Green-collar workers on the rise

21 11 2008

Birkenstocks meet business suits. The “green” movement has moved beyond the Sierra Club to Wall Street.

Fortune 500 corporations and small companies are making sustainability a part of their game plans. It’s become good business to meet the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

“Environmentalism used to be out of the mainstream. Now venture capitalists are putting one-third of their capital toward green technologies,” said Gayle Oliver-Plath, CEO of G3 Agency, a recruiting firm for green jobs, and founder of http://www.careereco.com. “They’ve woken up and seen that solving challenges like dwindling resources and changing climates is good for the economy and the planet.

“These problems are changing companies, spawning new companies and creating a ton of new business opportunities. We’re going to see a lot more green-collar jobs in the future.”

Oliver-Plath founded CareerEco, an online community where environmentally conscious companies, university researchers, government agencies, organizations and job seekers can exchange ideas and information.

“What we’re seeing is a great opportunity for capitalists and environmentalists to get on the same page,” she said.

It can be a win for both, said Melissa Vernon, director of sustainable strategy for InterfaceFLOR, the U.S. commercial carpet division for Interface Inc. Founder Ray Anderson built the first plant in LaGrange in 1973 intending to make carpet and money. Other than complying with government regulations, he gave little thought to environmental issues until he read Paul Hawken’s “The Ecology of Commerce” in 1994.

“He said it was like a spear in his chest,” Vernon said. “He saw that his industry was plundering the Earth to make a product and then throw it away. He realized that we couldn’t look to government to save us. We had to look to business.”

That epiphany changed the path of the company and its culture.

“We found that we could save a lot of money by reducing waste and how we used resources,” Vernon said. “Now we consider ourselves a sustainability company that makes carpet.”

As the company rethought its designs, processes and products, it found that many of the creative ideas came from its own employees. The company now runs its plants with renewable energy such as solar, wind and landfill gas. Waste elimination activities have totaled $107 million since 1994, and the waste cost per unit of production has been reduced by 48 percent. InterfaceFLOR designs its carpet so it can take it back. Its recycling plants create jobs in Georgia and around the world. It has invented the technology to use recycled fibers in new carpet.

The company’s showroom in Atlanta was the first space in the country to receive a platinum rating with the Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System for commercial interiors.

Read on here.

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