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Archive for January 2013

Green Jobs – The View from 2 Years Ago

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I published this in The Daily Green early in the Obama Administration’s first term – interesting to see the similarities and differences.  ME

In the jobs program President Obama is promoting, green jobs were not a highlight. But for job seekers and communities alike, there’s more potential than we may realize. It comes into view when we look at the two specific areas of investment that the President called for: fixing up schools and infrastructure.

Teasing out the potential for environmentally friendly projects from Obama’s jobs program is also key for job seekers.

Green schools are growing in popularity because they are high-performance schools. They are resource-efficient, with healthy indoor environments. They attract good teachers and enhance student performance. Global Green USA estimates that in Los Angeles alone, building 34 new green schools will reduce 94,000 tons of carbon dioxide. That’s the equivalent of eliminating more than 15,000 cars from the road every year or planting more than 280,000 trees!

Suppose all 35,000 schools targeted by the President are upgraded. That’s an average of 700 per state receiving repairs big and small. That won’t fund an army but it will fund quite a few battalions of contractors and suppliers. How likely is it that many of them will be green? McGraw-Hill Construction estimates that such projects totaled $16 billion in 2010, up from $9 billion in 2008. That’s more than a third of school construction activity, according to the reports of Jonathan Hiskes, who outlines the benefits from healthier air to better lighting for learning in Sustainable Industries.

America’s schools need every imaginable kind of repair, opening the door to job opportunities using green products and methods for roofing, lighting, flooring, painting, windows, cabinetry, cafeterias, paving, playground landscaping, appliances, educational software and smart classrooms, heating and cooling, power generation and more. Across this spectrum of work, there will be a need for contractors, architects, engineers, landscape architects, contract administrators and other professionals.

If a school system’s leaders are well educated about the benefits of green practices in improving test scores and retaining teachers, there are a series of relatively easy steps that make natural sense as part of any renovation, according to architect Bob Berkebile. “Many older schools were designed for daylighting. It’s relatively easy to take advantage of this, and to control for moisture, reduce toxics, and landscape with local plants that are hardy, beautiful and contribute to water management and air quality. Do these things, and the school facility becomes part of the teaching. This can be a very smart, highly leveraged, catalytic civic investment,” Berkebile says.

These opportunities will not emerge neatly or predictably. Newbies in these fields will be competing with laid-off workers hoping to get re-hired. Remember that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed in 2009, and funds flowed from the Feds to the states to local projects at a glacial pace over the course of two years! Some jobs may be newly created; at least as many others will be stabilized or expanded. Firms may not completely re-hire their laid-off work forces based on school upgrades alone; but they will be strengthened enough by these contracts, to bid on additional work.

The same logic applies to finding the green opportunities in infrastructure upgrades. The need is huge, for road and bridge improvements, wastewater and stormwater management, and mass transit, for starters. These diverse fields each have areas of green advantage, from pervious pavement to decentralized stormwater management systems that help thirsty land to retain water. A national survey of barriers and opportunities to green infrastructure, released September 14, identified 4 kinds of challenges needing to be addressed to make green infrastructure approaches mainstream:

  • Technical and physical (including professionals’ lack of familiarity);
  • Legal and regulatory (when laws or agencies act asbarriers to unfamiliar approaches);
  • Financial (upfront costs are often higher, even if projects produce substantial long-term savings);
  • Community and Institutional (primarily inadequate information and lack of passionate advocacy).

Much of the work to be done is part of capital projects that have already been planned, budgeted and sometimes designed, by local and state authorities that have been looking for funding forever. In these domains, it won’t always be possible to make the case for greener alternatives — but sometimes it will. In cities like Philadelphia, where climate preparedness has been mainstreamed, the opportunities could be quite significant. Engineers, landscape architects, planners, attorneys and contractors will all be needed. So will suppliers of materials and products.

If you’re looking to take any of those skills into a greener mode of practice, the slow economy is a great time for career development through self-teaching or formal programs like the National Sustainable Building Advisor 8-month certificate program. These trainings can be found at many community colleges and bring together a diverse range of professionals for cross-fertilization.

How do you identify the places where school and infrastructure upgrades are likely to create jobs in some shade of green?

  • Look for states with climate and energy action plans.
  • Look for municipalities that have taken the lead, such as members of ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability.
  • Look for schools that are partnering with leading programs like Collaborative High-Performance Schools (CHPS)
  • Look for major transit initiatives already proposed and planned in your region.

