The People Behind the Green Economy: Part 1

Everyone seems to be talking about green jobs these days. Industry groups and government agencies are constantly revising their employment numbers to reflect the growth of green jobs: 119,000 solar jobs in 2012; 50,000 smart grid jobs through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; 75,000 wind jobs. And that’s just the energy sector!

Numbers are one thing. But nothing gives a better sense of the growth of the green economy than the stories of the workers themselves. That’s why we reached out to our network to help us track down the faces behind these job numbers. Their stories reflect the huge scope of this sector and the diversity of backgrounds and experiences.

Over the next month, we'll profile the inspiring people who work in the green economy. Here's the first installment of two:

KatyName: Katy Kiefer

City: Washington, DC

Occupation: Activist Network Coordinator at Food & Water Watch


In simple terms, describe what you do in your job.  

Food & Water Watch works to ensure that the food and water we consume is safe, sustainable, and accessible to all. As the Activist Network Coordinator, I look for ways to engage and organize citizens to influence decision makers at all levels of government, around issues like labeling genetically engineered foods, fracking, and bottled water (through our Take Back the Tap program).

Why did you decide to pursue this career?

When I was in college, I dove head first into countless clubs whose mission was to raise awareness among the campus community about the environment. Sounds really great, but I realized that it’s not enough just to know about these problems. Organizing people picks up where education leaves off – turning concern into coordinated action. Once I found organizing, there was no turning back. I had found a career that gave me the power to have a tangible impact on our environment.

What kind of training/experience do you need for this career?

The most significant training that I received to launch my career was through the Green Corps Field School for Environmental Organizing. The year-long program took me from a passionate campus activist to a professional advocate for the environment. I learned concrete skills such as recruiting a group, developing leadership, working with the media, building a coalition, fundraising, and more.

What are the best resources for someone interested in this career?

The Green Corps program is the best place to start if you’re looking for a career in environmental organizing after college. Students interested in getting some experience organizing on their campus should consider the Take Back the Tap program with Food & Water Watch, launching a fossil fuel divestment campaign with, working with the Greenpeace student network, or attending a summer workshop with the Sierra Student Coalition’s Summer Environmental Leader Training Program.

What does having a green job mean to you?

I’m able to go to work every day knowing that I’m fighting for the values I believe in, and for a more just, sustainable world. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my career. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy, and it’s not always fun – this work is incredibly challenging. When you’re fighting for something you believe in, losing hits you hard. And we lose. A lot. We’re up against incredibly powerful special interests who will fight viciously to keep profiting at the expense of our environment and public health. But I continue to fight back because I’ve seen it work. It’s no small task, but an organized group of citizens, honing their collective power is unstoppable.


DSCF1602Name: John C. Desm

City: St Cloud, MN

Occupation: Assembly Tech / Union Local President


In simple terms, describe what you do in your job.

I build mass transit buses for small, medium and large metropolitan transit authorities. I have worked in many different aspects of the bus building process, from putting in floors, to running wire harnesses and installing engines. The buses we build include those with diesel engines to compressed natural gas and hybrid electrical. The company I work for, New Flyer, is on the cutting edge of green technology for mass transit.

Why did you decide to pursue this career?

I was getting tired of being laid off during slow times, so I applied to a bus manufacturer that was hiring in St. Cloud, MN and got a position. New Flyer provides good paying job with very good benefits. Sometimes the hours are not the best (sometimes there’s lots of overtime), but all and all it’s a very good, stable job that you can raise a family from. And you feel like you accomplish something: you see the end result when you visit the various cities that we have built buses for.

What kind of training/experience do you need for this career?

As an Assembly Tech, you need to be able to follow blueprints, know how to use hand tools, follow directions, and think on your feet.  If something is not right, you can contribute to fixing the problem, since you’re experienced with the day-to-day, hands-on work that is invaluable to the process.

What are the best resources for someone interested in this career?

If you have some mechanical skill, even if it’s just taking a shop class in high school, you have a good foundation. A drafting class is even better for reading blueprints, but it’s not a necessity. Having an interest in building things, whether it’s just a hobby from childhood or putzing around in the garage on the weekends: all of it will give you skills that you could use.

New Flyer sees potential in people. You can have next to no experience and they will train you in everything you need to know to excel in the job. New Flyer is also very good about promoting from within.

What does having a green job mean to you?

I really do believe that the technologies I work with are the wave of the future. It has to be for us to lessen the footprints we leave today for our kids and grandkids. Building large people-movers that get many people on buses from work to home means that I am saving something for future generations.

(Courtesy of the BlueGreen Alliance)


CJ HeadshotName: Courtney Goulding Jr.

City: Teaneck, NJ

Occupation: Student Crew Leader with the Student Conservation Association


In simple terms, describe what you do in your job.

As a community crew leader, I train and supervise high school students as they work on various conservation projects in their communities.

Why did you decide to pursue this career?

I am extremely passionate about interacting with and teaching people. I enjoy ‘growing people’. I also love being outdoors, and I have since my childhood. This career is in essence a handshake between two things I am passionate about: people and nature.

What kind of training/experience do you need for this career?

Having an active lifestyle, camping, and enjoying outdoor activities are beneficial in relating it to the people I come in contact with. Volunteering with programs like the Student Conservation Association (SCA), getting experience as a leader and practice working with groups is also pertinent, as group management skills can have a profound effect on the experience of the participants.

In terms of education, it’s important to have training in risk management, group management and also have proper training/knowledge of the tools with which you’ll be working.

What are the best resources for someone interested in this career?

Experience is always one of the best resources. Getting involved, even at an introductory or volunteer level, allows one to see the inner workings of a movement or organization, and gives you the requisite skills to advance. The SCA website is a fantastic place to seek out opportunities in your area.

What does having a green job mean to you?

Having a green job means that the work that I do directly affects the earth. I don’t have to wonder if what I do is practical, or if my work has meaning. I can look back after two weeks of work and see a park that was formerly overrun get a facelift. I can reflect on two months with a crew and see a 15 year old high school student complete a metamorphosis from shy recluse to a confident leader. The work that I do, if I do it well, will not only be seen in a cleaner world today, but also a cleaner and brighter future.



Depot_working_togetherName: Alexis Karolides

City: Snowmass, CO

Occupation: Researcher & consultant with Rocky Mountain Institute


In simple terms, describe what you do in your job.

Through research and collaboration projects with housing developers, companies, government and non-profits, I advance energy and resource efficiency, primarily in the built environment.

Why did you decide to pursue this career?

I am an architect who believes passionately about green, efficient building that promotes human and ecological health and preserves precious natural resources.

What kind of training/experience do you need for this career?

I have a Physics undergraduate degree and a Master of Architecture, but many other educational paths are possible inroads to this career, including engineering, environmental science, and real-estate or business education with a sustainability focus.

What are the best resources for someone interested in this career?

Human resources: networking and collaboration are key to most jobs today, so I recommend building up one’s network of people in many related and tangentially-related fields.

Skills: have a good grounding in science & math (analysis ability), communication skills (writing and speaking are essential), and people skills (again, networking is key)

Jobs in today’s world are complex and this career is no exception. Get experience in a variety of jobs and internships in related and tangentially related fields. You take away all kinds of insights from different work experiences that you can apply in future ones.

What does having a green job mean to you?

It means I get to do what I believe is meaningful and important to accomplish in order to make the world better.


Want to find out how you too can get your green dream job? Read our tips here.


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