-ups are tremendous.

Health. Health issues ranging from lead poisoning to problems with off-gassing from petrochemicals in office carpeting have prompted health officials to look more closely at the relationship between health and the environment. From air pollution in cities such as Los Angeles, Mexico City, and Denver to water-quality problems, tainted fish from polluted seas, and synthetic hormones fed to or injected into livestock, a myriad of environmental problems present growing opportunities for health professionals to conduct research, disseminate information, and help create public policy.

International. As the borders of the former Soviet Union open onto the acute environmental degradation there, opportunities exist for people who can provide technological cleanup and waste prevention technology. This holds true for many developing countries as well. International environmental problems will demand work across most professional fields: consulting, engineering, management, environmental services, education, and health. People with language skills and environmental knowledge will have opportunities to work in most existing and new markets.

Law. Many environmental issues are regulated nationally—on federal, state, and local levels—and many are approached internationally, with agreements like the Montreal Protocol. This field will be important to every functional area of the workforce, from accounting, marketing, finance, and management to public policy and grassroots organizing. Therefore, almost everyone will benefit from a general understanding of environmental law. (See Michael Gerrard's overview of the field in the accompanying box.) Opportunities in the field itself

Environmental Law for the Layperson

Michael B. Gerrard

Continue reading here: The Evolution of Environmental

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