When you find a potential match, the trick is to sell the benefits of green approaches while marketing yourself as a problem-solver who can make innovation practical. Opportunities will go to those who can sell their skillsets as implementers first, with the added value of green expertise.

Melissa Everett is the executive director of Sustainable Hudson Valley and the author of Making a Living While Making a Difference: Conscious Careers for an Era of Interdependence (3rd edition, New Society Publishers, 2007). She supports career changers through tele-seminars, personalized counseling, and a Facebook group. Read more and contact her at

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Written by melissaeverett

January 26, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

From Sandy to Sandy Hook: Addressing the Roots of Two Crises

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As we turn the corner into 2013, the nation is still reeling from two moments of unfathomable violence, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut,  and Hurricane Sandy’s assault.

In late October, as the storm filled the New York City subway system with rainwater and swept away entire neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey, a majority in the nation (more than 70%) again showed understanding and alarm about climate change as the systemic cause, and took it seriously as a real and deadly threat.

Just after the storm, President Barack Obama made the first pointed reference to climate change during his re-election campaign and promised to take strong action.  Advocates for a national summit had received encouraging response from the White House.  A carbon tax had even been mentioned by a few legislators as a budget reform tool.

Then a more immediate horror captured national attention, as twenty seven innocent people were gunned down in a morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  National priorities urgently shifted to violence prevention and the capture of a teachable moment on gun control.

It is hard enough to fight one war.  Yet both threats are real and demand action now. How can this combination of challenges be addressed together, as they have come into our lives, in a politically and strategically coherent way?   How can climate change be dealt with as an overarching threat to public safety, while we take a stand against human-to-human violence as the watershed issue for our communities right now?

Politically, these are separate issues.  They require the leadership of different constituencies, different legislation, different social policies.  They call forth different public conversations.

Still, there are similarities in the responses they call forth, socially and culturally.   In both domains, we need to face a painful reality,  understand the risk it poses,  make action a priority even it if involves a fight, and accept that the patterns of our lives may have to change to deal with it. In both domains, we need a concerted grassroots movement in which people help each other to stay involved. In both domains, an obsessed minority has blocked majority action, and a tolerant majority has failed to take the upper hand.    On both issues, we need a whole lot of people to reach deep within themselves and access the core values that drive them to action.

Looking at the root causes of the two threats, more similarities emerge.

Climate action requires new approaches to energy, transportation and the built environment – providing drive and opportunity to design the places where we live, and therefore to take a fresh look at the lives we are living.  One of the largest sources of carbon pollution is transportation and travel, as people ricochet from home to work to civic and social activities across geographic expanses that our grandparents would never have imagined.  People are living their lives in constant movement. As people commute more, they have less time to interact with their neighbors and less need to. In the social isolation that can result, many of us are too fragmented to focus much on a macro-issue like climate change.   A major strategy for reducing climate impacts is reconnecting people and commerce in comfortable, small-scale places designed for quality of life, not designed for people to commute out of.

Social isolation also has something to do with violence.  Newtown, Aurora, Virginia Tech and other massacres were all committed by young male loners who lived in constructed worlds of violent social media.  All those perpetrators were part of in communities where they were seen but not known, where later their stories would be reconstructed by neighbors who said, “I was concerned but I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t see other people showing concern, so I didn’t say anything.”

The same thing has been happening with climate change — at times in the extreme.  A social taboo on talking about the subject has even been observed in Arctic fishing villages where sea ice is visibly melting and stable wildlife migration patterns are changing for the first time in living memory.  Where the effects of climate change are most visible, people don’t want to talk about it.   And in mainstream American politics, the swing vote that could support or inhibit action is nearly 1/3 of the adult population that self-describes as disengaged and confused. In order to mount an effective political response, we need to think about the social

Across the issues,  we need to understand the tricks that the human mind plays to hold difficult information at bay.  One of these is “confirmation bias” – the tendency not to believe something we see directly, if authorities or our peers contradict it, or even act as though it isn’t important.   Our ability to respond to big issues is not just a product of our individual analysis, but our social experience as well.  This is why the public so often mobilizes as a mass – and falls back into apathy as a mass as well.

Preventing more Newtowns will take a concerted policy campaign, hard work and public stands by many.  It will also take cultural change.  It’s about controlling guns and ammunition, and also about  reweaving the safety net for traumatized people so that they do not traumatize others.  Beyond tactical responses, reducing gun violence is about finding a more compelling form of self-expression, even for very troubled people.  Preventing more Newtowns will require countless citizens to help each other stay true to purpose and overcome opposition – opposition that may employ tactics of intimidation or distortion or even violence.

