The GI jobs market current and future; Dog poo & lawn fertilizer = Stream pollution

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News and commentary for emerging green infrastructure markets GrowerTalks MagazineGreen Profit Magazine

Monday, April 17, 2017

Debbie Hamrick Subscribe
New Terrain

The GI jobs market
Pet waste = urban pollution
Reduce roadkill
CBLP certification
Sowing Beauty
Compost guide
Reader comments
Worth reading 



The green infrastructure job market: Current and future

The tally is in and estimates are that 239,000 people are working in the installation, maintenance and/or inspection of green infrastructure in the U.S.

If you’ve been reading NewTerrain for a while, you know green infrastructure has gained traction. When politicians and policy makers pitch green approaches, job creation is always a part of the narrative. Does green infrastructure deliver? How is it doing in terms of creating jobs?

The picture painted in “Exploring the Green Infrastructure Workforce, A NatureWORKS Issue Brief” is complex. The truth is, green infrastructure hasn't been the big driver of jobs that its proponents had hoped for. It is, however, creating demand for workers with skills and knowledge.

The Jobs for the Future paper takes a look at green infrastructure employment for installation, maintenance and inspection of green infrastructure and first-line supervisors of that work. NatureWORKS’ Kevin Doyle shares, “By design, it does not include an examination of ‘GI’ design and planning jobs for architects, planners, landscape architects, wetland ecologists, hydrologists and related professionals.”

Their definition of green infrastructure: “A collection of natural lands, working landscapes and appropriate constructed interventions that conserves ecosystem functions and provides benefits to human populations.”

The picture is emergent: Green infrastructure is new

The report acknowledges up front that advocates hoped the push for green infrastructure would have already resulted in more jobs in areas like green roofs or green stormwater infrastructure. One of the issues confronting researchers is that there are no specific occupational classifications for workers in green infrastructure. Most types of occupations have their own occupational code -- for instance cashiers, such as those at your local supermarket -- are 41-2012. There are no corresponding codes for a bioswales maintenance technician or for an installer of rainwater harvest devices. Instead, green infrastructure has been taken on by multiple disciplines across a number of sectors that spans construction, landscaping and water quality to name just three.

Over time, companies operating within the space may begin to focus on new business areas and create new job specialization -- for instance, in permeable pavement installation or rainwater harvest. But right now the work is accomplished by a gamut of individuals across various occupations. Researchers settled on 30 occupations to study.

Authors write, “The total GI workforce in any given city can be defined broadly to include the individuals who contribute to the management, design, planning, permitting, finance, regulatory compliance, installation, maintenance, monitoring and inspection of all of the different types of green infrastructure …” Adding environmental protection and the supply chain for green infrastructure goods and services and the research community would further expand the workforce.

Currently, it’s estimated that about 3 million work in the 30 identified job codes that cover green infrastructure installation, maintenance and inspection jobs nationally. However, only a small number of the group is likely to work in a green infrastructure activity in the next year.

The report concludes that about 239,000, or 6%, of the total working in the 30 occupations are estimated to be involved in green infrastructure work, according to the Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell University. Most are male and workers have on average of 14 years of school.

In nearly half of the occupations, involvement in green infrastructure work wasn't greater than 5% based on an online survey conducted by Jobs for the Future. In 13 occupations, green infrastructure participation was estimated to be between 5% and 15%. Three occupations were higher: tree trimmers and pruners (75% involvement), and landscaping/grounds keeping and forest/conservation workers both at 25% involvement.

Many green infrastructure workers have “expanded their responsibilities to include green infrastructure activities.” This is in addition to the traditional work they were already doing.

Training. While currently those working in these green infrastructure installation, maintenance and inspection jobs may not have formal education beyond high school, certification programs and other credentials are being developed as the industry evolves. Some states have community college programs and national level certifications, like the Water Environment Federation’s GI certification have recently been launched.

