Work I: Background

Section
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
Page
4.2

It is not a good idea to commence a webpage by ‘running up the white flag’, but it has to be admitted that it is almost impossible closely to define ‘environmental jobs’! This difficulty was brought home to me most pressingly while managing the Green Steps program at Monash University which, amongst other things, trained bright young graduates from all faculties, and at numerous universities around Australia, to become ‘environment workers’; or to put it another way, to commence their working life either in a ‘green job’ or to include the environment in their work. As such, I was constantly being asked by students and administrators and academics alike: “How many ‘green’ jobs are there?”, and “What sort of jobs are they?” Awkwardly, I could never answer fully and had to rely solely on providing examples of the great variety of work that goes under this banner.

A moment’s reflection reveals that this difficulty is real: for instance, is ‘waste collection’ an ‘environment’ job? If you have an everyday office job, but spend half a day a week compiling the company’s/institution’s purchasing register with a view to increasing ‘sustainable’ purchasing, then is this a ‘green’ job? This is a rabbit hole of bottomless depth, so much so that the key governmental record-keeper in my country, The Australian Bureau of Statistics, says it is all too hard and won’t measure ‘environment’ jobs.

All these real problems of under-representation and lack of awareness through lack of measurement aside, we have to proceed, and a ‘bush carpentry’ definition will have to suffice. I think that if we can say that:

  • “If a job’s ultimate, primary objective, is protection, or maintenance, or restoration of the natural environment, then it’s an environmental job”.

What about ‘sustainability’ jobs I hear you cry, all those jobs that deal with energy and CO2 and waste streams, etc…and I agree, they are very important and they are ‘environment’ jobs because their ultimate goal is a healthy, functioning, natural environment (which, of course, includes climate); it is just that they are one removed from direct interaction with the natural environment that, at first glance, may make them appear ‘non-environmental’. The same reasoning can be applied to environmental education, events, arts, scientific study and so forth, if the ultimate goal is as per above. (There are, of course, many worthwhile activities that will benefit the environment that can and should be undertaken in almost any job, company or institution, but if the environment is not the primary purpose, we can’t count them here, but will have to be satisfied, nonetheless, with recognising them and thanking all those who make such a contribution).

Despite all these definitional difficulties and, no doubt, under-representation, we are lucky to have some who have, nonetheless, explored the topic in depth. We are indebted to Ian Thomas and Teresa Day at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), and Tracey Skinner from the Environmental Jobs Network, who got together on a joint project to gather much-needed data on this vital sector and interviewed over 400 people working in the field, for their excellent ‘The Guide to Environmental Careers in Australia 2010’, 2nd edn.1

Microsoft Word – TheGuide.doc (environmentaljobs.com.au)

‘The Guide’ recognises the problem of definition and makes its own attempt, saying the following three categories qualify:

“(i) environmental professionals working in environmental organisations (environmental professionals working to directly improve the physical environment and the core environmental industry).

(ii) environmental professionals working in non environmental organisations (environmental professionals working to support the environment and/or sustainability performance of the non environmental industry).

(iii) non environmental professionals working in environmental organisations (non environmental professionals working to indirectly improve the physical environment, the core environmental industry or working to advance sustainability).”

However one defines it, the sector is small. In Australia; it has been estimated at anywhere between 50,000 and 300,000 in 20092, and 112,000 in 20083. This is a major increase on when I started in the 1980s when we all could have ‘met in a phone booth’, but still represents only around 0.5-2% of the workforce, and I think even the lower figure is inflated.

Next, the Guide gives data on the background and career pathways of those interviewed. The journeys to their current positions are diverse, as the following example for the job of ‘Environmental Officer’ attests. The diagram gives five different pathways that people took towards the centre – the ultimate role – and everything from ‘Costume Designer’ to ‘Mining Geologist’ was the starting role for some.

Educational background is examined and this reveals far less diversity with a very high level of education – > 90% graduate or post-graduate – recorded. It seems that environmental jobs are overwhelmingly professional or semi-professional.

The sector in which respondents worked revealed the top five to be: conservation and management of biodiversity; environmental consultancy; environmental policy/protection/ enforcement; environmental education/training; and water quality/protection.

The most frequent job titles identified were: Project Manager, Environmental Officer, Project Officer, Environmental Scientist, Manager, Consultant, Policy Officer, Environmental Consultant, Environmental Protection Officer, Scientist, Education Officer and Environmental Manager.

