The green jobs sector could get a huge boost next year after the make-or-break United Nations climate summit set for March 2015 in Paris. We’re basing our optimism partly on the outcome of last week’s Lima COP20 talks, which stumbled badly out of the starting gate but ended up on a relatively sporting note.
We also have solid expectations for Paris 2015 because we just had an interesting talk with Rebecca R. Rubin, President and CEO of the multifaceted environmental consulting firm Marstel-Day. Though only 12 years old, Marstel-Day has already set a solid track record, particularly as reflected in a slew of Defense Department contracts. If you’re new to the topic, take a look at Marstel-Day’s DoD contract list and you can see how the green jobs angle is set for growth.
“Why Should The Nonprofit Sector Always Have To Carry The Load?”
Before we get to the Defense Department, let’s skip all the way to the end of our conversation, when Rubin described her personal view of the green jobs issue. Rubin made the point that at least until recently, if you were working to make positive change, you were almost necessarily working in the non-profit sector.
The exact phrase “green jobs” actually didn’t come up in our conversation, but you can see how the choice of how to make one’s living factors into Rubin’s personal philosophy (following is slightly condensed for flow):
…private sector leaders really do have a duty to help carry the load for changing the course that our planet is on…One of the founding premises of the company was [for] employees who want to make a difference, who want to do something good for the planet, you shouldn’t be forced to choose between a for-profit and a non-profit.
Green Leaders, Green Jobs
We’ve spilled a lot of ink on the growing number of legacy private sector companies that are offering more green jobs (Ford and Levi-Strauss are good examples) as they transition into more sustainable business models. For the most part, however, the private sector still continues to miss some good bottom line opportunities. That can include start-ups and even clean tech companies such as wind turbine manufacturers.
Ironically, as Rubin describes it, companies that hire a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) don’t guarantee themselves the best outcome, and this is where one parallel with the Defense Department comes in. In her view, the key factor is hands-on involvement by leadership at the very top of the company. In other words, you can’t just hire a CSO and deflect responsibility onto them:
…if everything is done and themed and messaged and inculcated by the CSO what that says is that the leadership… really has divested of that.
So you end up sending this message to your employees:
…it’s not really a company priority, it’s just a sustainability priority.
By hands-on, Rubin means hands-on, down to staff level activities such as participating regularly in the company’s sustainability planning, or pitching in for Earth Day events. To that we’d add making vigorous and frequent public statements that hammer home the idea that sustainability goals are part of the company’s DNA and not an add-on.
Navy Secretary Ray Maybus provides a good example from the Defense Department. He routinely frames the Navy’s clean energy and sustainability initiatives with a clear statement that innovation is inseparable from the mission:
Sailors, no matter where they are from, look out over the ocean and see nothing but the horizon, nothing but the future.
…After all, it was the Navy that switched its source of power from sail to steam in the 19th Century, from steam to oil at the beginning of the 20th Century and we pioneered nuclear power as a propulsion source in the middle of the 20th Century. And, by the way, every single time we made one of these dramatic changes in energy there were naysayers who spoke and worked against the change.
With that kind of vision in hand at the leadership post, you can see the potential for green jobs growth in some rather unexpected places.
For example, we’ve been following NASCAR’s sustainability initiatives, which just got a ramp-up last year when the organization’s managing director for sustainability was bumped up to VP for Green Innovation. That’s no accident, as longtime CEO Brian France has been out there pitching for more community engagement on all levels.
“Try To Get It Right At The Beginning”
As for start-ups, Rubin offered up some pointed guidance for sustainability programming that could enable companies to attract top talent through green jobs:
…even if you’re a five-person company [I] should try to think through all the protocols I want to get in place so that as I grow…I don’t have to go and try to figure it out when it’s so much harder and when my operations are so diverse. You want the green program to grow with the company and not be appended on later.
“The Department Of Defense Really Has Been A Change Agent”
Circling back around to the beginning of our conversation, Marstel-Day’s work with the Defense Department has provided it with some unique insights into how companies can make sustainability goals work for their bottom line.
Aside from the leadership issue, another key factor is an emphasis on ecosystem services that help to mitigate risk encroachment. That has emerged as a priority for the Defense Department as it plans for climate change impacts including more frequent and severe storms.
In the private sector, ecosystems services are still mainly something that Rubin describes as “the dark horse:”
This is the most important thing that companies should be focused on, and aren’t.
That misplaced focus is most evident when companies go about investing in new infrastructure without considering climate impacts. Here is where Rubin sees the future, based on Marstel-Day’s experiences with the Defense Department and other clients that practice sustainability in concert with community engagement:
I feel that environmental responsibility is really an affirmative duty for all private companies…if you want to exercise CSR (corporate social responsibility) one of the primary ways to do it is through ecological measures that both enhance the company’s operations and may also be a win-win for the community.
From our green jobs perspective, what that means is that if your company is serious and effective about sustainability, your operations have a potential ripple effect that creates more green jobs in your community, too.
That brings us back around to Paris 2015. Despite the relatively positive outcome of Lima COP20, there’s still an 800-pound gorilla in the green jobs room: the deep-pocketed phalanx of corporate stakeholders with generations-old business models that depend on increasing carbon emissions and marketing non-renewable resources. That would be ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers, among many others.