Current Careers in Energy – What It Means to Be Green
“The future is uncertain . . . . but this uncertainty is at the very heart of human creativity.” According to Ilya Prigogine, Nobel Prize winner in 1977 and author of Order Out of Chaos, and The End of Certainty. This uncertainty and the necessity for creativity is exactly where we are in our energy world today!
Though I am a long time career consultant and confirmed futurist, providing the last word on green careers pushed me to use my more experienced clients and contacts as resources. My company, Career Design, sponsors Pathfinders for the Future, to provide career information and mentoring sessions on careers and for the past six months we have focused on the energy field. Authorities from varying energy areas have presented programs which were all videoed for others to view later at no charge. As a result, Bruce Thomas, a former marketing professional in radio & TV and an early retiree seeking his next career, initiated a non-profit organization, North Texas Advanced Energy Collaborative (NTAEC), dedicated to the development of North Texas as an economic and innovation zone for advanced and emerging energy technology industry. This is a rapidly growing group focusing on collaborative business development and launching a website in May for posting articles and information statewide, nationally and worldwide.
I have asked two members of this group to write a brief summary of their insight and possible opportunities and challenges for careers in this exploding industry:
- “What is “Green” is by Tony Robinson, M.S. He has been in the construction industry since 1979. Tony spent more than twenty-five years working on the design and development of energy efficient building products.
- The 2nd submission, “Profitable Green Solutions” is by Eric Woodroof, Ph.D. He has been in the energy efficiency and environmental field for over 15 years, helping businesses and governments reduce their environmental impact. Dr. Woodroof serves on several advisory boards for professional associations.
What is “Green”?
Employers and prospective employees alike may reasonably ask what this now ubiquitous adjective really means. There is an overabundance of information, advertising, advice, prescriptions, etc., but there are really only two fundamental characteristics which can define the term. For any process or strategy to truly be called “green” it must have an unwavering commitment to both energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. For example, there are ways to make coal plants more efficient, but mining and burning coal ultimately cannot be environmentally sustainable. It is important that those making a commitment to the field, whether employer or employee, understand this concept. Otherwise, the process or strategy is likely to receive the unwanted derogation of “greenwashing”, an attempt to gain market share or increase profits through a public relations campaign based on superficial effects. It’s important to state that the commitment to energy efficiency and environmental sustainability is a learning curve and that we are still very nearly at the beginning of the curve.
Since there are a very great number of processes which can be made more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable, there is tremendous opportunity to employ people in a wide variety of disciplines to achieve these goals. A fundamental re-tooling of our personal habits and our mechanized processes can provide tremendous impetus to train those who do not already have the skills, or who have skills derived from the industrial economy and need to be re-trained. There are five general areas of production:
All of these areas need the skills and the passion of those who are committed to the principles of both energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. Thus the need exists for laborers, engineers, designers, consultants, marketers, community organizers, managers, etc. Organizations which are committed to “green” should be looking for people who are highly motivated to “make the world a better place”, through the application of rational and holistic thinking which is not entirely subordinate to the quarterly profit statement. The “green” organization is one that is properly concerned with the ecology of its own community and the community around it. It does not exist in a vacuum of “free market” necessity, but recognizes that the earth is a community which becomes closer by the day and which must be respected and sustained.
There are numerous certifications, rating systems, degrees, etc. which may be used to qualify a prospective employee for application to the “green” organization. But the number one qualification has to be complete dedication, because the road to true energy efficiency and environmental sustainability is long. Many engineering disciplines are already concerned with the efficiency of industrial processes in the areas of transportation, fuels , utilities and manufacturing so not much needs to be said there except that environmental sustainability needs to be part of the program. The Association of Energy Engineers provides certification in Energy Management, Sustainable Development and Green Building Engineering. In the field of construction, there are at the present time five or six competing rating systems for the evaluation of “green” building, e.g.: IECC, Energy Star, NAHB, LEED, Green Globes and more. Some rating systems are mandatory and others are elective and it may be several years before the jurisdictions of the codes and the proscriptive programs are clearly defined. That being said, college-level courses and degree programs are being developed and marketed to prospective students in the areas of “green” and sustainability. These include short courses or certifications in engineering departments and environmental science, as well as community colleges. But one of the most important things that can be said is that there are a large number of people out there, who are itching to get involved in the “greening” of business and the environment, and whether or not they are trained engineers or highly experienced, there is a place for all of them in the new energy economy.
Profitable Green Solutions
For those applying to “green” organizations, consider that employers are looking for specific knowledge and commitments. Note the following consideration an employer will review.
Unlike many business sectors that are contracting, many “green” industries are expanding by providing ever-increasing value in our carbon-constrained world. However, with all this innovation and new terminology, how do you determine credibility and professionalism among companies as well as potential employees, when so many “green” people are new to the field? Here are some suggestions:
Ask about their specific focus/experience…
The “Green Field” encompasses many niches, including: Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Green Building Designers, Green Janitorial Services, Green Landscaping, Carbon Emissions Strategies, Green Fuels and many more. When looking to hire a consultant, look specifically at what types of projects they have done. For example, a renewable power expert will likely not be able to help you conserve energy in your facility, but they can help you produce energy. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification on what exactly the company does and how it helps. If you are evaluating a potential employee, ask where their passion is… if they just say, “Sustainability”, that may be too broad and naive for your needs.
Ask about their professional credentials…
If you are looking to build a new building, you should consider hiring someone who has the “LEED- AP” distinction- it means that they have at least passed a test on “green” building design. LEED means Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which is a relatively new distinction among building designers. If you are looking for more technical skills relating to energy management of facilities, consider a Certified Energy Manager (CEM). If you are looking for someone to understand the new area of carbon reduction/strategy, perhaps the Carbon Reduction Manager certification would be important. There are other credentialing systems available in each of the “green trades”, so use people who have at least passed a recognized exam showing competency. It is even better if they are actively involved in a professional association and collaborating with others for further development, as this is a rapidly evolving field. To make the point, consider hiring a computer expert who was only trained to service products up to Windows 95… it wouldn’t work very well.
Finally, it really is about people…
As with other industries, most people go through the same evaluation/hiring process, but something I have noticed with highly successful “green” professionals is that most to them have a hobby that is connected to nature. For example, hiking, sailing, photography, etc., or they have some compelling reason or point in time that they became committed to helping the planet. It keeps them “on course” and passionate about the “good” that they are doing. This high level of commitment is necessary, as the challenges ahead are enormous. So ask them, “when did you become passionate about your career”… if they don’t have an answer, they may not be that committed.