Today, it seems as though everywhere you turn, all you see and hear is "green." Eat organically grown food. Use only low- or no-VOC paint. (What's VOC?) Trade in your gas-guzzler for a hybrid. Have a fuel-efficient car? Buy an even more fuel-efficient car. Wear clothes made from renewable sources such as cotton or bamboo. (Bamboo? For clothes?) Recycle your computer, your cell phone, and even your sneakers. On and on goes the list of do's and don'ts in this new sustainable, eco-friendly, 21st century. But what does it mean to you — the student, the worker, the consumer, and the citizen?
If you're just getting started with career planning or searching for a new career path, it means a range of new job opportunities in a rapidly expanding field.
Why the interest in sustainability now?
First, the fear of global warming and climate change as well as national security issues are driving the push to conserve energy and become less dependent on foreign oil. Second, the recession that began in 2007 turned the spotlight on the consumption patterns of Americans.
Our savings rate had fallen into the negative zone as we borrowed against the equity in our homes to buy boats, electronics, the latest hot trends in clothes, gas-hungry SUVs and crossovers — generally whatever we wanted until we reached our credit limits. And when we did, some of us just got another credit card. Whereas our great-grandparents may have darned a hole in a sock, shortened a hem on a dress, or had their shoes resoled, we just tossed out old items and bought new ones.
The current interest in sustainability manifests itself in a wealth of new career options that focus on fields such as energy, ecology, the environment, and more. In addition, career information in existing industries has often been changed or enhanced in order to contribute to the growing focus on sustainability and "green living."
Certainly a number of Americans did practice "recycle, reuse, reduce" since the first Earth Day in 1970, but the nation as a whole had not embraced the mantra of conservationists and environmentalists until the recent recession — which brings us to the third point.
The election of President Barack Obama in 2008 served to crystallize the need to do something about our profligate attitude toward the environment. As a candidate, President Obama had promised to reduce the nation's dependence on nonrenewable sources of energy and fight climate change. As president, he launched his "New Energy for America" program that is intended to:
- "Chart a new energy future: . . . by embracing alternative and renewable energy, ending our addiction to foreign oil, addressing the global climate crisis, and creating millions of new jobs that can't be shipped overseas."
- "Invest in clean, renewable energy: To achieve our goal of generating 25 percent of our energy from renewable sources by 2025, we will make unprecedented investments in clean, renewable energy — solar, wind, biofuels, and geothermal power."
- "Fight climate change: We will invest in energy efficiency and conservation, two sure-fire ways to decrease deadly pollution and drive down demand. . . ."
Legislative act has effect on career planning
Within a month of President Obama's inauguration, Congress passed a $787-billion stimulus package, officially called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, to help the nation dig itself out of the recession. One goal of the act was to put the nation on course to achieve the president's energy plan for the nation, including creating 3.5 million "green jobs." Among the programs included in the stimulus package were the following:
- $32 billion to transform the nation's energy transmission, distribution, and production system
- $6 billion to weatherize low-income homes
- $16 billion to repair and retrofit public housing for energy efficiency
- $30 billion for highway construction
- $31 billion to modernize federal and other public buildings for energy efficiency
- $19 billion for clean water, flood control, and environmental restoration
- $10 billion for transit and rail expansion
- $20 billion for health information technology
- $1.5 billion for biomedical research
- $3.95 billion for the Workforce Investment Act, which includes money available to community colleges for worker-training programs
- $25 billion in Recovery Zone bonds to states with high unemployment rates for job training, infrastructure construction and repair, and economic development
- $20 billion in tax incentives for installing solar and wind systems in homes and businesses
Job training a key focus for creating green jobs
In July 2009, the president proposed another $12 billion to fund job training through the nation's network of community colleges. In his speech at Macomb Community College in Warren, Michigan, President Obama said, "This is training to install solar panels and build those wind turbines and develop a smarter electricity grid. And this is the kind of education that more and more Americans are using to improve their skills and broaden their horizons."
Focusing much of the stimulus package on energy conservation, infrastructure, and job training has meant an immediate impact on people's lives. It also has helped to reorient our thinking about how the choices we make about food, clothing, housing, and discretionary income affect others and the environment.