Can you help save the world -- or at least a small chunk of it -- and bring home a decent paycheck?
Yes, if you believe an enthusiastic panel of three experts at the Green Festival, a recent two-day gathering sponsored by Co-op America and Global Exchange, two nonprofit organizations.
The festival, held for the first time last month in the Washington area, featured more than 350 exhibitors, speakers, community leaders, artists and businesses that qualified as "green."
By green, the organizers meant more than just jobs promoting a clean environment. Rather, green jobs are those that "make our society better for people on our planet" and that "help our society and economy to become more just and sustainable," said Co-op America executive director Alisa Gravitz, who served as a moderator and speaker of the "Green Careers" panel. Some examples are organic food vendors, environmentally conscious builders and architects, and socially responsible investors.
In the health care field, green jobs are usually those that provide services outside traditional medical models, said Camille Freeman, a licensed Washington area herbalist. Examples include healers, chiropractors, massage therapists and yoga instructors. Freeman pointed to the Web site www.naturalhealers.org as an information source for other alternative medicine jobs.
Anyone can pursue a green job, and sometimes no particular educational background is required, said Trish Tchume, a panelist who works as campus organizer for the New York-based nonprofit Action Without Borders. Tchume was a pharmaceutical marketing major as a college undergraduate; after graduation she realized she "didn't want to sell drugs," she said.
Tchume and Gravitz emphasized to the audience of about 200 in a packed meeting room at the Washington Convention Center that finding a green job is rarely a cakewalk. Although some companies and nonprofits advertise when an opening comes up for a green-oriented employment, green job seekers frequently need to suggest creating such a position within their current organization or to start their own business.
"You can't go to The Washington Post and find a listing under the heading 'green careers,' " Gravitz said.
However, you can increase your chance of attaining a green job by taking a number of small steps, Tchume and Gravitz recommended. Do what you love on a volunteer or low-paying basis. Establish some expertise in the area in which you are passionate by writing an article in your company's newsletter about how the company is socially or environmentally responsible, or by volunteering to discuss those issues on a local radio show. Serve as a volunteer board member of an organization whose cause you care deeply about.
Gravitz advised green job seekers in the nonprofit arena to develop strong management, fundraising or organizing skills, all of which are in high demand. "If you're good at fundraising, you'll have a ticket to any nonprofit job," Gravitz said. Freeman noted that in the health care field, you can learn about green job opportunities by asking questions about salary expectations, degree requirements and start-up costs to practitioners when you are on the receiving end of their services.
It's also wise to create your own informal green career advisory board of four or five people who can meet regularly and help you network in your desired career field. Ask them to help you contact people doing jobs you can see yourself doing, Gravitz suggested.
The move to a green career isn't always a straight path, Freeman said. She received an undergraduate degree in English, then taught environmental education before doing an apprenticeship with an herbalist in New Mexico. Realizing that she wanted to practice as an herbalist in a clinical setting, she got a master's degree in botanical healing from the Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel. She now works in an ob-gyn office, a wellness center that focuses on holistic medicine, and with individual clients.
But the message of the panel seemed to be that whatever challenges or career zigzags a green job search requires, don't give up looking for paid work that will mesh your employment with your values. When you eventually find the right fit, you go to work each morning, and "can't tell the difference between work and play," Gravitz said.