Probably not surprisingly, the great majority of respondents worked for government (57%), with the next largest group being corporate/business (25%), and then not-for-profit (13%). These figures serve to emphasise that ‘the environment’ and environmental work, are still considered, largely, to be ‘outside’ the economy, an externality, that if taken up at all, must be taken up by government.

The final first-class resource the Guide offers is career profiles where selected respondents comment in greater detail on their job. These profiles provide invaluable ‘insider’ information on job nature, salary, conditions, rewards, and advice. An example is reproduced here.

 

1 Thomas, I, Day, T. 2010. The Guide to Environmental Careers in Australia 2010, 2nd edn. RMIT, Melbourne, Australia.

2 Connection Research and Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand. 2009. Who are the Green Collar Workers? Defining and Identifying the Workers in Sustainability and the Environment. http://www.mygazines.net/publication/4235.

3 Australian Conservation Foundation and ACTU. 2008.  Green Gold Rush: How ambitious environmental policy can make Australia a leader in the global race for green jobs. www.acfonline.org.au

Explore Other Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4.1 Introduction

I am often surprised when meeting and talking to people that they will say, “I like/love/enjoy” the environment, but then, in the next sentence, tell you about their work, or recreation that damages the environment, and their voting behaviour that...

4.2 Work I: Background

It is not a good idea to commence a webpage by ‘running up the white flag’, but it has to be admitted that it is almost impossible closely to define ‘environmental jobs’! This difficulty was brought home to me most pressingly while managing the Gr...

4.3 Work II: Search and Preparation

Getting started in any endeavour is always the hardest part and environmental work is no exception. There are relatively few jobs of this nature and the paths to them can be diffuse and unclear. If you are lucky enough to attend a university or te...

4.4 Volunteer

Alongside working for the environment, there are few greater ways one can contribute than volunteering for the environment. One of the largest environmental volunteering projects I know of is The Atlas of Australian Birds. It was started in the...

4.5 Change Resistance, Jack Harich, 2010

“This paper seeks to help solve the global environmental sustainability problem by approaching it from a novel and possibly more effective perspective. Instead of beginning with the usual “What are the proper practices needed to live sustainably? ...

4.6 Act: Formal Processes

There are three main poles of power in the majority of countries: political, corporate, and media. Here we will introduce ways of interacting with political power (corporate power is examined in Section 9 and media power in Section 6). To avoid...

4.7 Act: Informal Processes

Having just made a case for participation in formal processes of consultation and influence, it seems strange immediately to qualify it, but I would be dishonest if I said formal processes are as effective as they used to be. This is not to say th...

4.8 Action Through the Lens of Power

Action for the environment has been presented so far in Section 4 as largely singular and independent, but, of course, it can only be understood fully within a broader context of power: power structures, power operations, power dynamics. Richard H...

Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
1/11

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship

This section is designed to foster appreciation and insight that will – hopefully – lead to novel ways to build a better relationship between human beings and Nature. This section is also atypical ...
2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

2. Reduce Consumption

I hope Reneé Descartes would forgive us for saying that, at least for the modern world, he was wrong.  When, in 1637, he said: “I think, therefore I am”, he could not have anticipated that the majo...
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

In a supposedly secular age there has arisen a global religion and god like never before, a religion whose reach and power makes every other belief system before it seem pitiful and insignificant: ...
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

What we do in our day-to-day lives can have great impact. Section Four divides up these actions into three groups – Work (4.2 & 4.3), Volunteering (4.4), and Action, e.g. voting, protesting, et...
5. Reduce Population
5. Reduce Population

5. Reduce Population

Even on top of Mt. Everest, in one of the remotest, most difficult places on earth, there is a great traffic-jam of people jostling for position. And yet, ever more vociferously, we deny that overp...
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond...
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

New York is an exciting, mesmerising place. Human culture is extraordinary and often wonderful. Our powers of transformation of the natural world seem limitless. The trouble is, we don’t seem to be...
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

Our current energy largesse is an extraordinary ‘gift’, an unprecedented gift of the ages; millions of years to produce and from millions of years ago. Coal, oil and gas, forming...
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

Just as with the previous section – ‘Energy’ – which is, inescapably, all about fossil fuels so pre-eminent and extraordinary has been their dominance and transformation of the world in the last 20...
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

Section 10 will attempt to organise this enormous topic by addressing the context and status of pollution in 10.2, before focussing in on air pollution; particularly greenhouse gas pollution and cl...