A Collar of a Different Color

The Chippewa Valley looks to join the green collar movement as it sweeps the nation and state

Gillian Ekern

The green movement has a long history stretching back as far as the 1800s, but what is now called the “green collar movement” is just getting its start.

Green collar jobs are another labor division among blue- and white-collar jobs that focus on sustainability and environmental issues. A green-collar economy focuses on environmental and economic sustainability that can in the long term, save on money and resources.

Eau Claire is looking towards green-collar solutions in order to remedy some of its economic problems. City council member Andrew Werthmann said that though it’s not quite there, the city has potential to enjoy the benefits of a green-collar economy.

“When you look at the city, there are two rivers, access to other fresh water, and natural resources,” he said. “We have all the right ingredients for a green-collar economy.”

Werthmann predicts that the green-collar movement will continue strong, and unless the city capitalizes on that, it could be left behind.

Eau Claire has begun to move in that direction. Using stimulus money, the city is creating actual green-collar jobs. Work for these jobs include the renovations of city hall and Hobbs Ice Arena. Those stimulus dollars are going directly toward upgrading the buildings in terms of energy efficiency.

Though these jobs may only be short term, some of the money will go long term. The city is also setting up programs and granting loans for energy companies and green consulting firms.

“They’re laying a foundation for green development,” Werthmann said. “Over 10 years all of these things we’re spending money on are saving money in the long term.”

And though the green-collar movement may not carry the fervor and intensity that the environmentalist movement carried in the 1970s, issues are being addressed on a large scale.

“I think it’s better that we’re doing this and heading down the right road,” Werthmann said. “And I think that Eau Claire can be a leader in creating that foundation and pushing to create more jobs for the future.”

Wisconsin as a whole is moving towards a green future. Programs and initiatives have cropped up to save tax dollars and create jobs.

UW-Stout is even giving people a start in the green economy with their new sustainable management major. The major is geared toward those with their associate’s degree and can be done online and through other schools in the UW System. People with the degree will take classes in logistics, sustainable accounting, biology, environmental impact, and water and energy.

Since the idea for the major came about, people moved quickly to make it happen. Anne Hoel, academic director to the degree and representative for Stout, said that though a few small, private universities have developed green-collar majors, the UW System is leading the way for public universities.

“We have hard working people,” she said, “so let’s give them something that’s really new and marketable.”

And a sustainable degree is marketable and will continue to be in Wisconsin, according to Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton.

“The reality is that this is going to be a carbon constrained economy and companies must get a move on,” she said.

Though Lawton said that Wisconsin is probably in the middle of the pack right now as far as sustainability goes, we are “poised to lead” with our farmers, entrepreneurs, and school systems.
Lawton also said that environmentally we now have little choice.

“The panel on climate change tells us we don’t have a lot of time to turn this around,” she said. “We really must turn our economy into a reduced carbon emission economy.”