Greencollar jobs: a coming boom, or myth?

April 18, 2008

An Inconvenient Screen Shot

I was in the car the other day listening to KUOW (Seattle’s NPR affiliate) and the story was about whether “greencollar” jobs are a real, potential economic boon, or just a bunch of hype.  They interviewed a guy named Todd Myers from the Washington Policy Center, a “free market think tank.”  Mr. Myers said that all of the talk about new opportunities is “almost a hundred percent political.”

It’s his opinion that we’re not creating any new jobs, we’re simply moving them from one segment of the economy to the other — old tech jobs to new tech jobs.

As I drove along (yes, alone, but at least in a Prius) I found myself shaking my head thinking that it was such a waste to be minimizing growth opportunities.  Who’s going to win from such an argument?  (Yes, I understand that some people will win, but at what cost?)

If you saw Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, perhaps you recall the same eureka moment I had realizing how big the opportunity is ahead of us, should we choose to embrace it as citizens, consumers and businesses.  It was 71 minutes into the movie (according to my DVD player) and Gore is making the point that when thinking about the climate crisis, many people move directly “from denial to despair”  without pausing to consider the business opportunities that are created if we respond in the right way.  He talks about the “false choices” many promote, claiming that we have to make a choice between the environment and the economy.  (As an aside, the screen shot above is from when when Gore explains a slide from a presentation he attended at the first Bush White House where the presumption is that we have to choose between nice, shiny gold bars and the entire planet.  It’s one of many moments in the movie where you see that Gore reaally does have a sense of humor).

As I watched that movie, it was blindingly obvious to me that great economic opportunity is in front of us.  Gore cites the examples of the markets that might be available for American made cars if our fuel economy standards weren’t the worst (by far) in the world.  As my wife and I gather resources to build a new home — one that we’re striving to be as sustainable as we can feasibly do — we see it.  We’re talking to people and companies that probably didn’t exist three years ago.  I’ve attended the Built Green show and Greenfestival here in Seattle and there sure are a lot of people who seem to be making a living at this.  Granted, they didn’t all just crawl out from under a rock — they are likely moving from other jobs.  But it sure smells like opportunity to me.

What do you think?

What is the future of Environmentalism?

September 24, 2007

I just got back from a  conference in Beijing — a place where the air quality is enough to strike fear into your heart about the future of this planet.  At this conference, I gave a brief talk on the Green movement seen through the lens of my own consuming patterns over the course of the past year or two.  I’ve made strides, no doubt.  But I’ve never really considered myself an environmentalist, per se.  At least not by the traditional measures of environmentalism.  Environmentalists are, after all, those people like Julia Butterfly Hill who sat in a Redwood tree in California for 738 days.

Julia Butterfly - web

I mean she was literally living for — and perhaps willing to die for — the environmental cause.

Not me.  I’ve got a couple of little kids at home, and a lovely wife.  I just want to do things a little better.  So I’ve made what I consider to be small changes.  We replace light bulbs with compact fluorescents, we recycle and we drive hybrid cars.

So, I found the cover story in the most recent issue of Fast Company to be particularly interesting.  It talks about whether Adam Werbach, formerly the youngest-ever head of the Sierra Club, had sold his soul to consult with Walmart on their Green initiatives.werbach2

His view, if I may encapsulate, is that the future is going to come from converting the masses, and getting them to make small choices in their  daily lives.  Small changes that, when taken together, can have a more profound impact than a tiny majority acting at the extremes.

I tend to agree, and I admire what he’s doing.  Read the article and judge for yourself.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Why is it so hard to be green?

August 7, 2007

My wife and I are contemplating building a new house.  One of the bigger allures for us is to try to build a green home.

Well, it turns out it’s not very simple.  Just like the age-old “paper or plastic” question, nothing seems very clear when it comes to being green.

There are competing certifications for just how green you go (LEED and, in Washington, Built Green).  You essentially earn points for the choices you make in materials and building methods.  For example, you get more points for using certain kinds of carpets over others.  But what do you get for not putting carpet in at all?  No points, as far as I can tell (how’s that for counter-intuitive?)  Should you install solar panels when it takes more than a decade to recoup the costs in your electricity bill?  Should you use a highly green siding material that needs to be shipped halfway around the world, or should you use a less sustainable material that is produced relatively locally?  Nothing is clear or an easy answer.  Some choices are more clear if you are wealthy enough to do things on principle without regard to the economics of the decision.

Which, I suppose, brings me to a point.  I think most people get that we must be more responsible to our planet.  But commercially, we’re not making it clear or simple for consumers or businesses.  Adweek ran a cover story about a year ago called “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”  In it they cited a study that said 64% of the general population can’t name a green brand.  That’s pretty stunning.  But even more worrisome, 51% of those who consider themselves to be “enviromentally conscious” couldn’t even name <strong>one</strong> green brand.

It shouldn’t be this hard.

There is a market out there and it’s growing rapidly.  As marketers, are we responding to that marketplace demand quickly and concisely enough?  I don’t think so. That’s a problem, for sure.  The time to act is now.  There’s great opportunity for those companies that make these dilemmas easier to navigate.