Chicago Green Jobs

Green Job Profile #5: Communications Manager for PortionPac
June 7, 2010, 8:05 pm
Filed under: Green Job Profiles

Sometimes I’m tempted to think that all the really cool green jobs (Anaerobic Digestion Manager! Environmental Fate Modeller!) are for engineers, but then I talk with someone like Arline Welty, Communications Manager for PortionPac.

“Concentrates are where it’s at – they explode the idea of green cleaning.”

That’s Arline, telling you everything you need to know about why her company has spent 45+ profitable years smack in the intersection between innovation and sustainability. It’s nice to see the power of wordsmithing used for the good!

Now the interesting thing about Arline is that she’s spent most of her career in the social sector, and it took a company as sustainable as PortionPac to tempt her away. I sat down with her last week to get the skinny on what it’s like spinning words for a truly green company.

Organization: PortionPac, a local chemical company that has spent the last four decades on the leading edge of sustainability in cleaning products. While they have obtained Green Seal certification for every cleaner they can, their true innovation is in minimizing the energy and water footprint of their products.

Title: Communications Manager

Relevant Training: Years of writing copy.

What do you do all day? (click on the jump to find out!)

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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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Green Job Profile #3: Local Food Line Cook/Truffle Maker
April 23, 2009, 8:06 pm
Filed under: Green Job Profiles

Ariel Diamond and I dropped out of the same business school, and she is now on the path to building a career as a chef working with local, sustainable food. Ariel is one of the most interesting people I know, and I learned a lot about what it takes to make our restaurants sustainable from this profile. I recommend reading it through, but here’s the money quote:

It has been quite an experience to go from offices and suits to chef pants and clogs. I feel much better suited to tackle these problems now that I can relate to people who do the labor. It makes me want to run a manual labor retreat for greenies to try to get them (us) to break that elitism that we’re so famous for. Greening the world will take a lot of WORK, work that requires you to use your body, and is sometimes helped, sometimes hindered by the educated, privileged mind.

Current Title: Line Cook/Truffle Maker. I am currently a line cook at La Tache in Andersonville and by the time this is published, I will be cooking at Green Zebra restaurant, a seasonally-focused mostly-vegetarian restaurant. On the side, I make truffles and caramels with a tiny local sustainable chocolatier, Katherine Anne Confections, with whom my biggest claim to fame – besides making over 1000 truffles by hand in a day – is that I developed our awesome white chocolate carrot cake truffle. –

Relevant training: I took a knife skills class at Kendall College and I have a newly minted sanitation certificate! I’m going to frame that and send it to my mom. No culinary school over here – I’ve been learning on the job. I walked into a French-influenced restaurant last March, got a job, and have been training (while getting paid) ever since!

What do you do all day? I prep food, cook food, plate food, and then clean up. I am currently one of two line cooks in a four-person kitchen, so I am fortunate in that I get to work directly with my chefs and be carefully trained by them. I am also fortunate that they ask me for ideas and let me develop some specials — you often have to wait years for that in bigger kitchens. This week I made the soup du jour and a dessert special, into which I integrated my value for seasonal, local food, which isn’t a high priority of the restaurant otherwise.

What did you do before you got this job? Starting at the beginning, I have a degree in Environmental Studies from Wellesley College and an uncompleted Sustainable Management MBA from the Presidio School of Management — just like you, Kate! After college, I started working on environmental issues with the Chicago city government, then worked for a while for a food-related non-profit.

A little over a year ago, I quit offices for good and after taking odd jobs for a while – much to the chagrin of my mother – and finally came to terms what I actually want to do every day, which is to get my hands all over that food I kept talking about! I walked into a kitchen off the street and asked for a job last March. I got it. I’ve been working in kitchens — some sustainable, some not — ever since.

What impact do you have on the planet and/or community through your work? While at The Land Connection, the sustainable ag org I used to (and still occasionally) work for, we used to talk about the missing link of a good local food distribution system. Now that I’m in restaurants watching my chefs put in orders, I see that problem in living color, realizing that ultimately it is light years easier and cheaper to order from Sysco and United Foods. Chefs are overworked as it is and getting food has to be easy, reasonably priced, flexible, consistent (while in accordance with seasonal availability), and FAST. Say what you will about Sysco, but you can order something on Friday night at 11 pm and get it at 2 pm on Saturday. Local foods have to be able to compete with that, but you can’t ask a farmer to quick drive up two cases of eggs.

We need some new infrastructure and new players before happy food can really compete. As I build my skill base and eventually be the one setting menus and ordering, I plan to not only stock my walk-ins with ethical food but also support any efforts towards developing a sustainable food distribution system.

Ariel’s essential skills and personality traits for success – not to mention her reading list – after the jump.

