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— January 29, 2018

EcoWork

  • From sustainable MBA programs to environmentally friendly career opportunities, the outlook for future employment is green.
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When it comes to the environment, the news isn’t good. Climate change has contributed to natural disasters from hurricanes to wildfires, once-protected land has been opened to drilling and development, and rapidly shrinking polar ice caps are putting wildlife at risk of extinction. As the environmental challenges grow, new industries—and new positions within industries— are cropping up to address these issues, making now the right time to search out a green career.

TOP 5 FASTEST-GROWING GREEN INDUSTRIES

Solar Installers

Opportunities for solar installers are expected to increase by 105% by 2026, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Their responsibilities include planning system configurations, assembling and installing solar panels and support structures, and testing and maintaining equipment. Solar installers can be hired with high school diplomas and on-the-job training.

High-Tech Farmers

A Purdue University report estimated there would be almost 60,000 high-skilled agriculture jobs annually over the next five years, with only 35,000 college graduates in this field to fill them. Precision agriculture—using technology to plan and manage crops and livestock—is expanding; opportunities include vertical farms, aquaponics, and hydroponics as well as conventional farming. According to the US Census of Agriculture, the number of farmers between the ages of 25 and 34 increased by 2.2% between 2007 and 2012.

Damian Mora, 32, energy efficiency coordinator, Garbett Homes, Salt Lake City, Utah

Although Damian Mora developed an interest in environmental issues as a child, he planned to become an engineer. But while he was earning his degree in computer-assisted design and manufacturing, he learned about an energy management certificate program offered through Salt Lake Community College.

“I didn’t have a clear career path when I went into college but the more I thought about it, the more excited I got about having a job that made a difference,” he recalls.

Mora enrolled in SLCC in 2011. After graduation, he became an energy efficiency coordinator with Garbett Homes, a Salt Lake City home builder that constructs houses according to Energy Star and Zero Energy Ready Home guidelines. (You can learn about these programs at https://energy.gov.)

Mora’s job involves studying renewable energy standards and policies, working with the construction team and trade partners to ensure new homes meet energy efficiency standards and developing models to assess the energy-related strengths and weaknesses of materials and designs.

“Salt Lake City has an air quality issue and I strongly believe that building energy-efficient homes are more sustainable and better for our community,” he says.

Working as an energy efficiency coordinator is not without its challenges. For starters, the standards, rebates, and policies on the federal and state levels are constantly changing and Mora must stay abreast of the regulations. The effort, he believes, is worthwhile: “I get to have a career that allows me to be part of the solution.”

Environmental Scientists

Careers focused on using science to protect the environment, which can include working in labs or collecting field data, require at least an undergraduate degree; BLS estimates 11% job growth by 2026. More than a dozen states have formed an alliance committed to reducing emissions; job openings might be more plentiful in those states. Opportunities are available abroad, too. For example, France introduced grants to climate scientists doing research in that country.

Erin McNichol, 30, global energy and sustainability program manager, HP, Palo Alto, California

In 2009, Erin McNichol graduated from UC Davis with a degree in environmental policy, analysis, and planning. Her first job: sustainability coordinator for the County of San Mateo [California] Office of Sustainability. She also served in the Climate Corps for the Environmental Defense Fund.

When McNichol enrolled in a sustainable MBA program at Presidio Graduate School, she took private sector internships. “I learned a lot in the public sector about how legislation impacts sustainability initiatives and how to work with different stakeholders to complete a project, but the private sector is so fast-paced and innovative, and I wanted to be part of that.”

McNichol started working with HP in 2017. She implements sustainability initiatives to make the business run more efficiently. One of her most recent efforts was replacing 19 acres of turf-grass with native grasses on HP’s Boise campus, reducing water consumption by 80%

McNichol manages projects for all HP locations in the US and abroad, and admits that it can be difficult to determine the right projects in each location, noting, “What works for one campus might not work for another.” She credits her public sector experience and the analytical abilities she developed while pursuing an MBA for giving her the needed skills. “Sustainability is part of our core value at HP and it’s exciting to figure out how we can incorporate initiatives that are good for the planet and our bottom line,” she says.

Studying Sustainability

Because the green job market is creating new opportunities, several colleges have stepped up to offer sustainable MBA programs that provide a foundation for prioritizing the triple bottom line of people, profits and the planet. Here are five schools offering sustainable MBA programs:

University of Vermont, Grossman School of Business: The one-year Sustainable MBA program includes nine months of classes such as business sustainability and public policy, the chance to study green supply chains and a three-month practicum project.

