Toronto Green Jobs Forum

On Monday I had the opportunity to attend the inaugural Green Jobs Forum hosted by Green Living at the Toronto Metro Convention Centre. Overall it was a super informative day and a successful crack at the first of its kind. The lineup of speakers was phenomenal – so good that I had a difficult time deciding over a few sessions that fell within the same time slots! You can view the full lineup of speakers and their session topics here.

Of the 60+ speakers participating at this year’s forum, here are my takeaways from the sessions I attended. The majority were in the Business & Finance and Entrepreneurship & Innovation themed rooms.

Designing Cutting-Edge Eco-Innovations: Emechete Onuoha, VP of Citizenship & Government Affairs, Xerox

Mr. Onuoha’s talk was the perfect start to my morning at the forum. Not only did he describe all the exciting CSR initiatives that Xerox is currently running, but he also gave valuable insight on how he got to his position at Xerox and his biggest piece of advice for success: one of the most critical success factors you can possess is properly managing time and possessing specific expectations for short and longer term cycles (think 30, 60, 90 day cycles). After all, time is money. University students will also be happy to know that Xerox has a 6-month internship program in partnership with Environmental Defense and applications are open!

Environmental Professional Certification: Megan Foreman, Professional Services, ECO Canada

Megan Foreman’s session had a great overview of what the green job landscape looks like in Canada. The environmental sector was clearly defined and addressed the skills overlap from sector to sector – which can make it confusing for many of us green collars to define our own career path. We make up 12% of the Canadian workforce already, and the demand keeps growing – over 300,000 new opportunities are springing up! The Environmental Professional certification is “the only designation of its kind in Canada to provide professionals with formal recognition of their unique environmental competencies.” It helps your credibility and gives you access to a full network of professionals in your field. I found it informative, but it’s definitely not something I can consider until I get a bit more experience.

I missed out on Donna Bishop’s Modern Eco Entrepreneurs session to grab lunch (I was desperately hungry) and I’m really sad about it. If someone covered this session please send me a link!! I heard it was fantastic – 10 Big Lessons Learned from Eco Entrepreneurship was the theme.

Environmental Education: Elena Jusenlijska, Co-Founder, Eco Duo

Elena Jusenlijska’s session really surprised and inspired me. She basically gave an overview of the initiative she started with her fellow co-founder, called Eco-Chase. Turns out it was a part-time venture. While they both juggled full-time jobs. While she was training for a marathon. Crazy? Yeah, but somehow they made it work. What I loved about this session was I could tell right away that this part-time venture was something she was truly passionate about, but she never refrained from elaborating on the downsides of entrepreneurship. Their first Eco Chase wasn’t perfect, but they valued every piece of feedback given so that they could create an even better event the following year. My favorite pieces of advice? Focus on positive energy and meet other passionate, like-minded people that are pushing the environmental agenda – it can be a depressing field to work in sometimes. Oh, and also, “evaluate what you want – because what gets measured, gets produced.”

Environmental Marketing: Laurie Simmonds, CEO, Green Living

I was really looking forward to Laurie’s talk! A very insightful session, and the Q&A segment was especially interesting – I managed to scribble down two pages’ worth of notes. To be honest, I didn’t know much about Green Living before GJF12 and I really should have – this is truly the type of place I could see myself working in the long run (remember my last blog post?) Anyway, I enjoyed learning about how GL is building socially-conscious companies in response to the demands of the growing LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) group. She also gave tons of examples on ways companies are partnering with NGOs and other organizations to push the environmental agenda in a gentle way that educates the other market, the general public, in two ways: by explaining the problem backed by facts and providing a solution. One big question I was itching to ask (but someone else got to it first!) was her thoughts on social media, the size of its role in their campaigns and its impact on engagement and environmental change. The answer? “Social media is a layer on traditional media, not a stand-alone strategy for green marketing.”

Sustainable Careers in the Travel & Tourism Industry: Adrienne Lee, Planeterra

I signed up for this session mainly out of curiosity, since I didn’t really know anything about Planeterra. Planeterra Foundation is the non-profit arm of popular travel company G-Adventures. The foundation invests in community-based projects in all its travel destinations that support local economies and their environment. As far as job opportunities go, it seems they are on the lookout for interns starting in January 2012 and they continuously hire tour operators, leaders and ambassadors. It is a non-profit so the pay isn’t the most generous, but working for a travel company has its obvious perks, so it all depends on your career goals and willingness to travel. If it sounds like the perfect balance for you, I’d definitely recommend it.

Essential Steps to Starting Your Own Green Enterprise: Andrew Heintzman, InvestEco

The room for my last session of the day was PACKED – Andrew Heinztman sure drew in a crowd. Considering his credentials, it’s no surprise. Here’s a brief summary of his essential steps for launching a green venture:

1. Scope the idea. This is the best time to produce multiple versions of your idea and collaborate, explore and synthesize different combinations for a solution because you don’t have to make a commitment. Stretch your possibilities! Make sure that your idea REALLY excites you – after all, once you choose, you’re in it for the long haul. This is also the perfect time to get free advice since you’re not much of a threat to competitors. END PRODUCT: one clear, simple idea and an elevator pitch.

2. Plan your idea. Think of your goals in addition to the investors’ – do they agree with each other? Do remember to include an executive summary in your business plan and make sure your financial assumptions are realistic. This stage is the perfect time to attract advisors for your venture. END PRODUCT: A solid business plan and crossing the rubicon.

3. Raise funds. Start with family and friends for support. Then, pick potential investors that have had success in your chosen industry, and make sure that you also invest into the relationship. Be sure to also explore government funding options.

4. Launch. Find the right people in the right positions for your company, and be a good delegator. Don’t skimp out on hiring a good CFO – they are critical. You can use the media for good free advertising and PR. Even if you’re a small company, act big, especially if you’re internationally-focused. Last but not least, learn from your mistakes and succeed with that knowledge (fail upwards).

So that concludes my crazy day of learning and meeting lots great, like-minded people and potential employers. Among the forum attendees I met and chatted with, I think there was a consensus on things to improve on for next year. Many were disappointed to find out that this was more of a conference/networking event than a job fair, even with the job pavilion. While I definitely didn’t hand out as many cards and resumes as I’d hoped, the aim for this conference was “to address the labour needs of the emerging green industry by preparing today’s youth, unemployed and underemployed for tomorrow’s jobs,” and in that aspect I think the sessions were a real eye-opener for most people and provided ample information on what skills employers are looking for. My only other minor complaint was no provision of food or refreshments with only a 15-minute break between each session. I ended up having to skip a session in order to venture across the street and grab my own lunch :(. I missed out on a pretty good one, according to my Twitter feed.

If you missed out on this year’s Forum, I hope you found this informative and/or helpful. I look forward to next year’s event, although hopefully I will have found a job by then (I graduate in April) :p.

Have a great weekend!!

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