The environmental field is full of jobs that are personally fulfilling and make a difference at every scale. While some—like wildlife biologist or clean water activist—seem obvious, there are some not-so-obvious green collar jobs that have a lasting impact. Here, we’ve pulled together a list of some of those uncommon and unique ways of working in the green sector.
Conservation Corps volunteer
In the spirit of AmeriCorps, the Chesapeake Conservation Corps is a program that prepares young adults looking to enter the environmental field. Volunteers gain leadership and job training through a year of service, for which they receive a stipend. They are assigned to an organization in the Chesapeake region ranging from county governments and museums, to environmental nonprofits and nature centers.
Look for similar opportunities with the Delaware Conservation Corps, Maryland Conservation Corps, New York’s Excelsior Conservation Corps, Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps and Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia. Virginia has a similar program, the Service and Conservation Corps Veterans Crew, for military veterans.
Arborists are responsible for managing and maintaining trees in a given area. Some arborists consult with local governments, landowners and utility companies to plant trees that won’t eventually tangle with power lines or require more space than is available. Others take a more hands-on approach and focus on planting and pruning street trees or treating sick ones.
Working with trees is a great way to work in and with communities to create a more beautiful space. In recent years, organizations like Blue Water Baltimore and Washington Parks and People have used job programs centered around trees to help people who live in underserved areas or who were released from prison to gain skills and job experience while benefitting their communities.
LEED credentialed professional
Construction is a field that is full of careers that affect the environment. Beginning with the architect who designs the building and the forester who manages timber supplies, all the way to the client who maintains the building, each stage of the construction process holds an opportunity to be green. One way to set yourself apart and help the environment is to have LEED certification.
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which is a rating system created by the U.S. Green Building Council to determine the environmental performance of a building and encourage more sustainable design. It is a system that covers almost the entire lifespan of a building, including citing, construction, materials and maintenance. Once construction is complete, a building can become LEED certified if it meets certain standards. When it opened in 2001, the Philip Merrill Environmental Center—the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s headquarters in Annapolis, Maryland—was the first building in the world to receive a LEED Platinum rating.
Having LEED credentials not only helps the environment brick by brick, but can make you more marketable to employers, potentially leading to a higher overall salary. Jobs that benefit from LEED accreditation include: construction managers, architects, landscape designers, facility managers, contractors, tradesmen and engineers.
While some careers focus on how we create energy, such as solar panel installers or wind turbine engineers, energy auditors focus on how efficiently we use it. They consult with property owners about ways they could improve the efficiency of their home or building.
Energy auditors inspect buildings to determine where energy is being wasted or used inefficiently. After the visit, they provide property owners with advice on upgrades to make to improve the building’s efficiency. Most of the watershed’s jurisdictions—which include six states and the District of Columbia—have residential and commercial energy audit programs, with many of them offering free or discounted energy audits for qualifying residents.
Prescribed burn crew member
While it might seem counterintuitive, fire can be used in some places around the region to restore and maintain habitats. However, these aren’t any old fires, and they definitely are not wild. These fires are set and managed by professionals on prescribed fire burn crews. Fires can provide an ecosystem with a number of benefits by helping to return nutrients to the soil, open up dense areas and control invasive species. Being a member of a burn crew is a unique way to help restore important habitat. Programs like the Natural Lands Project in Chestertown, Maryland, use prescribed burns to create habitat for breeding grassland birds.
The green career field has many opportunities for involvement including starting off on your own path. There are opportunities for new and innovative businesses in growing fields like renewable energy, or to combat food deserts by starting an urban farm.
More broadly, green entrepreneurship doesn’t need to include only businesses with titles that include the word “energy” or “conservation.” Green entrepreneurs could do just about anything as long as they have a foundation of sustainability. From aquaculture companies to area chefs, entrepreneurs across the region are incorporating sustainability into their business models. Perhaps you open a restaurant that sources only local ingredients, a bike shop that refurbishes old bikes or a hair salon that uses natural haircare products. Reducing the environmental footprint of your business, and encouraging others to do the same, is a great way to work toward a better environment.
Want to get involved in the environmental field? Our weekly newsletter, Bay Brief, is full of current environmental job openings around the Chesapeake region.
Do you work in the environmental field? Let us know what you do in the comments!
