Chicago Green Jobs

Chicago: Leading the Climate Change Trends!
June 16, 2009, 7:48 pm
Filed under: Green Job Research

I overheard a conversation the other day that went like this: “I can’t believe how cold and rainy it is – guess this pretty much proves that global warming is garbage.”

Now normally I would launch into a pedantic explanation of trends vs. events, but now we’ve got some DATA!  According to a new report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) our current craptacular weather puts Chicago right on trend for climate change effects!

Check out this little gem courtesy of David Fahrenthold in the Washington Post: “The heaviest rainstorms have already become 67 percent heavier since 1958 in the Northeast, as warmer weather evaporates more water vapor into the atmosphere to feed storm clouds. Around the Great Lakes, “lake effect” snowstorms could get heavier as ice recedes and exposes more open water.”

Tell your friends: climate change will ruin your bar-b-que!

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) has been coordinating and synthesizing  federal research on climate change and its implications since 1989. In this report they have dispensed with the pussy-footing and gotten down to brass tacks: this is what we can expect if current trends continue.

The full report is beautifully organized around the impacts affecting different regions in the US – I strongly recommend taking a few minutes to click around and explore.


5 Rules For Effective Communication About Sustainability
June 10, 2009, 7:16 pm
Filed under: Creating Green Behavior Change
When innovation goes wild: The Rockland Walmart's Personal Sustainability Float made from all recycled materials for the 60th Annual Lobster Parade. And yes, that is an eight foot long lobster made of coke cans.

When innovation goes wild: The Rockland Walmart's Personal Sustainability Float made from all recycled materials for the 60th Annual Lobster Parade. And yes, that is an eight foot long lobster made of coke cans.

“Talking to my colleagues about going green is impossible – I wind up feeling like some hideous combination of the grinch and a nanny. And not the fun Mary Poppins kind, either.” Ah, the lament of the corporate green teamer! How to fix this?

The good news is that sustainability is inherently appealing. Most folks want to be powerful and creative and impactful in their daily lives, and sustainability offers a new lens for approaching problems and ideas. That’s pretty darn appealing to lots of people IF you can frame it up properly.

In my work with companies on developing a culture of sustainability, I follow five rules for effective communication that help me avoid becoming a nanny-grinch:

1. Meet people where they are. Defeat the perception that environmentalists are a bunch of tree-hugging hippies by connecting environmental sustainability to quality of life issues like personal health, community, and professional development and innovation.

2. Aim for finding common ground, not being right. It’s so very tempting to try to win arguments about, say, climate change. But it’s so much more effective to look for an environmental issue you can agree on, like health or air quality, and start the conversation from there.

3. Seek results, not purity of intent. The person who turns down her thermostat to save money on her electricity bill has just as much impact as the person who turns down his thermostat to cut his carbon footprint.

4. Invite, don’t command. All people respond better to enthusiastic invitations to make a difference than guilt-laden commands to stop ruining the planet. A successful engagement program is voluntary.

5. Small steps have a big impact. For every coffee drinker in America, there is a worker somewhere in the world whose livelihood depends on coffee.  Switching to Intelligentsia’s excellent and responsibly sourced coffee beans helps the worker depending on your caffeine addiction earn a living wage.

When an organization is able to engage the majority of their people in a conversation around sustainability and strategy, two types of action begin bubbling up:

Innovation: There is no such thing as a sustainability expert – sustainability is too big.  Instead, there are thousands of experts at all levels of an organization. Inviting all your people to use sustainability as a tool set to innovate improvements in their area of expertise will lead to dozens of ideas to save money, save the planet, and improve operations. Just make sure to have a channel for those ideas to bubble up.

Ownership: If your employees buy-in to your vision for having a positive impact by using double sided printing and turning lights off when you leave the room, then they’ll take responsibility for implementation instead of staying with their same old habits. And when your strategy for sustainability includes implementing the innovations your people developed, you see even more ownership across all levels.

I’ve seen employees adopt a local grizzly bear refuge, build a parade float out of coke cans, compete over reducing their office electricity bill, organize carpooling, and create green product displays that sell out right away. Once people make that personal connection to the idea of sustainability there is just no stopping the ideas.

Green Job Profile #4: Urban Farmer
June 2, 2009, 7:17 pm
Filed under: Green Job Profiles

One of the questions we like to ask people in our sustainability workshops is “What makes you happy?”  I have a new answer to that question: awarding $10,000 to a local, sustainable business. This is not something I get to do every day, so I am eternally grateful to Peter Nicholson of the CSBA and Bryan Stubbs of Chicago Community Ventures for letting me feel like Bill Gates for a day as one of the judges of the SustainIllinois competition.

Both the big prizes went to businesses that work in the sustainable food space: City Provisions, a local catering company, and Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks, a local organic food delivery service.  One of the things I really love about Chicago is the vibrant local food scene, and I’m always interested to learn more about where this local food comes from. So a little while ago I tracked down an urban farmer to profile. Marlin McMonigal, Urban Farms Manager with Growing Home, picked up the phone while on a run to deliver fresh local spinach to Irv and Shelly’s Fresh Picks. Perfect!

Marlin is one of the very few people I’ve met who started a new job in the height of the layoff frenzy this winter. I’m sure this is largely due to his years of experience as a farmer, but as a fellow world traveler I can’t help but think that the same drive that sent him and wife farming on four continents in one year had something to do with it. He’s in his first growing season here in Chicago, so I’ll have to loop back at the end of the season and find out if his answers have changed!

Organization: Growing Home, which provides job training through a non-profit organic agriculture business. Check their website to learn where to buy their delicious produce!

Title: Urban Farms Manager

Relevant Training: Degree in Horticulture from Pennsylvania State University, plus lots of farming

What do you do all day?

I manage two urban farm sites with the help of one full time employee, 1 part time and 20 or so interns that go through our employment training program.  I am responsible for producing high quality vegetables to be sold at three farmers markets, a CSA and other various outlets.

What did you do before you got this job?
I worked on organic vegetable farms in Pennsylvania and New York. (Note from Kate: my favorite part of our conversation was Marlin’s vivid explanation of how different it is to grow food in hoop-houses on busted up concrete in abandonded lots. I can only imagine!)

What impact do you have on the planet and/or community through your work?

Growing Home is providing employment training to those in need and also fresh, locally grown produce in an area of Chicago (West Englewood) known as a “food desert”. (More after the jump)

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