June Holte gets paid to do exactly what she loves: helping people redesign their own lifestyles to use fewer resources, free up time, and add spark to their daily existence. Sustainable consumption and voluntary simplicity are on many people's minds these days, but... getting paid to work on it? Holte is a program manager for the Community Lifestyle Campaign of Kansas City, Missouri, a partnership between the city's Office of Environmental Management and the nonprofit Global Action Plan of Woodstock, New York. The campaign works at the neighborhood level, using a structured workbook and a spirit of camaraderie, to motivate households in reducing garbage, saving water and energy, using transportation more efficiently, and practicing "eco-wise" consuming.
For the city, this step was a natural outgrowth of a program called Clean Sweep, where neighborhood teams match "sweat equity" with city services to help clean up vacant lots, plant community gardens, maintain parks, and generally make their neighborhoods more livable. Clean Sweep itself was born out of the re-invention of government -- the need to provide more services with fewer resources. In many cities and towns, this process means a new openness to innovative programs.
More and more environmental protection decisions are being made at the local level, from the delivery of municipal services to land protection to transportation policy to industrial development decisions. As a result, local governments are employing recycling coordinators and market developers, bike trail developers, water conservation educators, planners, and many other specialists. There might be a dozen of these in a small town, and a hundred in a major city. But with 17,000 cities, towns, counties and other local entities on the U.S. map, the opportunities add up.
According to Dennis Church, principal of the consulting firm EcoIQ, who has helped design these programs for San Jose, California and others, "Local governments have always had a primary responsibility for environmental quality. They, after all, plan land use and transportation systems, adopt and enforce codes, run local water and sewer utilities, pick up the garbage and recycling, and so on." He outlines three categories of local jobs: designing programs to meet these environmental goals -- and keeping the municipality in compliance with federal and state regulations. The second is enforcing local law and policy. The third, and often most creative, is working proactively to help businesses, homeowners, and others find greener ways to do what they do.
Working in municipal environmental programs usually involves a mix of policing and promoting positive behavior change by working closely with members of the community, from businesses to neighborhood associations and even groups of households, as Holte does. Many of these jobs are heavy in community relations and marketing. Church notes that, while "many environmental programs have the potential to actually save money for businesses and citizens, and make communities more livable," they may do so through policy tools, such as affordable higher density housing and resource conservation requirements, that trigger alarms among the uninformed. "This opens up many jobs for skillful communicators who can work with business associations, neighborhood groups, and the local media to communicate the benefits and reduce the fears." In other words, "You have to have the communications skill and savvy to overcome the natural mistrust that may occur when you say, 'I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.'"
Before she and the city found each other, June Holte's career path had included community organizing for an energy-conservation program, energy education for junior high schoolers, mediation, managing a co-op, transit advocacy, guiding cave tours, waiting tables, and construction demolition. From every angle, her interest kept turning back to the issue of personal lifestyle and how to promote more environmentally sound lifestyles. She was restless and wishing for just such an opportunity, when she found out about the city job through a surprisingly ordinary channel: browsing the classified ads. She sold herself, in part based on her eclectic mix of skills, and in part by being the most enthusiastic candidate.
Local government jobs may be advertised in the newspapers, on cities' websites -- and, of course, on specialized websites like Green Dream Jobs. High level ones pop up in specialized magazines such as Governing. If you're searching for jobs within a field, such as recycling, and are geographically flexible, consult national trade magazines like Biocycle. But local government is no different from any other sector in the way most jobs arise and are filled: fortune accrues to the person who is in the right place with the right reputation when the new program idea comes to life.
Such a person is Rosalie Anders, who is just celebrating her fifth year in the Program on Transportation and Environment in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Anders' job is helping make the city friendlier for bikers and pedestrians, working with citizen/ government task forces to create and sell projects that range from building bike lanes and installing bike parking, to traffic calming, to sidewalk maintenance, to building bus shelters. Did she study this in school? No way.
Anders spent many years practicing and teaching social work. She always "found ways to combine family therapy with community organizing" -- skills that have a good deal of complementarity, when you get down to it. She volunteered for the Council for a Livable World, a nuclear disarmament organization, which led to an invitation to work with the founding director in building the organization. From there, Anders moved to a local think tank on peace and environment issues, and in her spare time became chairperson of the Coalition for a Sustainable Cambridge. She got to know the founder of the city's new Environment and Transportation program just as it was coming to life within the Department of Community Development, and was offered the newly-created position.
Many local government jobs require a mix of technical, conceptual and political skills that doesn't come easy for everyone. For the same reasons they're challenging, though, they can provide a base for experimentation and a surprising degree of mobility.
One of the most spectacular examples of "local-government-as-springboard" is the saga of Jeb Brugmann, whose path started in Cambridge and has led to a top job as founder of a global agency. This story is convoluted but glorious. During the 1980's, Cambridge was heavily involved in Sister City programs and in an embryonic movement known as "municipal foreign policy" -- one part serious populism and one part tweaking the federal government. Brugmann helped start a Cambridge Peace Commission and served a term as its first chair. Then he took a personal sabbatical at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. On graduating, he steeped himself in environmental issues to prepare for a hot state job that fell through. He ended up as Field Director for the Center for Innovative Diplomacy, a national nonprofit aimed at helping local governments to make their voices heard in setting national priorities and shaping international relations. The issue that grabbed him was air quality.
The year was 1989. The big issue was ozone protection. Brugmann was key in pulling together thirty local governments to sign a treaty with each other to phase out chlorofluorocarbons in compliance with the Montreal Protocol. This treaty hit the news -- with aggressive local media outreach in 30 cities to fuel the national story -- just as the Bush Administration's weak Clean Air Act was proposed, and "the press had a field day with the David-Goliath story." Noel Brown, head of the United Nations Environment Programme, tracked down Brugmann and crew. Brown offered them access to local governments through UN channels to create something broader, an umbrella organization called the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. Headquartered in Toronto with a Secretariat on nearly every continent, ICLEI helps its over 150 member municipalities to create and implement "Local Agenda 21" plans for sustainable development. In every one of those cities, there are at least dozens and maybe hundreds of jobs getting greener as a result.To learn more:
Originally published on SustainableBusiness.com <http://www.sustainablebusiness.com>.
Melissa Everett is a professional career counselor and author of Making a Living While Making a Difference: Conscious Careers for an Era of Interdependence She has also written three previous books and many articles. She is the recipient of the Olive Branch Award of the NYU Center on War, Peace and the News Media for her book Breaking Ranks. Information about Melissa Everett as an event speaker here.
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