Earnings. Pay for the 30 studied occupations spans between less than $15/hour to $26/hour. The breaks are about one-third less than $15/hour, one-third $15 to $20/hour and one-third $20 to $26/hour. Full-time pay ranges between just over $21,000/year up to $55,000/year. Many of the occupations are seasonal employees. While the pay per hour is about $6.44 less than the overall U.S. workforce, green infrastructure workers are more likely to have employer provided healthcare.

Job growth. About two thirds of the studied occupations will see growth through 2020. The top occupations with the greatest growth include general laborers, landscaping/groundskeepers, general maintenance/repair workers and construction laborers. When researchers studied job postings for installation, maintenance and inspection jobs, they found the greatest demand for water/wastewater plant/system operators, general maintenance/repair workers, maintenance technicians, construction inspectors, service technicians, and forest and conservation technicians.

Is it a business opportunity? The Jobs for the Future survey asked businesses how much of their revenue is derived from green infrastructure. Four hundred seventy-eight surveys were completed. Eight percent of the respondents make all of their revenues from green infrastructure activities. In the largest response, 36% said that green infrastructure installation, maintenance and inspection activities comprised from 1% to 25% of their revenue. The next highest was 17% of respondents saying GI activities comprised from 24% to 49% of revenues; 14% of respondents said 50% to 99% of revenues came from GI.

Recommendations. The report presented a number of ways stakeholders can advance job development in GI:

  • To help foster GI job growth, communities can identify a regional intermediary to convene cross-sector stakeholders to foster dialogue around the GI workforce. Communities can also educate policy makers, legislators and government about the community benefits of GI.
  • The training/education community can develop clear pathways to articulate the connection between GI jobs and related professions and engage employers across sectors to develop, review and refine curricula and programs. Training can also be targeted to underserved communities.
  • GI employers can serve as advocates for GI in their own states and seek out collaborative relationships with the education and training community.
  • Policy makers can accelerate the national momentum for GI working through existing national and state professional and membership organizations. They can also support professionalization of the GI workforce through state and local programs.

The GI jobs market is emergent, but sticky

My main takeaways after reading the report are framed by one-year-plus of infrequent, but insightful, conversations with one of the study researchers, Kevin Doyle. Through aggressive qualitative research, Kevin has developed a good grasp of the national state of green infrastructure—and quite a network, too. He’s spoken with many of the key players and has jumped in with both feet to develop a frame for the emergent discipline of GI.

Like many who would like to see a green jobs surge, I was disappointed that the JFF report didn’t document thousands of new businesses that have sprouted to deliver green infrastructure installation, maintenance and inspection services. Once I got over it, the thought occurred to me that whenever something appears rapidly and grows quickly, it’s generally not a good thing: Cancer comes to mind. That green infrastructure is developing more slowly is good. It’s sticky. Here are just a few points that I believe are supported by "Exploring the Green Infrastructure Workforce:"

  • Green infrastructure is a strong, stable way to diversify an existing business within the array of disciplines that go into it: Engineering, planning, design, utilities, landscaping, etc. Eight percent of business respondents to Kevin’s online green infrastructure survey indicated 100% of their income is derived from green infrastructure. If you're looking for a business reason to include green infrastructure in your five-year plan, cite this report.
  • There’s good demand for green infrastructure employees as a career entry, with the possibility of rising to supervisor and perhaps on to management or a profession with additional training. The education piece can be bolstered by developing collaborations with industry. Certification is moving forward with a number of local and industry-specific programs. WEF’s national GI certification and other regional certifications (CBLP, EcoPro, etc.) can potentially offer employees a marketable credential for targeted employers.
  • The fact that green infrastructure cuts across disciplines and those disciplines tend to be siloed from one another is documented in JFF’s results. Researchers were forced to identify a number of occupations across multiple industry sectors that can perform various pieces of green infrastructure installation, maintenance and inspection. I believe had they expanded their occupational horizons, the siloes would have been further magnified by adding engineers, city and regional planners, landscape architects, etc. If we're going to move green infrastructure forward and deliver results on the ground that are possible with vegetated systems -- well-placed plants and trees and green hardscapes like permeable pavement, cisterns and functional planter boxes -- we need green infrastructure specialists that come hardwired with an understanding of the biological and physical sciences, and political/negotiating skills. We need to focus less on disciplines building and playing within their own sandboxes and more on really understanding what’s working and not working on the ground. That information shouldn’t be siloed, it should be shared widely so everyone wins. Tearing down silos begins with respecting multiple viewpoints and the perspectives they bring to the table.