A wind turbine generates energy above agricultural crops in Madison County, New York. Wind energy is just one of the many ways federal, state and local partners are working to reduce air pollution across the Chesapeake Bay region.
Polluted air doesn’t just cloud the air we breathe—it can also have quite an impact on water quality. Experts estimate that one-third of the nitrogen in the Bay comes from the air through a process known as atmospheric deposition. Wind and weather can carry the pollution emitted by power plants, airplanes, cars and other sources over long distances until it falls onto land or directly into the water.
While the area of land that drains into the Bay spans six states and 64,000 square miles, the Bay’s “airshed”—the area of land over which airborne pollutants travel to enter the estuary—is nine times that size. This makes far-reaching efforts like the Clean Air Act essential in reducing the amount of pollution that reaches the Bay. Alternative sources of energy like hydropower dams, manure and poultry litter, wind turbines and solar panels can also help lessen the amount of energy-related pollution emitted into the air.
Image by Will Parson
Faith plays an influential role in the lives of billions of people in the world, with about 84 percent identifying with a religious group. As Ramadan, a month-long ritual focused on self-purification and refocusing attention to faith, comes to an end for roughly 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, it is a good time to reflect on the intersection between conviction and nature.
Green Muslims, a Washington, D.C., based organization with the mission of helping their community live in the environmental spirit of Islam, began with a conversation between a group of friends about how to ‘green’ their Ramadan. At first they took small measures, like switching to reusable plates and having zero-trash iftars, or evening meals, when they could break their fasts. Those simple actions set off a chain reaction of stewardship within the community that led to the formal establishment of Green Muslims as a volunteer organization in 2007.
The nonprofit works with a number of different Muslim communities in the D.C. area, but serves as a national resource for those across the country that are looking to tie their faith back to the natural world. “There is really a passion and a yearning for learning more about what our tradition is amongst the Muslim community everywhere, and we hope to provide those resources and incubate that energy to take it to the next level,” said Colin Christopher, Executive Director of Green Muslims.
With many youths spending an increasing amount of time indoors, exposure to and connections with the natural world are lost, often times leading to rises in health problems like allergies and obesity. In a push to alleviate nature deficit disorder, Green Muslims launched the ‘Our Deen is Green’ Youth Outdoor Education Program this year. The program offers a wide range of field trips to places like the Chesapeake Bay, farms and conserved lands to demonstrate real life examples of how Islam and the environment are intertwined.
Each trip offers themed lessons that cover subjects such as, water, food waste and renewable energy. The goal of the program is to reconnect the participants with outdoor spaces and encourage healthy behavior changes, like wiser food choices and increased awareness about human impacts on the planet. “In Islam, we understand that God has an amount of trust in us as Khalifas, or stewards of the Earth. We really see our responsibility as people who need to conserve and protect the natural environment; we are called to do so, it’s our responsibility,” said Christopher.
The final trip of the year was to Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., where the kids toured the historic Peirce Mill and learned how the Earth’s natural processes like water flow and wind create energy that can be harnessed with minimal negative impacts to the environment. Prior to touring the mill, all eight kids sat contently in a circle making windmills out of paper and pencils while discussing where their energy comes from. “Why are we always talking about water?” asks a young boy. “Because we are made of water,” replies Christopher. A look of awe falls over the children’s faces. The importance of water is a theme that weaves through all lessons taught during the program.
The Qur’an has hundreds of verses that talk about water, animals, wind and the sun, and Sharia, or Islamic law, directly translates into ‘the pathway to the water source’—meaning that protecting water is of utmost importance in the tradition of Islam. “Every part of our natural environment is integral to the greater whole. In Islam, we talk about, if you have one limb that is unhealthy then the entire body is unhealthy and sick. So, the Chesapeake Bay is a really integral part of that entire ecosystem and we can’t afford to neglect the Bay or other parts of our ecosystem," explained Christopher.
Although the organization aims to spread awareness about the link between Islam and the environment, Christopher believes that diversity is the backbone of the Muslim community and welcomes anyone, regardless of faith, to volunteer and participate in Green Muslim events. “I think that the challenges we face relate to education. There is a lot of misinformation about Islam and what Islam is,” noted Christopher. “We are trying to bring back the teachings of our traditions within our community and explain that conservation, moderation and love for creation are core components of our tradition.”
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Images by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente
Solar energy is on the rise in the United States, and one jurisdiction in the Chesapeake Bay watershed has been named a leader in the solar energy revolution.