Confronting runaway climate change — and dealing with its impacts — will take a concerted campaign as well. That campaign is gathering force.  Policies must shift to remove all subsidies from carbon-polluting fossil fuels and support the uptake of clean renewable power sources and transportation systems — an agenda most Americans easily support.  As with the gun issue, we don’t just need a rational majority registering its views, but a passionate, resolute majority that is unwilling to back down.  But the work to be done is far more than policy.  We need a reinvention of our built environment, of a quality and quantity that has never been seen – solar neighborhoods and downtowns need to pop up everywhere, along with bikeways, trolley systems, and urban farms so that people can live and move around without dependence on fossil fuels.  A World War II style mobilization has been suggested by concerned scientists – and roundly rejected by even the concerned public.

Whether the focus is climate change or shootings, it is clear that violence cannot be matched only with violence without worsening the downward spiral.  Law, policy and legitimate authority are part of the necessary response, but another part is creativity.  In climate action, that has begun.  Cities from Copenhagen and Oberlin Ohio are rolling out concrete action plans to become carbon neutral in the next decade.  Wind farms are cheaper to construct now than coal plants.  New policy tools like property assessed clean energy – in which householders repay energy loans on their tax bills through savings – have been invented by local officials in search of solutions.  Truly the metaphor for climate response is not a military mobilization, but a Renaissance – decentralized, experimental, tolerant, drawing equally on art, science and spirit.  And such a Renaissance, as it emerges, might well provide the most powerful antidote to social violence – hope.

The Northeast really did not need Hurricane Sandy or the Sandy Hook school massacre, and certainly not in the same season. But in dealing with both tragedies,  the region will be invited to tap an unprecented resource, the sense of deep connection among its people and urgency to create a very different reality.




Written by melissaeverett

January 24, 2013 at 1:10 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper Community Revitalization

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The Project for Public Spaces is a constant inspiration to me for many reasons – not the least, their focus on lighter, quicker, cheaper ways to change the face of a community for the better.  As my friends in Connecticut and New York explore these ideas, I was inspired to think up some exemplary actions that can be carried out for little or no money:

  1. 1. bike lending station
  2. 2. community garden plot
  3. 3. community media like Kingston’s “Dreamers and Doers” newsletter and local talk radio
  4. 4. portable marketplace kiosk to test new eco-products, from scooters to personal mess-kits for takeout food
  5. 5. block party
  6. 6. community toolshed
  7. 7. Paint It!   Day
  8. 8. rain garden workshop and hands-on installation event
  9. 9. bike map  (paths, racks, etc.)
  10. 10. Walking tours highlighting cool neighborhoods, buildings, issues, with local experts
  11. 11. communitywide yard sale
  12. 12. eat local week
  13. 13. local artists and authors event
  14. 14. sporting amenities – movable basketball hoop, volleyball net + balls – at public centers like the library, for instant setup
  15. 15. pedicab service
  16. 16. Seed and plant sale/ swap
  17. 17. publish a local food/ chefs cookbook and host community dinners to showcase the highlights
  18.  Historical performance:  John Burroughs or Sojourner Truth, your local historic figures profiled by local actors
  19.  Asset mapping event:  what’s cool in our community and how could it contribute more to quality of life
  20.  Theme party – e.g. outrageous hat party, Rooftop Night
  21. Beam in the Metropolitan Opera (available to local theatres)
  22.  Movable feast
  23.  Imagine our future:  world cafe gathering
  24.  Butterfly garden/ backyard habitat workshop
  25.  Stargazing nights
  26.  Set up a “creative complex” of shipping containers big enough to make office/ studio spaces for a design team that can work with neighborhood groups on making their parts of town more beautiful, multi-purpose and people-friendly; include maker space and tool lending library and materials exchange
  27.  A local investment workshop with community activists and entrepreneurs, and bankers/ investors/ philanthropists
  28.  Simple hospitality center with a no-fee ATM, healthy food vending machine, bike racks and public seating near transit, sponsored by local banks
  29.  A mapping kiosk with easy mapping software, where people can lay out their visions for the community choosing specific parameters for change, then annotate, bookmark, save and share their maps.
  30. 30.  Clothing swaps

Written by melissaeverett

January 24, 2013 at 1:06 am

Posted in Uncategorized