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EARTHWATCH

Clean Jobs : Recycling and other efforts to protect the environment are creating employment opportunities.

August 29, 1991|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Labor Day weekend's coming up. You wouldn't think of it as a time to be worrying about the environment.

We're getting away to the beach and the mountains. So who wants to think about pollution? And besides, things such as environmentalism, slow growth and toxic limits are anti-labor and cost jobs. Right? Wrong.

Sure, we see the bumper sticker that wails, "Out of Work and Starving? Eat an Environmentalist." But one solution to the unemployment problem is to be an environmentalist. It's the fastest-growing employment category in the nation, and jobs are multiplying.

"From zero to 60 in five seconds," quipped Chris Richards of Career Connection, a Thousand Oaks recruitment company. "Actually, it's 11% or 12% a year," he said. "But our job fair business is up 100% a year."

"A quarter-million jobs that didn't exist a generation ago is what we're talking about," said Stephen Aeby, the company's director, in a recent article published in the magazine Environmental Careers.

According to the Container Recycling Institute of America, this is a conservative figure. They think that bottle recycling alone has created over 180,000 new jobs.

In Michigan, when their bottle recycling bill was passed, more than 200 jobs were lost and nearly 5,000 were created. Other states, including ours, show the same trend.

These are the kind of jobs I wrote about in an earlier column. Environmental mid-career-change jobs and entry-level jobs that are not "dead-end" are now the focus of training programs at our county's community colleges and at Cal State Northridge, UC Santa Barbara and UCLA.

That column, by the way, brought a flood of calls to the company I mentioned, CEIP-Environmental Career Services. Subsequently, Kevin Doyle of their national office told me, "They were exactly the kind of people we were looking for."

All this activity is traceable to the new awareness that we have to do something about the environment--and the even newer awareness that we have something to do it with.

Junk is piling up. Let's use it instead of virgin materials, solving the twin problems of pollution and diminishing resources simultaneously, and creating new jobs in the process.

It being Labor Day, I called the AFL-CIO. When I mentioned the infamous bumper sticker, Regional Director Dave Sicler said it was, "an outmoded idea."

He went on to explain: "Labor is strong on the environment. We're in the front lines of any abuse such as lethal toxic discharges. If we clean up (manufacturing processes in) the workplace, it goes a long way toward cleaning up the environment."

Then, citing the plight of farm workers and chemical workers, among others, he left me with a zinger that I wish I'd thought up myself: "You can't assault the environment without assaulting our members (the workers)."

This is certainly part of the reason for the success of a new effort by the environmental community to organize the workplace--through payroll deductions--to support their work.

In Ventura at the national headquarters of Kinko's, the chain of copy shops, the Environmental Federation of California made a presentation early this year. United Way and the employees' own scholarship fund also made pitches. Each group received an equal response.

The Environmental Federation is an umbrella organization of groups like the Sierra Club, Tree People, Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the American Oceans Campaign, Coalition for Clean Air and a dozen other groups. One-stop "eco-giving."

The federation has signed up employee groups at companies as diverse as Safeway, Patagonia, Apple Computer, The Gap and Kilovac, a Carpinteria maker of high-voltage switching devices.

Steve Goldsmith, Southern California coordinator for the federation, says the campaign among workers has the dual benefit of helping the organizations he represents as well as stimulating at-work participation in ride-sharing, recycling and energy-saving campaigns at the workplace.

* FYI

Career Connection of Thousand Oaks presents environmental job fairs where employers look for workers with a science orientation or seeking a mid-career switch in that direction. Sixteen job fairs are planned around the country for the next year, and fortunately the next one is in Southern California in September. Call 494-3856 for more information.

CEIP-Environmental Career Services' California office can be contacted at (415) 362-5532.

The Environmental Federation of California can be reached at (213) 394-0446.

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