The Green Economy Takes All Kinds (Even Business Majors)

I almost missed it in a week of big news and early baseball, but this op-ed from Sunday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch brings up a few good points about America’s growing green economy:

A few years ago, there was a predicted shortage of talent in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The National Academies report “Rising above the Gathering Storm” set off its own tempest, and we’ve been addressing the issue with words and dollars ever since.

But while it’s true that we still need more graduates in the STEM fields, let’s not forget the importance of business degrees.

This from Nancy A. Bagranoff, dean and professor of accounting at the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond.

First, Bagranoff is quite right that grooming STEM talent is a major focus in America, and for good reason. The 2007 National Academies report she cites raised the specter that “the scientific and technological building blocks critical to our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength.” The authors of the report could scarcely have been clearer about the imminence of that shift, writing that they “fear the abruptness with which a lead in science and technology can be lost—and the difficulty of recovering a lead once lost, if indeed it can be regained at all.”

These guys are huge, but they're not the only important piece of the green economy.

The STEM shortfall spans all levels of the American educational system, and it figures to heavily impact the U.S. economy moving forward, especially in an era when, per the National Commission on Energy Policy’s 2004 recommendations, the federal government may need to double funds for “energy research, development, and
demonstration.” As the green economy grows, so too will training needs–and many or most of the people in the thick of it will need to be well versed in science, technology and the like. More:

“Green is red-hot, and any career field even remotely related to sustainability should be job-rich for some time. While green jobs will require engineers, we could also use auditors to attest to carbon footprints, marketers to shape and sell innovation and managers to oversee the green projects.

Bagranoff hammers home a message we sometimes forget: STEM improvement (and, by the way, environmental education in the K-12 and higher education sectors) is vital, but green jobs don’t fit one precise mold…and they aren’t only for one kind of worker. The green economy–and green job training–will focus largely on the hard-hit construction and manufacturing sectors, but it can’t get along without a broad array of talent and expertise. Some of the people who make this country more sustainable in the years ahead won’t carry hardhats or lab coats.

For more on the role of educational development in the green economy, check out NWF’s Campus Ecology program, an initiative to improve the overall green educational programming and on-site sustainability of colleges and universities, and the Greenforce Initiative.