BY SARAH FISTER GALE & TARA REMIASZ
It's not a great time to be on the hunt for a job—well, at least, not in most cases. Yet one sector is not just surviving, it's actually thriving.
Even with most companies still mired in an economic funk, green jobs are sprouting up all over. Government incentives, environmental regulations and corporate calls for sustainability are triggering a blitz of environmental projects in construction, energy, product development, IT and other fields.
Consider the numbers. Roland Berger Strategy Consultants predicts the global market for environmental products and services will reach US$2.74 trillion by 2020. Countries around the world are already launching plans to invest US$500 billion in low-carbon projects, according to Thomson Reuters. And 29 percent of 1,043 IT decision-makers surveyed by CDW Corp. last September listed energy-efficient and green IT as their top tech priority this year.
All of that adds up to projects—and lots of jobs.
“Every one of those projects will need a project manager,” says Peter Beadle, president and founder of Greenjobs, Fairfield, California, USA.
And with the right training, networking and volunteering, project managers can remap their career paths for the new green economy.
It's a chance for project managers to forge a new path. A lot of money is being spent on green retrofit projects and designs.
—Paul Blagbrough, PMP,
Carbon Reduction Services,
Los Angeles, California, USA
When Brad Barkey lost his job in November 2008, he saw it as an opportunity to seek greener pastures. He'd spent several years managing IT projects in the elections industry, but he'd always wanted to turn his passion for the environment into a career. The only glitch was that he had no real experience managing green projects.
That was about to change.
As he continued to prepare for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification exam—an undertaking he'd started the previous year—Mr. Barkey signed up for a photovoltaic installer certification program. He also increased his networking efforts, both online and through renewable energy groups and industry associations.
“I signed up for every LinkedIn group relating to energy, recycling or green industries,” he says. “At one point I was attending three association meetings a week and I volunteered with a lot of them. It was a great way to meet people and a great way for them to have the experience of working with me.”
The effort paid off.
By September he'd landed a job as a project manager at Energy Environmental Corp., a Denver, Colorado, USA renewable energy systems installation company where he'd done fieldwork as part of his installer certification.
“I kept plugging away with the supervisory staff at the company, letting them know I was looking for a job, and eventually they created this position for me,” says Mr. Barkey.
For project managers looking to make a switch to green, there's no time like the present.
As companies across industries strive to make their businesses more sustainable, project managers who build up knowledge of environmental issues, regulations and the metrics that prove ROI will be in high demand.
“It's a chance for project managers to forge a new path,” says Paul Blagbrough, PMP, managing partner at Carbon Reduction Services, Los Angeles, California, USA. “A lot of money is being spent on green retrofit projects and designs.”
It's not as simple as applying for the job, however. Project managers need to find ways to position themselves as experts in the field.
As a first step, Mr. Blagbrough suggests taking advantage of the many free or low-cost sustainability training programs and seminars offered through utility companies and associations.
He also recommends seeking ways to make conventional projects green. While working at PTS Consulting in Tokyo, Japan, he convinced stakeholders at Barclays Bank to pursue LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for a 2007 office rehab project.
That was the point his career shifted.
“Suddenly I became ‘the green guy.' After that, when anyone wanted something to be green they came to me,” says Mr. Blagbrough, who went on to achieve LEED Accredited Professional certification.
As with most project management roles, green project managers need to set expectations with stakeholders and the team right from the start.
“You have to make sure everyone understands what's expected and why you are doing the things you are doing,” Mr. Blagbrough says. “Green building requires a lot of work at the start of a project and it requires constant monitoring to ensure the project is staying on track. It's a challenge to convince the planners that a green expert needs to come onto the project early and be involved in the decision-making throughout.”
Without that effort, he says, stakeholders and team members may waver—especially if the cost or time to complete the project increases because of sustainability.
“You may need to add extra consultants or commissioning engineers, and the architects need to spend more time completing extra paperwork, which adds time to the project,” Mr. Blagbrough explains. “If you don't have full commitment from the team and from senior-level stakeholders, it can be difficult to make the right decisions for the project.”
People don't always understand the value of green to business and project results, and it's the project manager's job to communicate it.
—Tricia Sutton, PMP,
Sutton Enterprises Inc.,
Bensenville, Illinois, USA
MAKING THE PITCH
Deciding to take the green career path is all well and good, but company ethos and policy will play a significant part in a project manager's ability to develop the necessary skills.
“Project managers who are working for an organization that doesn't support [sustainability] have a very difficult task,” says Gwyn Jones, director, Association of Sustainability Practitioners, Bristol, England.
And that may require some serious persuasion skills to help organizations make the right choice—not necessarily the cheap one.