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School: The program with a concentration in Sustainable Enterprise is offered online and includes four annual “global immersions” to introduce students to sustainability initiatives at major business centers around the world.

University of Colorado, Denver: The MBA with a sustainability concentration is offered as a two-year program or accelerated 11-month track and includes international business credits such as Social Entrepreneurship in a Developing World.

Bard College: The two-year program includes a combination of online learning and residencies in New York. The MBA in sustainability is also offered as a dual degree with an MS in environmental policy or an MS in climate science.

Green Mountain College: Regarded as the first online sustainable MBA in the nation, the two-year program pairs in-depth coursework with annual residencies and capstone projects as well as the option to participate in on-campus residencies to gain hands-on experience.

TOP 5 FASTEST-GROWING GREEN INDUSTRIES

Foresters

Foresters manage the long-term health of forests, parks, and range-lands. The International Institute for Sustainable Development notes that 2 billion hectares (nearly 5 billion acres) of degraded land worldwide has the potential to be restored as forests—and several countries have committed to reforestation projects. Opportunities, which are anticipated to increase by 6% by 2026, are available with government agencies as well as nonprofit organizations and scientific societies. Working as a forester requires a minimum of an undergraduate degree in a field such as forestry or range-land management.

Chelsea Briganti, 34, and Leigh Ann Tucker, 29, co-founders of Loliware, New York, New York

After graduating from Parsons School of Design, Chelsea Briganti and Leigh Ann Tucker started an industrial design firm to develop product innovations for clients.

On a whim, the pair created an edible drinking glass in a design competition. That turned into Loliware, which launched in 2011 with the help of a Kickstarter campaign.

The colorful line of biodegradable cups resembles colorful vintage glassware. Once the drink is consumed, the cups, which are made from seaweed and come in flavors such as matcha green tea, vanilla bean, and tart cherry, can be eaten.

“We wanted to make sustainability fun,” explains Briganti. Loliware is also practical. The cups are designed to be “hyper-compostable” and break down at the same rate as food waste, making them an excellent solution to combating the number of plastic cups entering the landfill.

Loliware proved so popular, earning the attention of companies like Aramark and the Four Seasons Hotel, that the designers launched a new product in 2017. The LoliStraw uses the same “LoliZero” technology as the cups, allowing them to be eaten or composted. A Kickstarter campaign will help fund innovation. Loliware hopes to debut the straws this summer.

“We’d like to replace all plastic straws with LoliStraw,” says Briganti. “Our ultimate goal is to be the world’s first bioplastics company and we’re on our way.”

Hydrologists

Research shows that the US will experience more frequent flooding, creating a need for hydrologists to explore possible solutions. Hydrologists research water-related issues such as the impact water have on the environment as well as how the environment influences both the quality and quantity of water. The field is expected to experience faster-than-average job growth over the next 10 years. Hydrologists engage in a combination of fieldwork and laboratory analysis and might be charged with using their data to create water conservation or flood management plans. Hydrologists need at least an undergraduate degree; some positions require a master’s degree or Ph.D.

Sofia Melograno, 28, founder, Beru Kids, Los Angeles, California

Beru Kids designs and makes pint-sized clothing using surplus fabrics. Sofia Melograno, 28, launched the brand in 2016 after a trip to East Africa, where she met women working in sewing cooperatives. She didn’t have a background in fashion but didn’t let that hinder her goal to start a children’s clothing line. “I was super-inspired by how fashion could be used as a tool for social change,” she recalls.

Melograno sources all of the overstock fabrics from warehouses across LA, explaining, “There is a vast amount of waste present in the fashion industry. The US produces 15 million tons of textile waste each year and only 15% of it gets recycled; the rest ends up in landfills.”

Melograno has access to “amazing” fabrics from big brands like Splendid and Seven but most are available in limited quantities. Since children’s clothing requires less fabric, Beru is able to manufacture larger numbers of items but stock sells out fast and, because of the limited availability of certain fabrics, creating additional pieces is impossible.

Sustainable fashion is no longer considered “uncool,” according to Melograno. In fact, even Nordstrom carries Beru Kids in its stores.

“Apparel can be fashion-forward and sustainable,” Melograno says. “The entire industry is changing and I’m optimistic that ethical and sustainable fashion is going to be the new standard.”

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