First Roots: What Preceded Today’s Green Economy?

Angie - Test Knowles, | July-28-11





First Roots: What Preceded the Green Economy?


As the reading on the green economy and green jobs continues, I recently came across a compelling point.


According to Shirley Vincent and Will Focht in “In Search of Common Ground: Exploring Identity and Core Competencies for Interdisciplinary Environmental Programs,” careers in the environmental sector have changed in step with different historical waves of environmental awareness. Each of these waves or movements featured specific “laws, regulations, technical and scientific approaches, professions, and institutions appropriate to the missions and goals of the time.”


Their observation raises an intriguing question. What are these different waves, and how do they influence the present sector?

Early Roots

The Conservation/Preservation Movement is a starting point that spans from roughly the 1850s to the early 1900s. During this period, prominent writers such as Henry David Thoreau and John Muir pushed for the appreciation and preservation of existing natural resources.


This resulted in the creation of multiple national parks, wildlife refuges and new careers, such as the Fire and Game Guardians of the Rocky Mountains Park (present-day Banff National Park) in 1909. The role of these early “Guardians” has transformed into that of the park wardens that we recognize today.

Sudden Proliferation

When many people think about the development of the environmental sector, they envision the 1960s and ’70s. It’s easy to see why. This period saw a flurry of activism and numerous government regulations and policies. The 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was a key catalyst for increased public awareness of the negative effects of chemical toxins and the need for greater regulation.


Another landmark was the establishment of major environmental organizations, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1972. This period’s focus on establishing environmental policies and objectives shaped the future growth of the environmental sector and associated employment.

Continued Growth

In a more recent environmental wave, the concept of sustainability gained remarkable currency. In 1987, the Brundtland Report offered the now famous definition of sustainable development as, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”


This period’s emphasis on connecting environmental issues with socioeconomic development has stimulated the emergence of highly interdisciplinary environmental careers. Such a legacy continues in today’s green economy, where it is increasingly important for green professionals to demonstrate proficiency in multiple skills areas, alongside specific expertise.

Ultimately, the historical influence of past environmental movements on green careers is a point of considerable debate. It would be wonderful to hear your views on this topic!

How do you think environmental careers have changed in response to different policy and technology trends? What changes do you think we will see in the future?