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Fair Trade Key to Emerging Green Economy

There's been a lot of discussion lately about green collar jobs and the impact they could have on the U.S. economy. So what exactly is a green job, and what do you have to do to get one?

Frank Marquardt joins GreenBiz Radio today to help us try to answer these questions. Frank is the author of the new Green Careers Insider Guide from Wet Feet publications. Available at, the guide examines the every-growing green marketplace and explores the job opportunities within it.

Tilde Herrera: Hi, Frank. Welcome to GreenBiz Radio.

Frank Marquardt: Thank you. I'm very excited to be here.

TH: Why don't we start with an overview of your book?

FM: The book is targeted, I think, at a pretty broad audience. It's focused a little more on business opportunities rather than, say, nonprofit or opportunities at the federal and state level, but it does address those opportunities as well. It's written for someone who is probably coming out of college, but not necessarily, or coming out of a business school program, and really wants to get oriented around where the opportunities are.

You hear the term "green" all over the place these days. And I think that there's a real interest in doing something more meaningful with our careers, and really with our lives. And so this book is really designed to help people really get a sense of where those opportunities are, what the different sectors are, how they can take their experience, their skills, their passion into a line of work that is going to be fulfilling to them personally, and possibly very lucrative.

TH: What are the typical paths that these people take to a green career?

FM: There are all kinds of paths, and it's really dizzying how many opportunities there are. In many ways, I think the opportunities are kind of nascent. They're starting to bubble up. People are starting to recognize them.

So, if you want to go a nonprofit route, you could do things such as advocacy. You can do things such as monitoring the companies abroad, how they're treating their workforces. If you want to go into government, there are all kinds of things for people who want to practice law and look at environmental issues related to law, and who are involved in monitoring carbon outputs. I think that's going be an increasingly large sector.

In the world of business, there are kind of traditional and I think fairly kind of well-known opportunities is what's called corporate social responsibility, which is one path where you're working in typically at a Fortune 500 or Fortune 1000 corporation on issues related to the company's footprint or how its operations are affecting the planet and people around the world.

There are all kinds of entrepreneurial opportunities for people who want to start a business. There are mail order catalogs. There are restaurants. In San Francisco there's a great restaurant called Seller's Market that is all organic ingredients from local vendors. There's Numi Tea. We talked to the CEO there for the book. And he started a company selling tea, using Fair Trade principles for the production, so that's kind of another area.

Outside of the food sector, you can look at energy. The whole cleantech sector involves reducing energy or materials that go into building or producing a product. There's the green building sector. There's architecture is increasingly hiring people with LEED certification or green experience. So really you can kind of look at the whole of industry and I think find a path.

TH: That sort of begs the question: Can any career be a green career? And if so, what are the limits and what are the boundaries?

FM: Well, that's an interesting question. And I think (that) sort of raises the question of what exactly is a green career. The definition that I used in the book was that a green career is one that involves either reducing environmental impact or promoting environmental restoration. And then I used a second one in which I'm talking about the triple bottom line -- a career that affects, in a positive way, what's referred to as people, planet and profit.

So, it's producing profit through a positive, lasting economic impact as it does the least harm by curtailing environmental impact. It treats all the people it touches, through your work, equitably so that your workers get a fair wage, no one's knowingly exploited, and work conditions are safe, hours tolerable. So, those are some of the qualities that make up a career that would be considered green.

You can have a cabinetmaker -- maybe not something you think of as immediately green -- who's using materials that are reclaimed woods and nontoxic solvents to create cabinets. You can have a lawyer who is working in the area of law, kind of focused on environmental law. You can have someone in human resources who is focused on issues of fairness in the workplace, or is actually working at a company who directly espouses the issues of green.

So in a sense, my vision for where the green sector is going is that increasingly we're seeing companies emerging with business models that have explicitly stated goals around the environment. And in that sense, if a company's really pursuing kind of an environmental path, then all the folks in its company are aligned behind those values and are working toward achieving them. So, in that sense I think that many careers that we may not immediately consider as being green are increasingly having a green component, and that that is likely to continue over time.

TH: During the course of your research for this book, were you able to identify certain themes or certain challenges that jobseekers face when searching for a green job?

FM: The most salient challenge that jobseekers face is really figuring out what it is that they want to do, and then starting to identify a list of companies where they can put those skills to work. And I think this is always the challenge in a career. But you need to know where your passion is, what it is that you believe, what you want to do, before you can identify a career path.

Once you've done that, then I think you can start to target organizations and companies in the green sector. And then it's a matter of doing the things that any smart jobseeker's gonna do: informational interviews, talk to folks through your alumni network, get involved in organizations like Net Impact or in local initiatives to green your college campus or green your city to get some experience so that you can start to understand who the players are and where the opportunities are along the lines of the things that you want to be doing.

TH: You talked about interest and passion, but beyond interest and passion in environment issues or sustainability issues, what skills and experience are companies looking for?

