Hello Colorado! As I look outside and see the sun glance blindingly off the snow, wondering how I managed to find myself sunglasses-less again, I am reminded of the phrase "when you're cool, the sun always shines." How particularly fitting for this bright state. I'm overjoyed to begin my correspondence for this outdoor heaven that is my state, as undoubtedly so many of you share my enthusiasm for all things Colorado.
Last night I attended a Green Careers Panel hosted by the University of Colorado here in Boulder. The event was organized by the campus Career Services, and was geared toward those interested in pursuing a green career but were unsure how to go about finding one particularly suited to their interests. Also to be addressed was the general lack of understanding as to what exactly constitutes a "green" career. Obviously I was intrigued; as a college student my "job advice" radar started going off like crazy, and as a passionate environmentalist my "how can I help" radar was similarly triggered. Though this panel was particularly geared toward college students, the information I gathered and the general advice I gladly added to my repertoire could easily be applied to anyone in all stages and walks of life.
Six local professionals were invited to speak. I had the privilege of hearing the sustainability coordinator for Boulder Community Hospital, the event and outreach coordinator for Boulder Green Building Guild, the executive director of a local gardening business called Growing Gardens, an engineer for Trident Energy Services, the deputy director for Gov. Bill Ritter's Energy Office and the environmental planner for the Colorado Department of Transportation's Environmental Program. The sheer scope and diversity of the jobs represented by these people speaks to a wide range of potential positions for people seeking a way to clean up the environment through business.
These professionals were highly energetic and eager to share their experiences with anyone who was willing to learn from them. Each one was asked to talk about what exactly his or her job entails — titles can be vague and misleading — and, perhaps more importantly, how it is that he or she managed to land that particular position. I will summarize a little of what each panelist said regarding his or her beginnings, what they've learned from the job and predictions for the future.
Mr. Abelkis, the sustainability coordinator for BCH, described his position as somewhat ad hoc — he would start each day with a plan, but would very often end up working on something completely different as the necessity arose. His main focus is to find any and all ways to reduse, reuse and recycle the hospital's many resources (did you know hospitals account for eight percent of all greenhouse gas emissions?). He said that on occasion he feels his job to be the equivalent of attempting to push a boulder up a mountain, but, he added, when you are willing to take baby steps, working in sustainability will lead not only to a rewarding career, but a fulfilling life.
Ms. Braithwaite, the event and outreach coordinator for BGBG, owned her own gardening business before she decided to push her career to the next level. She wanted to help small businesses with pollution prevention and sustainability, spreading the word about the many ways small businesses can be more environmentally friendly and still profitable. She frankly admitted that a passion for environmental issues was indispensable in her path toward success.
Ms. Clark, one of the founding members of Growing Gardens, had to work for many years some very tough, labor intensive jobs for minimal pay before she got to where she is now. She feels that in a time when people are becoming more and more overwhelmed with the sheer amount of problems the world is confronted with, one way in which the individual can take charge and truly and tangibly make a difference is through community or personal organic gardens. She feels she is reaching her potential as a human being through the change she is affecting; through her organic growing methods, she hopes to spread the enthusiasm she feels and foster the attitude that the individual can make an impact.
Ms. Evans, an engineer for TES, spoke of the determination and persistence she had to ask of herself in order to procure the exact position she desired. She had the degree, what she needed was the right outlet for her talents. So she networked like crazy, and can now boast a very impressive resume; she believes she is now working in a place that utilizes her passions and skills to their greatest potential.
Mr. Portner, the deputy director of the Colorado governor's energy office, recounted how one day, as a college student, he happened to pass a small "green" business and decided on a whim to go in and offer his labor. He knew he wanted somehow to get involved with the environmental movement, and here was his chance. He was offered a job at $8 an hour, and after several years of hard work eventually made his way into the governor's office. His story illustrates how opportunities are everywhere for those whose eyes are open, and for those who won't shy away from working at the very bottom.
Mr. Opperman, the environmental planner for CDOT, is the first person to hold his position. He saw something that needed to be done so he stepped up and, using what tools he could, began creating a desperately needed program. He admits that many of CDOT's current programs were inefficient five years ago, but he is constantly striving to get ahead of the curve and improve efficiency in any way possible.
Paving your own way
As I was listening to each of these impassioned, assured professionals, I noticed a common thread connecting their varied and inspiring backgrounds. Not a single one of them saw the job they now have listed in any newspaper or website. In fact, when each of these people set out on the search for the perfect green career, their current job did not yet exist. Each one of them stepped into a unique position and tailored it to be what they thought was necessary. In fact, the final discussion revolved around just this observation.
Especially for the current college age generation, as we sit on the cutting edge of the environmental movement, we have the opportunity to let loose the dam and tap the vast pool of previously un-thought-of jobs. The green job you want does not yet exist because you haven't created it yet. What these successful professionals could not emphasize enough is the need for passionate, determined and gutsy people who will both mold and fill new positions as the need arises. However cheesy it may sound, if you can dream it, you can do it. The market for you and your ideas is limitless, so don't let the classifieds box you in. Figure out exactly what your strengths and inspirations are. Network with as many people as you can. Don't be daunted by hard work and low pay. Eventually it will pay off — on a larger scale than just your individual success.