Job Campaign Seeks a More 'Green' Work Force

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Marie Kerpan founded Green Careers in an attempt to foster more environmentally sound lifestyles. Kerpan discusses the opportunities in this emerging field for today's blue- and white-collar workers.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Just ahead: Dengue Fever strikes us. It's a hot new band combining Cambodian pop and California surf.

But first, we noticed recently a certain phrase had begun cropping up on our program. Jakada Imani of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights mentioned it first.

Mr. JAKADA IMANI (Executive Director, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights): We have a green-collar jobs campaign.

MARTIN: We heard it again from Mayor Douglas Palmer of Trenton.

Mayor DOUGLAS PALMER (Trenton, New Jersey): We talked for two days about how we could create green-collar jobs and careers.

MARTIN: And then by none other than Senator Hillary Clinton.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York; Democratic Presidential Candidate): I have suggested, you know, putting money immediately into what I call green-collar jobs.

MARTIN: Apparently, more and more people are looking to find jobs that fit their environmental concerns. And for political leaders looking to revive struggling economies, it might just be the next big thing.

Here to talk with us about green-collar jobs and careers is Marie Kerpan. She founded Green Careers in the year 2000 and consults with professionals about how to make the transition to environmentally friendly work.

Welcome. Thanks for joining us.

Ms. MARIE KERPAN (Founder, Green Careers): Thanks, Michel. It's a pleasure to be here.

MARTIN: So, where did the term green-collar jobs originate?

Ms. KERPAN: Well, I heard it first in 2006 from Van Jones when they were working on a campaign in Oakland, California. I was looking at blue-collar jobs that support the environment. So, blue-collar jobs in a green space, providing a path to economic and social recovery for low-income communities, a very exciting idea.

MARTIN: Just remind us again who Van Jones is?

Ms. KERPAN: Van Jones is the executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland.

MARTIN: Okay. So, is there a distinction between green-collar jobs and green careers?

Ms. KERPAN: I always associated green-collar jobs with blue-collar work, and I thought of green careers as professional jobs. But I notice that in the media, the line is blurred. And now, green-collar jobs are beginning to be used to talk about any kind of green career.

MARTIN: Does it mean that your job is focused on protecting or improving the environment, or is the idea that you're going to take existing practices and figure out how to make them more environmentally friendly, or both?

Ms. KERPAN: Both, for sure. I would say that green careers is largely being driven by global warming and its anticipated effects. So we're seeing careers that have to do with converting to renewable sources of energy, conserving energy, conserving water - all the sorts of careers that reflect the necessity to conserve energy and convert to renewable sources of energy because the burning of fossil fuels is what's part of contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. So the number one strategy is to convert to renewables and conserve energy.

MARTIN: So, I understand you also teach in a green MBA program?

Ms. KERPAN: I do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I didn't even - Marie, I'm sorry. I know I'm on the East Coast and I'm kind of behind here. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a green MBA program.

Ms. KERPAN: Yes, there is.

MARTIN: So, what makes the program different from other MBA programs?

Ms. KERPAN: Well, the school teaches the usual core competencies that one would need as an MBA - the accounting and finance, et cetera. But the context of the training is really focused on the triple bottom line, which is not just looking at profit, but also looking at how does the business affect people and the environment? So there's a social component, a social responsibility component, and an ecological impact component to all of the studies.

MARTIN: So this is obviously very new stuff. But have any of the students gone on to find ways to, I think, have an impact? Because I could see a scenario where some people would think, you know what? That's lovely. That's great. And then they go on kind of marginalize them into one of these environmental officer roles where they have a nice office and everybody ignores them.

Ms. KERPAN: Yes. Well, the Bay Area, it's kind of ground zero for the sustainability movement, and we have something called the Green Festival here, which also takes place in other cities. But it's a place where people have had green businesses, the likes of which the graduates move into. And I'll get some examples in a moment, but they exhibit their businesses. And there are 450 exhibitors at the Green Festival in San Francisco, which is now about five years old. And some of the graduates, for example, have gone on to do things like start up a company that produces recyclable clothes hangers. Another couple went into creating edible landscapes by installing food gardens, which is a really interesting idea.

So, these students are creating businesses and moving into existing businesses and doing real work. There's no lack of examples of types of companies and nonprofits that are thriving in the emerging green economy.

MARTIN: Well, this leads me to my final question, which is - I mentioned at the beginning of our conversation that this is - a number of political leaders and candidates are talking about this right now. Why do you think politicians are so excited about these kinds of jobs?

Ms. KERPAN: Well, I think at the low-income end, it's a particularly exciting prospect because we're seeing our jobs being outsourced overseas. And here is a movement that is really growing in the United States, that's capable of providing jobs not only for the professionals but also for low-income individuals that don't necessarily have big educations. So it's a kind of tide that can float all boats, which is really exciting.

MARTIN: An increasingly clean tide, we hope.

Ms. KERPAN: Yes, a green and clean tide.

MARTIN: Marie Kerpan is the founder of Green Careers. She's also a faculty member at Dominican University in San Rafael, California.

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ms. KERPAN: Thanks very much, Michel.

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