Mark Boulet, in action

It’s the million-dollar question: what are green skills? And it was the opening question at the Green Steps’ session of the Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability conference at Macquarie University in Sydney recently. But are green jobs just political rhetoric or the actual creation of new jobs for new sectors?

A number of key reports have already thoroughly investigated and analysed this very question – for example those by the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the United Nations Environment Programme and the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand. And while it is safe to say that “green” roles certainly fall into specific technical environmental areas, the extent of change we will see across industry will be more far-reaching.

As we transition into a low-carbon economy there will be a significant amount of retraining required. For example, a standard accountant will need to understand carbon accounting; a facilities manager will need to understand green building and design, and we will all need to keep up-to-date with the sustainability journey as businesses are forced to adapt if they are to remain competitive globally.

Green Steps was ahead of the game when it created a program offering sustainability training and internships to students across Australia. The program, devised at Monash University in 2000, came about when a group of entrepreneurs and activist students responded to the need they could see was required within organisations if they were to meet the sustainability challenge.

Participants come from a range of professions and disciplines, including sports management, property management, marketing and communications, environmental science and international business students, and the Green Steps program has been funded to date by the federal government grants and some income from industry. Unfortunately, the program is no longer receiving federal grants as a result of the delay in the emissions trading scheme.

The program seeks to help participants close the gap between sustainability theory and practice in two phases; sustainability training and industry internships.
The sustainability training program runs over two weekends and offers the following content:

  • Environmental auditing
  • Change management
  • Communications
  • Action planning and strategy

It is a highly interactive course with a strong focus on group work. All the course facilitators are graduates of the program.

I asked Mark Boulet, the Green Steps program manager at the Monash Sustainability Institute, if the content provided students with the tools to communicate how sustainability can positively affect a business’s bottom line. Boulet says the change management training looks at where a company is at on their sustainability journey, and the communications aspect looks at the key drivers and levers to push/pull for optimum outcomes.

I believe that if we are to transition business in the best way, it’s crucial to be able to reframe the impact of sustainability in a language that finance and other professionals understand. Cross-functional stakeholder engagement is critical. As we learned from Leith Sharp, founder of Harvard’s Green Campus Institute in the preceding conference session, social marketing, peer-to-peer engagement through ‘engagement ambassadors’ and in-house competition creates great social interaction to integrate sustainability thinking throughout an institution.

The internships offered by Green Steps are real sustainability projects. Participants are paid the equivalent of 12 days’ work, funded by the host organization, which include private businesses (banks, energy companies, retail and manufacturing), government, not-for-profit and schools.

Typical internships include:

  • Environmental assessments
  • Education and behaviour change
  • Sustainability reporting
  • Action planning
  • Research

There is also a Green Steps at Work program, run over four days over a number of weeks, that covers basic skills auditing and communicating change. This program is offered to employees tasked with sustainability responsibilities within organisations, as well as passionate ‘champions’ in the work force.

Outcomes of the Green Step Programs:

  • 65 per cent of graduates get involved in sustainability work.
  • 40 per cent of internships result in further work.
  • 200 tonnes of greenhouse gases saved per intern.

Aside from these statistics, Green Steps is proud to report that past participants include Larissa Brown, founder and executive director of the Centre for Sustainability Leadership. It has also won a Banksia Award for environmental achievements. Now that’s real change!

Lisa Tarry is managing director of Turning Green, a recruitment consultancy specialising in sustainability professionals and organisations making the transition to a low-carbon economy.