FM: That's a good question, and I think in many cases it's evolving pretty rapidly and it's likely to continue to evolve. In many cases people with the skills to go into kind of a green role, say as a sustainability director in an airline or a consumer products company, those roles are not necessarily fully codified yet. So companies are, I don't think, always sure of what they're looking for. They tend to revert to kind of what they're used to doing when they're hiring: looking for someone with a lot of experience. The problem is not a lot of people have a lot of experience.

Increasingly I think you're seeing MBA programs offering courses, and in some cases there are MBA program that are dedicated exclusively toward a sustainable development experience and path. I'm speaking specifically of Presidio College and there's a college in Washington, Bainbridge, and Dominican College has a green MBA program -- all of which are integrating the ideas of sustainability into a traditional MBA curriculum.

And then in addition, places like Berkeley, Stanford, and the top 25 business schools that have teachers that are focused on the issues trying to kind of offer a dimension around how sustainability operates in business. So there's a process in place now where I think increasingly people who are following a business route and who are interested in these issues and in helping green organizations, or create their own green organization, are finding they're able to get those skills through business school curriculum.

Companies themselves to a certain degree, trying to figure who's going fit here. In many cases, I think the folks who go into a green career path at a company are those who express an interest and who have done some work outside the organization or volunteered for opportunities within the organization.

So they're starting to develop an expertise through on-the-job work, trying to answer questions such as what do we need to do to our products' so that we're addressing sustainability issues, so, if it's a product company, so that we can sell and continue to sell into a Wal-Mart, which has a sustainability scorecard that it's using to kind of vet its vendors now.

And so, you can get some hands-on experience in the organization you're in by just raising your hand and trying to get involved. Or else, in the community, volunteering for organizations, going to events like Green Drinks, talking to people, networking and building your knowledge.

A lot of this is kind of coming up from the ground right now. There's not a set of certifications. That is likely to change over time. In some cases, like in the building sector, there is a LEED certification. And that's something that a lot of architecture firms, for instance, in San Francisco, folks that I talked to here, they're wanting their architects to get LEED certification because they recognize that green building is going to be an increasingly large aspect of their portfolio of work.

TH: Frank, do you need to be an environmentalist to do an environmental job?

FM: No, you don't. I think there's a lot of motivations for getting involved in a career related to sustainability. In many cases, people are entering this sector 'cause they recognize there's a huge opportunity. The whole world of cleantech products and services that are designed to reduce, better monitor energy use, for example, there are all kinds of startups in that sector. Many analysts think that the next Google will emerge from that sector, largely because the costs of energy continue to rise. So if you can come up with solution to reduce those costs, it's gonna be a huge win.

Vinod Khosla, a venture capitalist that used to work with Kleiner Perkins I believe, he has been investing millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars, in startups in, for instance, the biofuel sector. So there's a lot of money going into that sector right now. You know, a lot of those people, they may be working on an issue that's going to help protect the environment, but I don't know if they're all necessarily environmentalists. The things that I hear, a lot of them just recognize this is a great business opportunity.

TH: Where do companies look for green employees?

FM: I think the first place that companies may look is internally: Who inside the company is really showing a passion for issues related to green? And that's kind of a natural place to look because you have a relationship with that person, you know what they can do, and you want to keep your employees excited about what they're doing. So, that's one kind of obvious place.

I think there's opportunity for people who want to green their career to really think about how they can contribute internally to the organization they're in, how they may be able to over time shift their job so they've got a real green focus on what they're doing, to get known as the green advocate.

Many people who come into green roles at businesses have MBAs from good schools and a track record working on issues related to the environment. So they maybe come from a nonprofit background, working for an organization like the Natural Resource Defense Council where they're actually doing something that is giving them an expertise that can then be used within the organization. Or maybe working for TransFair on issues related to Fair Trade coffee. So, those experiences provide a good subject experience and introduction to a lot of issues that can be really relevant to a company.

In some cases, I think they just look for people who have a background and a track record of doing things that show a commitment and a passion toward environmental issues. Maybe they've taken some classes in school or they've been volunteering on a campus greening initiative, or they've gotten involved in some local programs related to creating a more sustainable city or hosting a green expo-type event. All of those types of experiences I think reflect an interest and a commitment really to learning about the topic that it is going be attractive to an employer.

TH: O.K. Now you talked about looking internally at existing employees who maybe have a passion or a commitment to green issues. Say if I work for a company that has no experience with environment or with sustainability, or my position has no experience the environment or sustainability, how do I go about getting permission to take on these issues or incorporating them into my job description? What are some easy wins that would allow me to do more?

FM: Well, the first thing, maybe raise your hand and say, "I'd like to head up an office greening initiative." So, bring together a group of people internally and assess where the opportunities are. What are the quick hits to address some of the opportunities internally to create a more environmentally sound organization? That might be - that might involve looking at your paper policy: how much paper's being wasted, what type of paper are you using?

It might be looking at energy use. Are people turning off their computers at the end of each day? Are there some easy programs we can put in to reduce the amount of energy we're using? It might look at your purchasing program. Who are our vendors and suppliers? What are they doing? How can we shift to a set of suppliers that are gonna be greener?

