Green Jobs, a Reality on the Ground

Mike Johnson is an outdoors kind of guy who used to have an indoors kind of job. About two years ago, the lure of energy conservation got the better of him and he completely switched his employment focus. The former custom framer at a downtown Toronto art gallery is now field manager for a small organic landscaping company.

“My job was unfulfilling and it felt like a job - I wanted a career,” says Mr. Johnson, 36, who enrolled in a two-year environmental landscape management program at Seneca College to prepare for his new line of work.

His new employer, Green Gardeners, emphasizes low-maintenance landscaping using native plants, butterfly gardens and rainwater irrigation. Staff use fuel-efficient trucks and bike-powered trailers to haul materials, and gasoline-powered tools are banned at the four-year-old company.

The firm, and Mr. Johnson’s career shift, are prime examples of the greening of the Canadian workforce, says The Globe and Mail, a nationally-distributed newspaper in Canada.

About 530,000 Canadian workers, about 3 per cent of the labour force, are employed in an environmentally related job, according to a report from the Environmental Careers Organization of Canada (ECO).

Energy and environmental conservation as an economic driver is being felt in every part of the country and in all industries, from developers who build ultra-green, self-sustaining homes to big companies that switch to alternative fuels and cleaner technologies.

Many types of work - such as consultants who assess your home for energy rebates, or companies that measure your carbon footprint - didn’t even exist a generation ago.

Andrew Roy, president of Green Gardeners, says finding qualified employees is becoming easier all the time for his company, which has 12 full- and part-time employees in peak season.

“We generally have fantastic success recruiting really talented dedicated and qualified staff,” he says.

“There are many ecologically driven, university-educated people looking for green jobs, which give us a great recruiting pool for potential staff.”

Mr. Roy, 37, expects his company, which has its own nursery specializing in native and perennial plants, will expand its services to include roof-top and indoor gardens, edible landscaping, and commercial services.

Grant Trump, president and chief executive officer of Calgary-based ECO Canada, says there’s no question that environmental and energy concerns are translating into jobs - and new kinds of jobs.

Mr. Trump says hot careers include environmental engineers, environmental technician and technologists, conservation biologists, environmental communications officers and geographic information system analysts (people who use digital mapping techniques to measure such things as air and water quality or logging rates).

“Many of the skills that have been gained in other industries can be directly applied to this work with a relatively short learning curve,” he tells The Globe and Mail.

The top three industries employing environmental workers are public administration; mining, oil and gas extraction; waste management and remediation, according to a 2007 national survey by the Environmental Careers Organization of Canada.

Ener-West Geo-Energy Services Inc. is another green firm, specializing in geothermal heating and cooling systems. These earth energy systems collect and transfer heat from deep in the ground through a series of buried, fluid-filled pipes running into buildings.

Don Bateman, president and CEO of the five-year-old Calgary company, says that while geothermal heating is relatively new in Canada, it is increasingly catching on with consumers and builders.

“Ener-West operates in an industry that really did not exist in our marketplace until a few years ago,” says Mr. Bateman, 41.

“It started with a single residential installation, but the shift in thinking by the general public has allowed the growth to occur.”

His company has installed more than 200 geothermal heating and cooling systems and recently completed a 93-unit housing subdivision project in Fort McMurray, Alta., demonstrating that geothermal systems can handle large-scale demands.

As public awareness grows about geothermal systems, Mr. Bateman says it is also becoming easier to find qualified employees, who see long-term opportunities in the business.

Ener-West, which operates across Western Canada, has a dozen employees and is looking to hire four more immediately.

“It’s still a challenge to find experienced employees, but the good news is that the enthusiasm level is growing with those we interview,” Mr. Bateman says.

“And the recent slowdowns in construction will likely offer a larger pool to draw from for our kind of business.”

Written by Greg McMillan, The Globe and Mail

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