April 12, 2011 

On several editions of Ecotopia, we’ve talked with people who argue persuasively that Green Jobs are going to increase dramatically in the future.   Tonight, we’ll be talking with Melissa Everett, a career counselor and green activist from New York, who has mapped out possibilities and strategies for “Making a Living While Making a Difference.”

Listen to the Program

Before we talk with Melissa Everett, we thought we’d share an amusing story from the Wall Street Journal.  Reporter Annie Gasparro says that:

McDonald’s Corp. is hoping to bulk up its burger-tossing forces and recast the image of the “McJob” with a nationwide hiring event April 19. On this self-proclaimed National Hiring Day, McDonald’s and its franchisees plan to recruit as many as 50,000 U.S. employees to add to its roughly 600,000-member ranks.[…]

The fast-food giant is promoting the hiring event in print magazines such as People and Us Weekly, as well as social-media channels. The campaign highlights employees of varying ranks, from cashiers to corporate, in an effort to improve the image of working there. For years, people have used the term “McJob” as derogatory slang for low-paying, dead-end work in the kitchen or behind the counter. McDonald’s thinks by putting the spotlight on employees who have risen through the ranks in successful, long-lasting careers, it will be able to give the McJob a new meaning.

Jim Norberg, a senior vice president in McDonald’s restaurant support office, began his career making french fries when he was 16. This month, he is celebrating his 30th anniversary with the company.

“We want to show people what a McJob really means to those of us who have them,” Mr. Norberg said in an interview. “About 40% of our company staff started out working in the restaurants, so the opportunities are out there in a big way.” […]

McDonald’s says the job offers will be a combination of full- and part-time positions in its 14,000 restaurants. […]

[And here’s the fine print:]

Bringing on more part-time and seasonal workers would allow McDonald’s to decrease full-time staff, which would reduce costs at a time when health insurance and other full-time benefits are becoming more expensive for companies.

“Labor costs are a real problem for restaurants this year,” said Ron Paul, president of Technomic, a Chicago-based industry research and consulting firm. “The changes in health-care benefits are going to force companies to rely more on part-time workers than before.”

You want fries or health insurance with that McJob? 

Melissa Everett has some alternatives to McJobs.

Our Conversation with Melissa Everett

Melissa Everett is author of a book titled Making a Living While Making a Difference.  She is a community activist and a career counselor. As the book title suggests, she believes strongly that it’s possible to contribute in positive and sustainable ways to our world and still make enough dough to keep the wolf from the door.  She also practices what she preaches as Executive Director of a group called Sustainable Hudson Valley, and we will ask her about that in the second part of the interview.

Part I: Making a Living While Making a Difference

  • The subtitle of your book is “Conscious Careers for an Era of Interdependence.” Please tell us what that means and why you think it is important.
  • You write of “sustainable livelihoods–meaningful work that fulfills . . . the needs of all members of a community.”  What are the characteristics of a “sustainable livelihood”?  Could you give us an example or two?
  • In recent programs, we’ve had a lively discussion of “green capitalism.”  Some of our guests have argued that by its very nature, capitalism consumes resources exxtravagantly and really can never be green.  However, your writing is filled with suggestions for working within the system (including the possibility of being a carbon trader!).  Please tell us how your ideas mesh with the problems of unsustainability that we see in the current capitalist system.
  • Please give us a few examples of sustainable, difference-making careers that our listeners might not be aware of.
  • Your book includes a ten-step program for people to find these kinds of careers.  We note that the majority of the steps involve personal self assessment rather than just playing the job market–aiming for self employment.  Why does the individual and his/her values/psyche figure so prominently in your program?
  • You recommend that people do what they think to be important whether or not they get paid.  Is that realistic?  (What’s the difference between volunteerism and entrepreneurism?) (What if you find yourself in a career that does not meet sustainability criteria?)
  • How does your advice vary by age level, say:
    • a high school graduate thinking about military service? [We work with a counter-recruitment group that helps high schoolers think about alternative careers, so we are especially interested in your advice here.]
    • a new college degree holder with a stack of debts?
    • a person plotting a mid-life career change?
    • a senior citizen figuring out how to spend the golden years?
  • How has the financial crash of the last several years affected the market for jobs that make a difference?  Has it affected your optimism about making a living while making a difference?

Part II: Some Questions about Sustainable Hudson Valley

Melissa Everett describes herself as a “social entrepreneur.”  She puts her ideas into practice as Executive Director of Sustainable Hudson Valley, a nonprofit located on the Hudson halfway between New York City and Albany.

  • Please tell us about the formation of Sustainable Hudson Valley in 2004.  Why was it created?  What is your mission?
  • What kinds of projects does your organization undertake?. Could you give us a few examples of projects that you’ve done over the years?
  • What’s the 10% Challenge campaign and how is it going?
  • In the first part of the interview, we talked about (and maybe challenged) your optimism.  Can SHV really make a difference?  How many organizations like it would be required to make the Hudson Valley truly sustainable? the rest of the world? 
  • What is the range of people working in SHV as volunteers or paid professionals?  Have people become self-employed on the job?
  • Since you don’t produce a capitalist profit, how do you sustain the organization itself?
  • What advice can you give people (like listeners to this program) about the most effective ways to make their communities more sustainable?  And what kinds of career choices and changes can you suggest to our listeners so they can be part of this revolution?
  • What’s your next career?

We highly recommend Melissa’s book, Making a Living While Making a Difference.  It’s published by New Society.  Also be sure to check out the Sustainable Hudson Valley website http://www.sustainhv.org, which includes a great range of environmental information as well as Melissa’s blog, which you’ll find at http://www.makinglivingdifference.com.


1. Get a Job        2:27        The Silhouettes        Original Solid Gold Hits, Volume 2                       

2. Working Man’s Blues        3:46        The Devil Makes Three        Do Wrong Right       

3. Sixteen Tons        2:37        Tennessee Ernie Ford        Hotdogs, Hits and Happy Days              

4, Clear Blue Skies (LP Version)        3:07        Crosby, Still, Nash & Young          American Dream       

5. Weave Me the Sunshine        4:28        Peter, Paul And Mary        The Very Best of   Peter, Paul and Mary       

6. Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)        5:11        Neil Young        Ragged Glory        Rock               

7. Working Class Hero        3:09        Shawn Douglas        Shawn Douglas        Blues