TH: Say I want to position myself five to 10 years from now, what do I want to be doing, studying, or thinking about now to prepare for those green jobs of the future? What are the green jobs of the future?

FM: Well that's an interesting question. It's almost starting to get into science fiction. I think that the green jobs of the future, a lot of them relate to: How do we reduce waste? How do we reduce energy? How do we do things without fossil fuels? How do we do things without emitting toxic emissions into the air, into the Earth? So, in many respects I think those are kind of some of the key opportunities. And those are the products that a lot of companies are working on now, people are thinking about now.

So in terms of positioning yourself for that, again it kind of depends on where you want to be and what you want to do. Do you want to be on the technical end, developing these products and services, really thinking through the science of them? Do you want to be on a marketing side and helping promote them, getting them out there in the public consciousness? Do you want to be in a different role? Do you want to be covering them, a journalist perhaps?

So there are lots of different avenues for you to go. To position yourself for that role now, it's looking at where do you want to be, and then working back. What are the skills to get there? So, if you want to be a CEO of a company or have a startup, you'd probably be advised to get an MBA or get a lot of experience in startups now. Start trying to find some jobs at startups, get involved in networking groups that are going to bring together CEOs and other entrepreneurs.

If you want a role in the science side and the technical side and you're in school, you probably want to spend a lot of time in engineering classes, science classes. See if you can get into a program that has a good green chemistry teacher or someone who's looking at how to do things without using toxic materials.

TH: Going back to an earlier question, what advice would you give to employers in terms of what should companies be doing to attract the best talent in this area?

FM: I think the first thing is to have a legitimate commitment to greening your operations. So if a company isn't truly committed, if it's just giving lip service, then it's gonna be less attractive to a candidate. A candidate wants to come in and really make a difference, wants to feel like they have a role and say and an opportunity to create change. So, companies have to be willing to go through that change, to accept it, to understand why it could help them compete.

TH: Speaking about the book, you profile several people who are in the area. Are there any, in particular, that sort of illustrate what is happening right now in the green marketplace?

FM: I wanted to get a diversity of people in the book. I wanted to get people from different roles, different levels, different backgrounds, so that was kind of the criteria I used. And then second, drawing my networks and then who was available to talk to me.

So several people from the San Francisco Bay area, one person, Toshio, who works at Ideal Bite, is someone who came into his work through a nonprofit after college. So, he doesn't have an MBA, he's doing work that he's interested in, he feels passionate about. So it's kind of a nice little story there for someone who's coming out of college -- what are some routes in?

I talked to some other folks. I talked to the CEO of Numi Tea. That was a case of someone who started a business that is just a really interesting business. It's been growing fast. It has incredible values up and down the organization in the way that they work with their suppliers, the way they work with their employees. And I just think that's a really interesting story, so I thought that would be very valuable for people to get a look inside a company that really is has a deep experience in this.

I talked to the, essentially the person who directs the corporate social responsibility programs at Starbucks. That's a case of someone who has an MBA, has been in business for a while, is in a very prominent role at a Fortune 500 company that's very well known, and is doing some incredible work, is really passionate about it. I wanted to kind of give that perspective from the - you know for someone who's at the top of a huge organization.

And then I talked to some smaller entrepreneurs. (There's) a woman in Portland, Ore., who has a Fair Trade jewelry company. She actually used to be a consultant on Fair Trade, and I think still does that a little bit, but she has a very small company. It's very much a startup. It's a really neat product, really neat story behind the product.

She gets her materials from women collectives in countries in Asia and, I believe, Mexico or South America. She sources her materials from groups, such as one in Afghanistan that trains women whose husbands have often been lost in war. It gives them a skill that they can then put to use and make a fair wage living at. And then (she) takes those products and designs jewelry that is going be attractive to a North American market. It's a beautiful business model and really beautiful products.

The goal there was really to show just all the interesting things that people are doing and what are the opportunities to give a flavor for where someone might fit and, hopefully, open the reader's mind as to what's possible for them. That there aren't any really prescribed paths here. You can take this in many different directions.

One of the things that I thought was interesting that came out of the interviews, as well, is the way that the whole market for green careers has been shifting. In many ways, I think five or 10 years ago, some of the folks who have gotten involved entrepreneurially, that was their only option. There weren't jobs being offered at companies. There weren't sustainability director roles defined. So what they had to do is they had to start their own business, figure out how do we add value here.

Over the last three or four years, that's changed a little bit. And now, people coming out of school can find jobs. There are sufficient numbers of startups, a sufficient number of companies committed to moving toward sustainable principles. Every day you get a new Fortune 500 company that makes an announcement about trying to reduce its carbon footprint or some alternative energy program that they're thinking about.

And that's very exciting. And those all reflect new opportunities at those companies. But for a long time there wasn't this range of opportunities, so people had to kind of figure it out and start things on their own.

Tilde Herrera is associate editor at Frank Marquardt is a past contributor to the website.