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Green Work: Finding Your Right Livelihood

Updated on October 30, 2009

Five Tips - Five Topics

Do you love your work?

Alternative energy: a techie's calling...
Alternative energy: a techie's calling...
Teaching, alternative heating, natural building
Teaching, alternative heating, natural building
Timber-framing apprentices practicing 'the old way' of squaring off a corner brace (the 'hand-hewn' look goes for a premium nowadays)
Timber-framing apprentices practicing 'the old way' of squaring off a corner brace (the 'hand-hewn' look goes for a premium nowadays)
Restoring and remodeling with salvaged materials.
Restoring and remodeling with salvaged materials.
Making beautiful, durable, useful objects
Making beautiful, durable, useful objects
Goofing off with kids in the woods...
Goofing off with kids in the woods...

Right Livelihood: Building a Green Career

You buy the right products, choose the right hobbies, avoid the Evil Habits.

But can you work green, and feed your family at the same time?

Others have done it. People started collecting free fryer oil to run their biodiesel cars, and now there's a market for it. People started looking to save money by building smarter homes, and now they're profitable and tax-deductible too!

How do you find a career, business opportunity, or job that will support you and the planet?

You can search online for "jobs for the environment," but these are mostly a narrow niche. Outdoor education, conservation, and the politics of natural resource management. Basically, it's people working outdoors or telling other people how to be more environmental - and unless you have special skills, they don't pay that well.

What's your passion? What are your best skills, or expertise? You can find satisfying work, that you are good at, that also supports sustainability.

What Is Sustainable Business?
I recommend The Natural Step guidelines to understand what makes a business sustainable, and help you look for a green niche. Briefly, their four scientifically-derived principles are:

  • Don't eat your seed stock (protect diversity, avoid physically degrading living systems)
  • Don't pave the biosphere faster than it grows back (avoid systematically increasing crustal mineral concentrations)
  • Don't release persistent chemicals faster than they break down.
  • Don't systematically prevent people from meeting their needs. Work for equity, justice, and peace. (Everyone in the world is in this together.)

TNS also offers very useful business tools to meeting these goals, such as the "ABCD Approach." They fundamentally believe that the people in the business have the best motivation, and the best opportunity, to make that business sustainable.

What is Your Niche?
Be your best self. Use your existing skills or job, and make it more sustainable. If you need to build new skills or contacts, consider volunteering or using the "informational interview" process described in What Color Is Your Parachute?

If you are great at accounting, finance, or business management, you can target green cost-saving opportunities in your worksplace, or help a green startup succeed. Some colleges offer specific courses in sustainable business, and these can be a great way to build skills and network for future jobs.

If you are great with your hands and love power tools, consider helping to build and retrofit green buildings, or manufacture sustainable products like recycled wood furniture, custom bicycles, or outdoor recreation equipment. Check out local businesses that feature 'green' products and see if they run a good shop or are considering a remodel. Offer ideas to your boss or union rep about ways to make your existing job more efficient, less toxic, or both.

If you are great at art, writing, or other creative passions, you don't have to stick with farmer's markets, craft fairs, or niche agents. Consider marketing green products, opening (or selling to) an online store, making a deal with your local health food store to sell your work, or designing earth-friendly necessities and luxuries.

If you are a technical whiz, consider some of the emergent problems in alternative energy, transportation, and information sharing. Start or join an online forum. Listen to your clients, offer tools that work well, save paper, and share resources. Develop local biofuels (Smokeless wood heat?). Go places: Recumbent bicycles, Catamaran sailboats. Find the efficiency breakthrough, and you have a marketable, sustainable opportunity.

If you have a recurring problem in going green, even a petty one - say, you can't wear a bike helmet over your favorite hat - see if your friends have the same problem. Problem + skill = opportunity.

You can "green" your current job, build a side business, train in a new field using sustainability-focused grants and loans, or start an eco-empire.

Most of all, do your work whole-heartedly, and do what you know is right


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