The Design Observer Group


Posted 08.07.12


John Thackara

What Is, Or Is Not, a ‘Green Job’?



(Photo: Future Perfect, Sweden, 2011)

When Bill McKibben announced in Rolling Stone this month that, thanks to Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, ‘global catastrophe’ is more or less assured, the world’s media responded with blanket coverage of …. Kristen Stewart’s one night stand with Rupert Sanders.

Recent headlines are no less surreal. The fact that nationwide power cuts have left 700 million people in India without electricity took second place, in most newspapers, to a row about match-fixing in an Olympic badminton match.

Priorities are weird wherever you look. A young designer friend of mine was approached, at an exhibition of graduating students in London, by a jury of industry eminences. “Is it ready for production?” they asked him, of the work he had on show. A different question could have been, “will your design leave the world a better place?” — but that would have distracted my friend’s attention from the higher imperative of economic growth.

So much discordant information amplifies confusion about what is, or is not, a ‘green job’. Is it green to design wind turbines, or electric vehicles, that contain conflict minerals? Is it green to design sandwiches containing healthy food that are displayed in chiller cabinets? Is it green to design a vertical farm that will erected in the middle of a desert city?

If those forms of production are iffy, what kinds of production and design do qualify as green? To try and sort out once and for all what kinds of work and jobs are truly green — and what are not — I’m running a workshop at the Ö Festival (the Future Perfect Festival) in Sweden during 23-26 August at Waxholm Strand, Stockholm Archipelago. It would be great if you can make it.

Editors Note: A previous version of this article contained an image that has since been removed.