The term “green jobs” has been tossed around quite a bit this seemingly campaign season. While we may not all see eye to eye on plans for growing the green job market, we can agree that green jobs – jobs that serve a dual purpose of strengthening the U.S. economy while combating climate change and other environmental ills – are a critical step towards achieving both environmental and economic sustainability.
Like the majority of Americans, we are concerned about the state of our national economy (and, in turn, our impact on global markets). The assertion that we must learn to live sustainability, in all senses of that term, has never rung truer that it does right now. Simply put, our nation’s disposable, consumerist culture cannot be sustained. It’s time for not just more, but more of what matters.
Certain sectors of the market, most notably renewable energy, are prime for cultivating a booming green economy. Yet amidst the talk of wind turbines and photovoltaics, we’ve tended to overlook other industries and market trends that highlight – scream for – the urgent need for green jobs. Bottled water is one glaring example. One of New Dream’s current campaigns is to urge Americans – both individuals and institutions – to stop buying bottled water. At first glance, you might consider that a trivial pursuit in light of other global and environmental crises. But bottled water consumption is integrally connected to both long-term sustainability and the necessity of building a thriving green economy.
The fact is, the bottled water industry threatens the safety of drinking water around the world, wields significant influence on the economy, and harms the environment. Major corporations, including Nestle, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo, are slowly but surely privatizing public water supplies, bottling the water, and selling it back to us at hundreds, even thousands of times the cost of tap water. They have turned a public resource into a $100 billion market! Additionally, powerful global institutions like the World Bank are requiring poor nations to privatize their water systems as a condition for receiving loans, resulting in enormous profit for corporations at the expense of those who simply can’t afford it. How ironic and unfortunate, then, that the World Bank also predicts that the wars of tomorrow will be fought over water (Corporate Accountability International).
By 2025, according to the United Nations, two-thirds of the world’s population, more than five billion of us, will lack access to safe water – that is, unless we slam the brakes on our water-wasting ways and drastically change course. You’re right that there’s more to this grim prediction than privatization of water. We need to account for the growing use and abuse of water by water-intensive industries such as mining, paper, power generation, and livestock; population growth and an increasing need for irrigation; a spread of industrial pollution fouling lakes and rivers; and spreading droughts induced by climate change.
These problems don’t just affect individuals outside the U.S.; water quality and accessibility are also domestic concerns. In advocating for a return to the tap, we often talk about the Environmental Protection Agency having stricter standards for tap water quality than the Food and Drug Administration has for bottled water – a discrepancy that is often overlooked by those who mistakenly believe bottled water safer than tap, and that at least 90 percent of tap water across the U.S. meets or exceeds the EPA’s regulations. But we also understand that these standards need to be even more stringent. Bottled water companies capitalize on concerns about water quality by making you believe that their water is better, purer, fresher. Yet a range of studies, including a widely publicized report that the Environmental Working Group released this month, have disproved these claims. Stop buying the hype– literally! If we are to organize around higher standards for the water we drink, to each contribute to reversing climate change, to stop lining the pockets of big corporations lobbying against a sustainable economy and environment, let’s stop buying so much bottled water!
So how does this connect to green jobs, you may be asking? Many of you have started voting with your dollars, and it’s working: bottled water sales are dropping at significant rates. This shift is an encouraging reminder of the potential for consumers to impact and shift the marketplace when our purchases align with our values. But it also brings us back to the issue of sustainability. Just last week, PepsiCo announced that it was cutting 3,300 jobs as a result of diminishing sales. Other water bottling companies may follow suit. This saddening reality is a prime example of why we need permanent green jobs. Individuals shouldn’t have to face unemployment because the public is leaning towards more responsible purchases. Certainly, no industry that bases its profit on unsustainable practices can be expected to survive in the long run. So why aren’t we, as a nation, committing to fostering industries that sustain both people and the environment?
To wrap up this mini-manifesto: it’s time to demand better. Demand more of what matters. Demand more of what’s sustainable and responsible. Demand a permanent, viable green job market. Understand that what might seem a trivial matter might hold surprisingly wide-reaching influence, and make decisions accordingly – whether they concern how to pack your lunch or deal with rising gas prices. The next phases of New Dream’s bottled water campaign, in cooperation with Corporate Accountability International and other partners, will go beyond our current Break the Bottled Water Habit pledge. We want to ramp up our level of activism. We want you to be involved, to address these pressing issues together. While we must work towards systemic change, we cannot always rely on institutions to start first. As individuals with the ability and responsibility to influence change, we must be personally invested in making changes in our lives that will help sustain us for generations to come. Let’s commit today – right now – to leading the way.
Hanaa Rifaey is the Senior Field Manager and Michele Levy is the Climate Change Fellow at the Center for a New American Dream.