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Green-Collar Jobs: Create Your Own Career Change
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Tom Dziki inspects the solar panel array on the roof of United Natural Foods in Rocklin, Calif.

By Gregory DiStefano
“Green-collar” employment is on the rise. With an estimated 8.5 million U.S. jobs in renewable and efficient energy, and sustainable products and foods, the industry is predicted to grow to as many as 40 million jobs by 2030, according to a recent report by the American Solar Energy Society.

Like an increasing number of professionals, Tom Dziki evolved into his current position as vice president of sustainable development for United Natural Foods, the largest publicly traded wholesale distributor of organic and natural products in the United States. Dziki is well acquainted with the opportunities, challenges and rewards of a position in sustainability.

Q. How did you get into the “green-collar job” category?
A. Prior to my current position, I was vice president of real estate construction at United Natural Foods. United has 20 distribution centers nationwide, all with huge freezers that use a lot of energy, so I became interested in energy efficiency. We saw solar power as a great way to take a big bite out of our energy consumption, so we installed 175,000 square feet of solar photovoltaic panels on top of our facility in Rocklin, Calif. It generates 1.19 megawatts of electricity and reduces our greenhouse gas emissions, so the project was a natural fit for us.

The project’s return on investment will be about 4.3 years — and with a 25-year warranty for the solar panels, we believe we’re going to get 21 years of free, clean energy. After a similar solar installation project at our facility in Dayville, Conn., our CEO suggested the title change.

Q. What are the challenges and rewards?
A. You need to be looking at the budget all the time, as every project has a cost analysis attached. Fortunately, the cost to build in an environmentally friendly way has come down considerably. It’s no longer so difficult to source sustainable materials. With careful research and planning, you can build a green project for less than a one percent cost difference, but the long-term cost savings, reduced impact on the environment and quality of life for employees is immeasurable.

Q. What advice do you have for career changers interested in moving into a green-collar job?
A. These roles are taken, not given. And they’re not being taken by people from one vocation, but rather by people from all walks of life. There’s no need to switch companies — you can create these opportunities in your current position. There are all kinds of ways to do something you already know how to do, put into the context of the green agenda. Just take the lead.

Initially, focus on small things that save money — recycling, conservation, motion sensors that turn off lights when people aren’t in the room, fluorescent lights. The important thing is to demonstrate a passion and willingness to go beyond your current job. If you’re interested in a green-collar position, stop reading fiction and consume as much information as possible. These types of jobs can’t be outsourced, and skilled professionals will become increasingly in demand.

Online > www.unfi.com