Green jobs include more than you might think

Say "green jobs" and most people think of wind turbines and solar panels — but there is a whole other component to "green jobs" that gets far less attention and can have tremendous economic, ecological and health impacts for communities across the country. These jobs can put people to work today while protecting our communities for years to come. Sound too good to be true?

The panel I moderated, American Jobs on American Lands, at this year's Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference came at the green jobs topic from a different angle than most would expect. Instead of the aforementioned turbines and solar panels — both of which are critical for clean energy it focused on the people putting green restoration and adaptation projects on the ground in communities across the country.

A scientist colleague of mine laid out why we need these kinds of projects. It went something like this: even if we halted all greenhouse gas emissions yesterday, we'll still have decades of climate impacts. A comprehensive climate and energy solution must address both the causes and effects of global warming. While we move away from filthy fuels and ramp up clean energy, we must also help our natural resources remain resilient in a warming world — so they can continue to provide valuable services including coastal storm protection, and cleaning our air and water. The best part is, projects that restore and enhance our wetlands, forests and streams can protect and create thousands of jobs across the country.

But for most folks "environmental restoration" or "natural resource adaptation" doesn't mean much — if anything it sounds vaguely like a Boy Scout Saturday morning river clean up. But it's much more!

Let's use an old, unwanted logging road removal project to help paint a jobs picture. Years ago in a forest, a logging company dug out a crude dirt pathway so it could drive in trucks and extract trees from deep within the forest. When it was done, the company didn't repair the damage — so for years there's been a huge scar tracing up the side of a mountain. Every time it rains, Mudslides wipe out acres of habitat and dump into the stream below. To restore the forest's health a road removal project is initiated to remove the road, re-contour the landscape, plant native vegetation and improve ecosystem health. Engineers, hydrologists, ecologists, project managers, heavy equipment operators, back office associates and many others are needed to move this project from concept to completion. From paychecks in workers' pockets to renting equipment to purchasing project materials, the project injects money into the economy. After the project is complete, the forest is far healthier — and serves as critical habitat for wildlife, cleaning our air and water, and giving us places to hike, bike and fish.

Panelists included experts in restoration and natural resources adaptation, including Storm Cunningham, CEO of Resolution Fund, LLC, Tim Purinton, Acting Director of the Massachusetts Dept of Fish and Game, Division of Ecological Restoration, and Brett Berkley Sr. Vice President of GreenVest. They talked about the impacts that changing our notion of green jobs can have on economy and our country. Glenn Hurowitz, Director of Avoided Deforestation Partners shared that a $1 million investment into land restoration and reforestation can create or save almost 40 jobs.

The Outdoor Industry Association's Frank Hugelmeyer shared some powerful stats demonstrating the far-reaching impact climate adaptation projects can have on America's economy and general wellbeing. Guess what? People don't like to fish, camp or hike in run-down, nasty, and unhealthy places — so natural resource adaptation jobs help protect outdoor recreation jobs too! Bet you didn't know that active outdoor recreation supports 6.5 million jobs and generates roughly $730 billion in economic activity ... every year.

These jobs are real — and really good for the economy. They bolster local economies — Brett sources labor for all of the projects his Company Greenvest does throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic from local communities — and bolster a thriving outdoor recreation economy. It's time to change the palette of green jobs — and add restoration and adaptation to the mix of making a clean, green economy.