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Green Job Profile #2: Director of Business Development for WRD Environmental Inc.
March 30, 2009, 6:06 pm
Filed under: Green Job Profiles

When I think “green job” I think “fish hotels.” That’s why this week I’m profiling Thom Boyd of WRD Environmental, the ecological consulting firm that creates sustainable landscapes like pocket parks and fish hotels all over Chicago. Thom is a very interesting guy – I learned a lot about the politics and process around building sustainable landscapes in Chicago from him. (Hint: there are a lot of incentives to install green roofs).

Thom switched to sustainability work mid-career, and his path shows how people from just about any industry can transition into a green job based on experience and skills rather than specific training or certification. Since working for a paycheck is more cost effective than paying for a certification, this is terrific news for anyone feeling stuck at work.

Title and Organization: Director of Business Development for WRD Environmental.

Relevant Training : Experience in sales & marketing

So what do you do all day?

My role consists of building relationships with current clients, networking with potential new clients, exploring new market opportunities, and marketing our services to our industry, governmental entities, municipalities, park districts, corporations and not-for-profits. We do this by attending/presenting at educational seminars, industry trade shows, sponsoring worthwhile causes and engaging people who share our company vision and mission. I also assist with identifying project bid opportunities and getting proposals out the door.

What did you do before you got this job?

My background consists of approximately 25 years of sales, primarily in the medical industry with Johnson & Johnson and Sunrise Medical. I also worked with a real estate development company in a sales and project management capacity. In my case, WRD Environmental was more interested in the skills that I brought to the table rather than having previous experience within the green industry. My passion for the environment and wanting to make a difference to forward the cause of sustainability, protecting our natural resources, cultivating biodiversity and being a good steward of our planet was just as important as my previous experience.

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

Our firm creates and fosters sustainable landscapes. We conserve natural resources, promote sustainability, cultivate biodiversity and restore nature’s balance through projects and programs that are helping to green Chicago and Illinois. Our work helps to revitalize previously barren landscapes or brownfields to vibrant natural environments like the Chicago Center for Green Technology or the bird sanctuary at McCormick Place. We helped Friends of the Chicago River by creating new fish habitat in the otherwise urban river flowing through downtown Chicago with the “Fish Hotel”. We also help run and administer the Chicago Greencorps program with Chicago’s Department of Environment. This is a training program designed to help ex-offenders acquire new skills within the landscape industry, recycling industry and winterization of homes that they can use to assimilate back into the communities throughout the city.

What 3 essential skills are needed to do your job?

1. To be able to build and maintain relationships

2. To be detail focused and creative at the same time

3. To be a good communicator

What 3 essential personality traits help you succeed in your job?

1. Being down-to-earth

2. Being honest (editor’s note: I think “integrity” would serve here too – a critical trait for people who generate new business)

3. Being personable has served me well!

What is the least glamorous aspect of your job?

Probably the time spent sitting at my computer. I prefer to be out and about and always on the move. Sometimes I’m not able to do that as much as I would prefer.

What is the most influential book you’ve read on sustainability?

Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough

What do you do to keep current on your field and/or expand your knowledge and skills?

Attend seminars, industry conferences, read a lot. I’m also studying to become a LEED AP.

What do you think is a growth area in the green jobs sector right now?

There are lots of areas of growth. I’d say sustainable landscape design, green building, renewable energy.

Green Job Profile #1: Associate Director for Resource Development, Growing Home, Inc.
March 11, 2009, 10:55 pm
Filed under: Green Job Profiles

Defining just what exactly constitutes a green job is quite the hot topic in my field these days for one big reason: all stakeholders have to agree on terms so we can create a standard metric for successful green job creation. This is, of course, a very important goal, and developing solid metrics is one of my pet passions. Nevertheless, I suspect that most people who are looking for a green job here in Chicago know what they’re looking for: work that allows them to direct their talents, skills, and energy towards creating a positive impact on the planet and the community.

There are jobs in just about every industry and at every level from intern to CEO that fit that description, so I’m starting a new feature to dig into the details of what the green jobs are, what training you need to get them, and what they’re like on a day to day basis. Rebekah Silverman of Growing Home, Inc has been kind enough to kick us off!

Green Job Profile #1

Organization: Growing Home, Inc. (
Title: Associate Director for Resource Development
Training/Certifications: MFA in Writing, grew up on a farm in South Carolina

So What do you do all day?

Growing Home is a small (but growing!) organization, so I wear a lot of hats. My main role is fundraising; I work directly with our Executive Director to plan and execute all our funding strategies, including individual giving, foundations and corporate grants, etc. I also do Growing Home’s graphic design, maintain our website and write many of the blog posts, oversee our PR/marketing, and dabble in event coordination. What I do all day is sit in front of a computer, though! I’m one of Growing Home’s three “office” staff. I really like to get away from my desk and visit our farms.

More details on the training and skills needed for this job (and some excellent book recommendations) after the jump!

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