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There's been a lot of discussion lately about green collar jobs and the impact they could have on the U.S. economy. So what exactly is a green job, and what do you have to do to get one?

Frank Marquardt joins GreenBiz Radio today to help us try to answer these questions. Frank is the author of the new Green Careers Insider Guide from Wet Feet publications. Available at WetFeet.com, the guide examines the ever-growing green marketplace and explores the job opportunities within it.

Tilde Herrera: Hi, Frank. Welcome to GreenBiz Radio.

Frank Marquardt: Thank you. I'm very excited to be here.

TH: Why don't we start with an overview of your book?

FM: The book is targeted, I think, at a pretty broad audience. It's focused a little more on business opportunities rather than, say, nonprofit or opportunities at the federal and state level, but it does address those opportunities as well. It's written for someone who is probably coming out of college, but not necessarily, or coming out of a business school program, and really wants to get oriented around where the opportunities are.

You hear the term "green" all over the place these days. And I think that there's a real interest in doing something more meaningful with our careers, and really with our lives. And so this book is really designed to help people really get a sense of where those opportunities are, what the different sectors are, how they can take their experience, their skills, their passion into a line of work that is going to be fulfilling to them personally, and possibly very lucrative.

TH: What are the typical paths that these people take to a green career?

FM: There are all kinds of paths, and it's really dizzying how many opportunities there are. In many ways, I think the opportunities are kind of nascent. They're starting to bubble up. People are starting to recognize them.

So, if you want to go a nonprofit route, you could do things such as advocacy. You can do things such as monitoring the companies abroad, how they're treating their workforces. If you want to go into government, there are all kinds of things for people who want to practice law and look at environmental issues related to law, and who are involved in monitoring carbon outputs. I think that's going be an increasingly large sector.

In the world of business, there are kind of traditional and I think fairly kind of well-known opportunities is what's called corporate social responsibility, which is one path where you're working in typically at a Fortune 500 or Fortune 1000 corporation on issues related to the company's footprint or how its operations are affecting the planet and people around the world.

There are all kinds of entrepreneurial opportunities for people who want to start a business. There are mail order catalogs. There are restaurants. In San Francisco there's a great restaurant called Seller's Market that is all organic ingredients from local vendors. There's Numi Tea. We talked to the CEO there for the book. And he started a company selling tea, using Fair Trade principles for the production, so that's kind of another area.

Outside of the food sector, you can look at energy. The whole cleantech sector involves reducing energy or materials that go into building or producing a product. There's the green building sector. There's architecture is increasingly hiring people with LEED certification or green experience. So really you can kind of look at the whole of industry and I think find a path.

TH: That sort of begs the question: Can any career be a green career? And if so, what are the limits and what are the boundaries?

FM: Well, that's an interesting question. And I think (that) sort of raises the question of what exactly is a green career. The definition that I used in the book was that a green career is one that involves either reducing environmental impact or promoting environmental restoration. And then I used a second one in which I'm talking about the triple bottom line -- a career that affects, in a positive way, what's referred to as people, planet and profit.

So, it's producing profit through a positive, lasting economic impact as it does the least harm by curtailing environmental impact. It treats all the people it touches, through your work, equitably so that your workers get a fair wage, no one's knowingly exploited, and work conditions are safe, hours tolerable. So, those are some of the qualities that make up a career that would be considered green.

You can have a cabinetmaker -- maybe not something you think of as immediately green -- who's using materials that are reclaimed woods and nontoxic solvents to create cabinets. You can have a lawyer who is working in the area of law, kind of focused on environmental law. You can have someone in human resources who is focused on issues of fairness in the workplace, or is actually working at a company who directly espouses the issues of green.

So in a sense, my vision for where the green sector is going is that increasingly we're seeing companies emerging with business models that have explicitly stated goals around the environment. And in that sense, if a company's really pursuing kind of an environmental path, then all the folks in its company are aligned behind those values and are working toward achieving them. So, in that sense I think that many careers that we may not immediately consider as being green are increasingly having a green component, and that that is likely to continue over time.

TH: During the course of your research for this book, were you able to identify certain themes or certain challenges that jobseekers face when searching for a green job?

FM: The most salient challenge that jobseekers face is really figuring out what it is that they want to do, and then starting to identify a list of companies where they can put those skills to work. And I think this is always the challenge in a career. But you need to know where your passion is, what it is that you believe, what you want to do, before you can identify a career path.

Once you've done that, then I think you can start to target organizations and companies in the green sector. And then it's a matter of doing the things that any smart jobseeker's gonna do: informational interviews, talk to folks through your alumni network, get involved in organizations like Net Impact or in local initiatives to green your college campus or green your city to get some experience so that you can start to understand who the players are and where the opportunities are along the lines of the things that you want to be doing.