Image courtesy Mountain/\Ash/Flickr
According to a report released by Environment America, Delaware is one of the ten states that have installed the greatest amount of solar energy capacity per capita. At 82 watts per person, the state is in seventh place.
Since December 2008, Delaware has expanded its solar capacity from 2 to 59 megawatts. According to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), the state has installed 1,600 solar energy systems on government buildings, businesses, schools and homes. What's driving this effort? Legislation, policies and financial incentives that support going solar.
Image courtesy Pacific Northwest National Library/Flickr
Solar energy uses the sun as fuel to create heat or electricity. It’s considered cleaner than coal- or natural gas-fired power plants because it doesn’t burn fossil fuels, which can release emissions that contribute to climate change.
Like other states in Environment America’s top ten, Delaware’s interconnection policies make it easier for individuals and companies to connect their solar energy systems to the power grid. Solar rebates and other financing options help lower the cost of installation, while "net metering" policies compensate consumers for the excess energy they return. The solar market is also moving forward in response to Delaware’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which calls for the state to draw 25 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025, with at least 3.5 percent coming from solar.
“Encouraging solar power is the right thing to do for the environment and our economy,” said Delaware Gov. Jack Markell in a media release. “We are aggressively working toward a clean energy future in Delaware, demonstrating we can have both a strong economy and a healthy environment. That means creating a robust market for solar and other clean energy systems, creating clean energy jobs, expanding our solar industry and improving air quality.”
Two additional watershed jurisdictions received special mention in Environment America’s report: New York, whose solar energy market is growing quickly, and the District of Columbia, where new clean energy policies are set to make solar more attractive and accessible to consumers.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its proposed Clean Power Plan this week, which EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy called a “vital piece” of President Obama’s plan to cut carbon pollution and slow the effects of climate change.
Image courtesy Rennett Stowe/Flickr
The Clean Power Plan aims to lower carbon emissions from the power sector to 30 percent below 2005 levels. According to the EPA, this would also cut emissions of particle pollution, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide more than 25 percent, lowering asthma attacks and medical bills and working toward justice for the low-income communities that are hardest hit by air pollution.
Fossil-fueled power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States, accounting for one-third of our greenhouse gas emissions. Left unchecked, carbon pollution leads to rising temperatures and sea levels and changes in weather patterns, ecosystems and habitats. It also worsens smog, which affects the heart and lung health of children, older adults and people living in poverty.
“This is about protecting our health and our homes,” McCarthy said in a speech celebrating the plan’s release.
Image courtesy francescopratese/Flickr
The plan would give states the freedom to chart their own course toward their own goals. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” McCarthy said. Instead, states can “mix and match” methods of electricity production—whether it is a low-carbon or “no” carbon source like nuclear, wind or solar energy—and pollution control policies to ensure a “smooth transition to cleaner power.”
Comments on the proposal will be accepted for 120 days after its publication in the Federal Register. The EPA will host public hearings on the plan in Denver, Atlanta, the District of Columbia and Pittsburgh during the week of July 28, and will finalize the plan next June.
Homegrown energy could reduce millions of pounds of nutrients from entering the Chesapeake Bay’s streams, creeks and rivers and create more than 18,000 jobs in the region, according to a new report released by the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Chesapeake Biofuel Policies: Balancing Energy, Economy and Environment points out three major benefits of producing “next-generation biofuels” – energy derived from plant materials – in the Chesapeake region:
The team of scientists, economists and other experts who wrote the report predict that by 2020, the region could produce 500 million gallons of biofuels per year, using only land and practices that improve the health of the Bay and its network of local waterways.
“A next-generation biofuels industry can create major advances for the Bay region in economic growth, renewable energy produced sustainably right here at home, and improve water quality by reducing runoff to the Chesapeake Bay,” said Maryland Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton, Chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the only full-time farmer in the Maryland General Assembly.
Over the past three years, Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake Bay Commission have worked to position the Chesapeake region as a national leader in the evolution to sustainable advanced biofuels. Two previous Chesapeake Bay Commission reports released in 2007 and 2008 set the stage for regional biofuel production by presenting scientific information and policy recommendations on next-generation biofuels.
Chesapeake Biofuel Policies presents several recommendations from a select Biofuels Advisory Panel:
Visit the Chesapeake Bay Commission’s website to download the full report.