Some advice from Auden Schendler, Our VP of Sustainability

How can I find a green job?

This is the time-honored question ... the great question for the ages. I get asked this question so frequently, from very qualified individuals, that I decided to establish a web page to answer it. It is heartbreaking (and encouraging) how many skilled and interested people are looking for work in the sustainability field. The good news is the sector is growing exponentially.

If you ask anyone in the field, they'll probably tell you they got there by luck. That's certainly true for me. I’m less smart, strong and fast than other candidates (and much less skilled). But I happened to be in the right place at the right time. That said, there are a few steps we can all follow to improve the odds. Luck is good, but as the mountaineers say, you make your own luck ... to a point.

The six keys to one day finding a job in the business of sustainability are:

1. Be Ruthlessly Opportunistic

Being ruthlessly opportunistic means taking low-paid jobs, internships and volunteer positions in the field in which you want to gain experience.

2. Make Your Job a Green Job

Don't take you eye off the ball even if you end up working in unrelated fields for a while to make ends meet. In fact, you might try to make your job in that unrelated field morph into the job you want.

Several environmental directors I know have simply proposed their position within a company — and usually the company had been previously uninterested in such work. In the end, every job is going to have to become a job that focuses on climate change if we hope to solve this problem.

Green Job Coal Mine Skier Aspen Snowmass
Green Job Coal Mine Skier Aspen Snowmass

3. Work the Hell Out of Your Network

Constantly network with people and keep their contact info — few people ever get a good job by responding to a want ad. And don't worry about pissing someone off by contacting them too much: you are just reminding them you are around, and people can't keep track of everyone.

4. Don't Ever Get Discouraged

Don't discourage yourself, particularly if you're currently doing something you don't deem "environmental." We all have to survive. I cooked burgers, shoveled gravel and drove a skid-steer.

5. Get Your Foot in the Door

Since the sort of jobs that are really cool are also really rare, you sometimes have to get into the industry as something other than the sustainability person. From there, you can either work to create that position or work your way into that part of the company. For example, just being in the tourism industry is a start if you want to work in sustainable tourism. The whole business world is moving towards sustainable practices, so opportunities will start appearing. And once you get your foot in the door, be ready to work hard. Show up early. Be friendly and talk to everyone. Volunteer to clean toilets. Propose new projects. Find funding for stuff nobody knew about. Eat lunch at your desk.

Green job trail work in mountains of Aspen
Green job trail work in mountains of Aspen

6. Educate Yourself Constantly No Matter What You're Doing

You should read every book on sustainable business you can get your hands on, so that when a good opportunity arises you can talk the talk, and know what people are talking about. Anyone who wants a job in this field must have read (and be able to discuss) The Ecology of Commerce, Natural Capitalism, Cool Companies, Cradle to Cradle, Crimes Against Nature, Tom Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded, Hell and High Water (Joe Romm's book on climate change), Eaarth, Cradle to Cradle, The Great Disruption, and probably a dozen other related books by the likes of Bill McKibben, John Elkington, Gus Speth, Lester Brown, Herman Daly, etc. (Shameless self-promotional plug: you should also buy my book, written for people like you, called Getting Green Done). You have to understand climate science, green building design and energy efficiency.

It also doesn’t hurt to make sure you’ve read the background stuff: John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and philosophy, particularly ethics including work by Peter Singer (The Life You Can Save),Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, as well as any work that answers the question: “how ought we to live?” Online, you should subscribe to Grist and read it daily to stay up-to-date on environmental issues. (And send them some money if you have it) You should also read Climate Progress every day — it's like taking your vitamins! You don’t have to agree with these books or websites, but you have to read them.

In fact, you should listen to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity as much as you can stand it, and read stuff that pisses you off and which you disagree with. Peter Schwartz from the Global Business Network once said you should read everything: bride magazines, technical manuals, etc. Even if you just skim that stuff, you will have a sense of what's happening in a range of fields. I force myself to read, say, Redbook, at the dentist's office. I hate it, but it gives me insight into other people's lives and ideas. Plus, you can do this because you have time—after all, you’re looking for work.

One Last Key Point

You absolutely have to understand climate science and the policy solutions. If you are a "denier" or a skeptic on this topic, you are quite simply wrong on the science — and because of that you're going to have a hard time getting a job in this field. The science can be hard to get through but there are some great popular books including Michael Mann's The Hockey Stick and The Climate Wars, and James Hansen's Storms of My Grandchildren. You should also understand the political context by reading Naomi Oreskes' and Erik Conway's Merchants of Doubt.

I’m sorry I can't be more specific, but there's nothing more specific out there, other than some cool internet green job sites. It's a bewildering thing, trying to get into this (or any) field, and a lot of it is just random chance. Ask anyone with a dream job, and they’ll tell you that at one time, they were flipping burgers wondering what the hell they were doing with their life. It was certainly true for me. And I bet it will be true again.

And good luck!

About the Author

Auden Schendler Aspen Skiing Company
Auden Schendler

Auden Schendler

Auden is the Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Snowmass, where he focuses on big-scale solutions to climate change, primarily clean energy and activism.

He has been a trailer insulator, burger flipper, ambulance medic, Outward Bound instructor, high school math and English teacher, and Forest Service goose-nest island builder. He has lectured at Harvard, Yale, Google and Starbucks, and to second graders and Chilean kayakers. He lives in Basalt with his family.

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