April 23rd, 2016


CEO, Green Jobs Network

Commercial Channel Partner Manager, SolarCity

Sustainability Manager, Facebook

Director of Communications, Clif Bar

Director, Student Environmental Resource Center, UC Berkeley


One of the brightest spots during our recovery from the Great Recession has been the rapid growth of clean energy jobs. The solar industry added 35,000 jobs in just 2015 and now employs more than 200,000 people according to CNN Money, and that’s only one sector of this immense industry.

Facebook’s Lyrica McTiernan sees authenticity is a vital tool for persuading people who hold differing views about sustainability. But that’s only one part of the equation. “Being able to identify what matters to the other people in the room, what drives them and what motivates them, and to be able to frame the case for what you’re proposing in terms that they are going to understand and that are going to speak to their motivations, is incredibly valuable.” Sometimes that means pointing out the short-term savings provided by innovative clean energy technology, and other times, says McTiernan, “it’s really more about the context of the decision that you’re making and what impact that’s going to have on the long-term viability of your infrastructure.”

When it comes to hopefuls trying to break into the industry, SolarCity’s Charlotte MacAusland believes it’s important to display a long-term commitment to the field. One way to do that is meticulous research. “If you know the difference between a kilowatt and a kilowatt hour, you don’t necessarily need to go to grad school to learn the language or to bone up on particular subject matter. If you can show that you’ve done your homework I think that can help convey your authenticity.”

Within the field of cleantech there are disagreements about methods and goals. Clif Bar’s Keely Wachs saw that firsthand while working at BrightSource, a solar firm that built the largest solar plant on Earth in Mojave Desert. In the ensuing debate, one side was arguing for the need of rapid clean energy expansion in the face of devastating climate disruption. On the other side, environmentalists were advocating for terrestrial creatures and the inevitable ecosystem turmoil caused by such a development. Wachs understands both sides, but maintains “that the scale required in order to address climate change is one that most people still don’t quite get. There are going to be compromises, it’s just the facts.”

Students graduating from college today are coming from a society heavily driven by tech and social media. According to UC Berkeley’s Katherine Walsh, that has empowered this generation to communicate rapidly, speak up in the face of injustice and organize others who feel the same way. However, this culture deemphasizes the importance of face-to-face interactions, from presentations to conversations, which are still vital for success in today’s workplace. According to Walsh, “sometimes you need [communication] that’s more online shorthand not in person, but other times you really need bodies in the streets still.”

The green economy is a vast industry, with jobs in transportation, food systems, sustainable building and energy efficiency. Within each sector, there are jobs for lawyers, accountants, engineers and communications specialists. As the CEO of the Green Jobs Network, Leonard Adler has seen jobseekers benefit from taking the time to explore their own interests deeply. “Finding out how you can connect with the green economy is really the first thing I would say as part of that journey. It really is a process… it’s a personalized journey to find your place in this broad sector.”

Jobs are constantly being created in this field, but an area that Walsh has seen flourish recently is food. “I’m not just talking about food production; I’m really talking about food justice and equity. A lot of hunger is not caused by production issues. It’s caused by bad distribution of food, bad access, unequal access, not culturally appropriate foods.” While food production is constantly being studied and reshaped at UC Davis, the distribution aspect is being tackled by forward-thinking Cal students. One of their projects is an all volunteer and student-run grocery store which serves the student population and broader Berkeley community. “They [have] this incredible model where they’re both trying to sell local, affordable, healthy, sustainable foods to the campus and the local community but they’re also using that store to educate folks. It’s really an educational mission that drives that store.”

Related Links:

Green Festivals

Berkeley Student Food Collective

Net Impact

Young Professionals in Energy


Written by: Ellen Cohan
Photography by: Elese Moran