A Green Collar Future

by Terence Jeyaretnam

I’ve often sat back and wondered why people work. Apart from the obvious, which is to get paid, what’s the motivation and what’s created the demand?

Wikipedia defines a job as “a regular thing performed to create a value in society for meeting the needs of that individual”.  So, essentially, if you are creating value for others, you are rewarded. Jobs are created and we reward each other.  The commodity by which we measure the value of the reward is money.  Are there any jobs that don’t create value for others in the community? Well there are parking inspectors, dentists and those shop assistants who never seem to be there when you need them – well, seriously, no.  All jobs create value for society in different ways.  After all, my wife is a dentist!

If that’s the case, why would there be a need for restorative jobs? Why are so many jobs creating harm? Harm to society and harm to environment.  Because, we demand comfort, convenience, cold beers and warm homes, the provision of which create impacts on society and on the surrounding environment.  There are over six billion of us today, when less than one hundred years ago there were one billion of us.  More people means more demand, more jobs, more impacts and consequently more restorative jobs.

The result is that a new term has emerged in the job market – green collar work, alongside blue and white collar work.  A green-collar job is, according to the United Nations Environment Program, "work in agricultural, manufacturing, research and development (R&D), administrative, and service activities that contribute(s) substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality. Specifically, but not exclusively, this includes jobs that help to protect ecosystems and biodiversity; reduce energy, materials, and water consumption through high efficiency strategies; de-carbonize the economy; and minimize or altogether avoid generation of all forms of waste and pollution."

The growth and projected growth in this sector of work has been phenomenal.  Unlikely bedfellows, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Council of Trade Unions jointly released a study recently that highlighted that stronger environmental action by government would result in 770,000 more jobs in the Australian economy by 2030 compared to weaker action. Stronger action is defined as not relying on international offsets to meet our greenhouse targets under an emissions trading regime.  A separate CSIRO report suggests that between 2.65 and 3.3 million additional jobs would be created by 2025 under deep emissions reductions of 60 to 100 per cent by 2050.  The secret is to place the right ‘value’ on the reward, a cleaner and healthier planet.

Restoration, just like it results in stronger teeth post the visit to the dentist, can result in a stronger economy, a cleaner environment and a more resilient Australia.

Terence Jeyaretnam is a Director of Net Balance (terence@netbalance.com),
one of the world’s leading sustainability advisory firms.
Terence is based in Melbourne.