Last year, multiple reports were released suggesting that women lead their households in green. They are “recycling enforcers” and “out green” men in practices such as reusable shopping bag use and the desire to reduce energy consumption in their homes.
Studies by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have found that women are more likely than men to buy eco-oriented, recyclable or energy-efficient products.
However, this leadership in the home does not often translate to the workplace, and jobs in the green economy are being created in fields predominantly populated by men (think: engineering or construction).
Indeed, the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor notes that “Green jobs are diverse, rewarding, and overwhelmingly nontraditional to women.”
These trends, on the other hand, present both a challenge and opportunity that many inspiring women have gladly taken on. Highlighting this enthusiasm was the recent Women In Green Forum, which gathered “an international audience focused on environmental issues, including academic researchers, business experts, energy analysts, and technology developers.”
To get the scoop on Women In Green (and women in green, for that manner), Earth911.com reached out to the forum’s emcee, Sarah Backhouse. A mainstream TV writer, producer and host gone eco, Backhouse has worked for Planet Green, Mother Nature Network, PBS and Discovery Channel, among a number of significant accolades.
A gal who knows a thing or two about transitioning into the green sphere, she explained not only how women can get involved in green right now, but also why the time’s never been more ripe.
According to Backhouse, Women In Green was essentially created when Jamie Nack, president of Three Squares Inc. was attending an environmentally oriented conference and asked her friend, noted green architect and leader John Picard, why there were not more women at the conference.
“John replied, ‘Well, if you’re complaining about it, just set up your own event,’” Backhouse recalls with a laugh. And essentially, that’s what Nack did. “She’s a doer.”
The forum brought together experts from fashion, finance, journalism and more to discuss a variety of topics affecting sustainable industries.
For example, a panel (moderated by Backhouse) that included Meaghan O’Neill, editor-in-chief of Treehugger.com, and Jen Boynton, managing editor of Triple Pundit, brought together movers and shakers in eco-media. The panel discussed why green is finding a “natural home online” versus traditional print media and how social media is intrinsic in the development of green media itself. “We also discussed how we work under this ‘green’ umbrella, and really, in the future [...] green will diversify in all these verticals and every single area will become more green in and of itself,” said Backhouse.
The forum even included an “Eco Fashion Walk-a-Bout.” The original concept, developed by the Women In Green Advisory Board, featured models sporting environmentally conscious designs strolling the expo area for an up-close look at the garments.
Overall, the event proved a success. “We see the first annual Women In Green Forum as a starting point that will lead to future collaboration among female leaders in sustainability and the formation of a community which will open doors for women to pursue careers in the expanding green workforce,” said Jenna Peterson, project coordinator of Three Squares Inc.
Why Ladies, Why Now
For Backhouse, the transition of her career from mainstream to green has provided her a unique perspective on how industries are evolving and how women “have a strategic advantage” moving forward.
“I think women are more adept, they have the skill set that’s required to face the particular challenges we’re in,” says Backhouse.
Recent research echoes these opinions. According to a survey by Tiller, LLC, “The environmental sensitivities of women seem to be more finely tuned than those of men.”
“Since the Industrial Revolution, the focus has been on a short-term, profit-driven model, and men have really ruled that space,” says Backhouse. “We’re going to have take a longer view.”
Comparing the historical roles of men as hunters and women as gatherers and managers of the household, Backhouse says that women are “much more pragmatic” and utilize “long-term, strategic thinking.”
Beyond their inherent skills, education rates for women are steadily climbing. “For the first time now, women have overtaken men to make up the majority of the workforce,” she says. “We’re not as equally represented as men, but women are being educated at higher rates than men for the first time.”
In fact, according to Atlantic Magazine, “for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same.”
In reality, it will require a combination of a number of factors for women to achieve success in sustainability. “It takes collaboration, communication and compassion [...] In those ways, women are really in a good position to capitalize and move forward,” Backhouse adds.
You Don’t Need a ‘Green’ Career
Moving forward, Backhouse hopes to continue to inspire women to make strides in sustainability. “It’s been a funny few months while this whole talk of women in green has been on my radar, so I’m planning on writing a book about it, how it’s essential and inevitable that women have to take charge and lead sustainability,” says Backhouse. She also hopes that her news show with Discovery, Planet 100, continues to grow. “I want to make eco-news a really big deal.”
But, if being a television host or installing solar panels or designing the next fuel-efficient car isn’t exactly your cup of tea or align with your current field, that’s no problem according to Backhouse. There is no need drop a job you may love, just because there aren’t any environmental perks (yet!).
“I don’t think there’s necessarily something as a ‘green career path,’” she says. “Stay in the industry you’re in, and green that.”
Backhouse suggests looking around at where you already work and making strides from within. For example, lawyers can start by working to reduce the overall paper usage and energy consumption at their office by turning off lights and computers and recycling. Waitresses can make efforts to green a restaurant’s operations by advocating to reduce the use of disposable to-go ware and plastic bags and forks.
“Whatever industry you’re in, you have a special skill set and know it best. If everyone was working in non-profits it would be all out of balance,” says Backhouse.
“I did the same from mainstream media to green media. Don’t throw out your skill set and training (unless you hate your job, obviously!) but just find ways to make it greener.”
Check out an episode of Planet 100 featuring the Women In Green Forum.
Homepage image courtesy of Yvonne LeBrun Photography.