photo: Laura via flickr
When you think of green jobs what comes to mind? Solar panel installer, wind turbine parts manufacturer, energy efficiency consultant, ecosystem restoration specialist? Those are all certainly parts of a future green economy, but I'd like to point out several jobs that already exist that, though they aren't often thought of as being green, really come down to the heart of what a sustainable future might look like:
Organic cotton and other sustainably produced or recycled fabrics are only part of the eco-clothing equation. Another part is shipping of clothing all around the world and working conditions in those factories, and still another is the fickleness of fashion trends leading to literally tons of discarded clothing. Neither of those is truly sustainable and both can be at least ameliorated by your friendly neighborhood tailor.
When you frequent your local tailor to get a shirt or pair of pants made you are much closer to the point of production and know where your clothing is being made. It may not be a high wage (though certainly not bad, especially when it comes to better tailors) but you can more easily be in direct contact with the person who made the shirt you're wearing.
Not to mention that your local tailor can probably remake clothing that you might otherwise discard based on changing fashion, and can repair more things than you'd think.
photo: Alan Turkus via flickr
Taxi DriverWhy is being a taxi driver a green occupation? You'd be tempted to point out that they just drive around in Lincoln Town Cars or some similar other low fuel efficiency vehicle? Partially true, partially false.
First of all, at least here in New York an increasing number of taxi drivers have hybrid cars that at least triple the fuel efficiency of the stereotypical cab. So if you share that cab with two other people it's probably just about as efficient as taking the bus or the subway. That's if it's a hybrid; the math doesn't add up with an old school cab, but even it that case I'd still call being a taxi driver a green occupation.
The reason is that taxis form a very important part of an integrated local public transit system. Light rail and buses are certainly required. Great bike sharing programs are also part. And car sharing programs such as Zipcar also have a role. But taxis still fill an important niche.
They may be driving around all the time, but that's their virtue in comparison to private car ownership (or even car sharing to some degree). A good fleet of taxis (and where climate allows smaller for-hire vehicles such as auto-rickshaws, cycle taxis, etc.) removes the need for the individual to need to own a car. That means no large hunk of metal and electronics sitting in a garage or on the side of the road, idle for most of the time. That sounds pretty green to me.
If we push for more hybrid taxis and cleaner small alternatives then we're really getting somewhere.
photo: Marcus via flickr
Coffee Shop Owner
TreeHugger is always on about the green virtues of working from home, or as we like to put it, the virtual office. Maybe part of that is because that's how TreeHugger is run, but there's some good data to back that up as well. And as anyone who's worked this way for any amount of time knows, your local coffee shop is an indispensable part of the virtual office.
By providing a central location that doubles as office, conference room and cafeteria you can allow more people to live in smaller spaces (less energy consumption + less stuff) and provide a valuable social service (greater interaction with your community). Not to mention it allows you to walk or bike to the "office" where you might have to take a car or other form of transit.
Now, make sure your local coffee shop owner buys fair trade and organic coffee. Plus, be sure to pressure them about using real glass and ceramic cups, and bioplastic for take out. That, plus good internet access, and they'll be on their way to living up to their potential as an unknown green job.
photo: George Arriola via flickr
Sidewalk Fruit Vendor
Farmers markets are great, but even better than that is when the farmers market is on every other corner... at least if you live in the part of Manhattan that I do. Sure, most of these guys aren't selling organic or local produce—though the selection certainly does change with the seasons—but the concept is super-green.
First, you only need your own two feet to go pick up your fruit and veg. Second, in a short while you can get to know your vendor in a way that is more difficult at larger markets, something important in building community. Third, there's little to no infrastructure—no building, no electricity, no water.
It may not be on the high part of the pay scale, though neither is working in a supermarket. But provided that no one is getting exploited along the way, adequate worker protections are in place, and if we could get some good local produce into these sort of fruit stands, they really would be a strong part of a green community.
photo: Mo Riza via flickr
Now, no one jump on me for this one: I'm not saying that anyone aspires to go through garbage bins picking out cans and other recyclables, nor that this is really an adequate replacement for better curbside recycling, nor less acceptable social policy, but just look at these marginalized people in a greener light. This most unglamorous and potentially semi-hazardous of occupations is green at the most basic level.
Regardless of motivation (and I'm fully aware that green is not that motivation, except if you're talking about small sums of money) those people in your city going through trash cans and picking out what they can are primary recyclers, reducing the amount of waste that goes to the landfill.
Absent good city programs for recycling, these people provide a very much valuable green service. Just think of that the next time you see someone digging through the trash while you're waiting to cross the street. They're doing what your city and to a lesser degree we as individuals have failed to do, fully deal with our consumer waste.