The Great Pivot: Creating Meaningful Work to Build a Sustainable Future
By Justine Burt
The number of people who want green jobs dwarfs the number of green jobs available. In the summer of 2019, a position to expand recycling programs at Alameda County government facilities in California drew over 200 applicants. At the same time, the City of San Leandro nearby posted a sustainability manager vacancy that also generated abundant interest. When I talked to the Human Resources manager overseeing the hiring process for San Leandro about how many people applied, she said “well, there weren’t hundreds, but I was happy to see such a large number of highly qualified candidates for this one job.” While having many applicants is good for the hiring manager, the situation poses brutal odds for people searching for work in the environmental sustainability field.
To increase the chances of landing their dream green job, some working adults take continuing education classes. Many of the students in the University of California Berkeley Extension class I teach called “Managing Sustainable Change in an Organization” are doing exactly this. My class explains how to identify technical, financial, and psychological barriers to sustainable change and apply proven tools to overcome these barriers. The adult learners in my class are highly engaged and motivated since they hope to land jobs doing this kind of work. Then at the end of each course, a number of students ask me for suggestions about how to move into sustainability work. Each time I told them about the openings of which I knew, but was secretly frustrated that there were not more jobs to do this kind of work.
Then two years ago, I suddenly had an inspiration. It felt like a little bird of an idea flew in, sat on my shoulder, and suggested I write a book about creating millions of new green jobs in the U.S. What kinds of jobs should we be creating to tackle the large challenges we faced in climate change and mass species extinction? There was so much work that needed to be done and so many talented people excited to do it. We should be able to connect the dots and create more green jobs in the U.S. But how?
At first the little bird of an idea sat quietly and patiently. Over time, as I read about increasingly severe hurricanes, larger wildfires, and a growing number of mass wildlife die-offs, the little bird became more insistent. I felt urged to sit down and start organizing the jumble of thoughts about why, what, and how we should be creating millions of new green jobs. As I began to outline and then write the book, the words seemed to flow through me and onto the page.
Apparently, this was an idea whose time had come. In February 2019, one month before I was set to publish The Great Pivot, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Senator Ed Markey announced the Green New Deal (GND). I read the fourteen-page resolution and saw that it contained a framework but not many details. I reached out to one of AOC’s legislative aides, Randy Abreu, and asked him why the resolution only gave the broad brush strokes for a GND. He explained that they wanted to build a broad coalition of support and if they made it too detailed too soon, they wouldn’t be able to do that.
Now we have this opportunity, as we look forward to the 2020 presidential election, to have a discussion about what the GND should include. The Great Pivot describes ways we can support aspiring entrepreneurs who will create the next great small businesses and non-profits. It also provides a blueprint for raising funds and investing in green job creation so that anyone who wants to do meaningful work building a sustainable future will find their dream job and get to work.