It's not a matter of ignoring costs, but rather learning to evaluate expenses and value over the long term—looking at cost and value differences 20 years down the line, he says.
“A lot of it is giving the cost controllers the correct tools to show the full cost of doing it ‘right' and doing it ‘wrong,'” Mr. Jones says.
That's where combining project management and sustainability skill sets can truly pay off.
“People don't always understand the value of green to business and project results, and it's the project manager's job to communicate it,” says Tricia Sutton, PMP, president of Sutton Enterprises Inc., a sustainable product development consultancy in Bensenville, Illinois, USA.
Part of that entails knowing how regulations and government programs could impact project results. She urges project managers to investigate any rules that might potentially impact their projects, including requirements for waste reduction, energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions and green certifications.
The project manager doesn't have to be the technical expert—he or she has to be the expert in running the project.
—Peter Beadle, Greenjobs,
Fairfield, California, USA
THE REAL McCOY
Before you can land that dream green job, you're going to need to build up some environmental credibility. Here are five ways to acquire the skills and experiences to stand out from the sustainability wannabes:
1 Know your strengths and weaknesses. “Identify the skills that you have that would benefit a green project, such as value stream management and regulatory experience, as well as the skills that you lack,” says Tricia Sutton at Sutton Enterprises Inc., Bensenville, Illinois, USA. Once you know where your shortcomings are, figure out ways to address them.
2 Get training. From university degree programs to free online courses offered by utility companies, there are an increasing number of educational opportunities around going green. “For most project managers, the skills are there—they just need help learning the language and the right questions to ask,” says Ms. Sutton.
3 Volunteer. Whether you champion an e-waste recycling project in your own company or offer your services to a local community project, volunteering is a great way to add tangible experience to your résumé while building your network.
4 Make your current project green. “There are ways to implement green best practices on any project,” says Paul Blagbrough, Carbon Reduction Services, Los Angeles, California, USA. “Discuss ideas with your team and your client, and show how going green can add value. It's a quick way to build experience and establish yourself as the in-house expert.”
5 Reposition your résumé to showcase your assets. “Draw out the hidden skills and experiences behind the titles to emphasize what you've accomplished,” says Ms. Sutton.
“Anything that will give a potential employer confidence that you have the skills to do the job, as well as the passion to be a part of the industry, will give you an edge,” says Peter Beadle, Greenjobs, Fairfield, California, USA.
“The regulations are always changing, so you constantly have to assess what's coming and be aware of how that will affect the status of your project,” Ms. Sutton says. “When you stay informed, you can make better decisions for the project and the company.”
For example, organizations may be able to take advantage of tax credits for achieving energy efficiency if a project is completed by a certain date.
That doesn't mean project managers must know every detail of every law or regulation, though.
“The project manager doesn't have to be the technical expert—he or she has to be the expert in running the project,” Mr. Beadle says.
However, you should familiarize yourself with the issues that impact your projects and network with the people who can decipher them.
“Find someone from your company or your industry who knows the regulations and ask questions,” Ms. Sutton says.
Partnering with experts and specialists can help project managers avoid making seemingly innocuous decisions that have long-term environmental ramifications while also building their own knowledge base.
And it's not always the people you might expect. Mr. Jones recommends seeking out unconventional partners, including environmental experts, universities and non-governmental organizations, to identify and discuss the big decisions.
“There are many benefits in reaching out to other organizations,” he says. “You'll achieve more by being less dominant and more collaborative.”
It also helps to gather that environmental research right from the start so there are fewer surprises as projects unfold, says Justin Couper, a senior project manager at Roaring 40s, a renewable energy company in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.
Depending on the scope of work, he might connect with dozens of environmental experts, including wildlife authorities or environmental mapping experts.
Mr. Couper realized he didn't have to sacrifice local ecology for a healthy profit. On an AU$350 million wind farm project, for example, his team worked with avian experts to minimize the threat of its 50-meter (164-foot) wind turbine blades to a local eagle population.
The eagles weren't the only ones to come out ahead. Mr. Couper says the move also helped establish Roaring 40s as an industry leader in the eyes of regulators and the wider community, and “gave us an advantage over our competitors.”
As green becomes standard operating practice, Mr. Couper says companies have to consider the triple bottom line that measures profit, loss and environmental impact.
And that plays well for anyone who can leverage project management knowledge and sustainability expertise.
“There are opportunities all over the world right now,” says Mr. Blagbrough. “It's a chance to launch a whole new career.” PM
PM NETWORK JANUARY 2010 WWW.PMI.ORG
JANUARY 2010 PM NETWORK