Please share your experiences by commenting.

YouTube video about “Exploring the Green Infrastructure Workforce, A NatureWORKS Issue Brief.”

The project team included researchers from Cornell University and was led by Mary V.L. Wright from Jobs for the Future (JFF). JFF's Sara Lamback is the lead author for the report. Funding was provided by the Kresge Foundation and the USDA Forest Service National Urban and Community Forestry Grant Program as recommended by the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council.

Nitrogen, phosphorus from fertilizer, pet waste pollutes urban water

Pet waste is the leading source of phosphorus that pollutes St. Paul, Minnesota, watersheds.

New research from the University of Minnesota points to lawn fertilizers and pet waste as the dominant sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollutants in seven sub-watersheds of the Mississippi River in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to compare the urban watershed budgets of nitrogen and phosphorus. And the results can be applied to urban watersheds around the world impaired by excess nutrients.

The research team led by Sarah Hobbie discovered households are the main sources of nutrient pollutants in the Twin Cities' urban watershed. Household nitrogen fertilizer use in particular is more than 10 times greater than commercial fertilizer use by golf courses, college campuses and other non-residential locations, and pet waste is the leading source of phosphorus to these watersheds.

Urban watersheds are “leaky” with regard to nutrient pollution because of their dense networks of streets and storm drains, which are designed to move water off the landscape to avoid flooding. As a result, most of the phosphorus entering urban watersheds ends up being carried away by stormwater that drains into surface waters and thus contributes to pollution and eutrophication. Nitrogen tends to disperse through more diverse pathways—about one-fifth is transported via stormwater into surface water, while much of the rest ends up either being released into the atmosphere or moving through soil into groundwater.

This makes managing urban watersheds a challenge. “Urban waters—lakes, streams, rivers, coastal waters—continue to be impaired by nutrient pollution, especially phosphorus, despite long-running efforts to clean them up,” Sarah said. “Not only is this a concern for water resource managers tasked with cleaning up urban pollution, but also urban and downstream residents who depend on clean water for drinking water, recreation and aesthetic value.”

Given that dense urban neighborhoods don’t have a lot of space for nutrient-capturing features, such as rain gardens and ponds, the researchers point to alternate solutions, such as focusing on reducing excessive nitrogen fertilizer use and keeping phosphorus out of streets and gutters in the first place -- for instance, by controlling erosion and increasing street sweeping efforts, and picking up dog waste as soon as possible to limit the release of phosphorus.
University of Minnesota press release

Contrasting nitrogen and phosphorus budgets in urban watersheds and implications for managing urban water pollution by Sarah E. Hobbie, Jacques C. Finlay, Benjamin D. Janke, Daniel A. Nidzgorski, Dylan B. Millet and Lawrence A. Baker in the Proceedings for the National Academy of Science (open access).

How to reduce roadkill

Photo: Hamco Dinslaken Bausysteme GmbH

Hundreds of millions of animals are killed every year by road traffic. It’s a sad statistic that Jochen Jaeger, associate professor of geography at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada, hopes to reduce. But rather than focus on a specific location, as most studies do, he and colleagues have taken a less-common approach.

Jochen and an international team of collaborators stepped back to re-examine the results of dozens of studies already conducted in countries around the world. They combined the data from many studies and analyzed them together, which allows for the discovery of more general relationships that hold across many locations. They focused on what prevention methods are most consistently useful. The results were recently published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Of the more than 40 prevention methods available, the researchers found that, overall, fences, with or without crossing structures, reduce roadkill by 54% when considering all species combined. Crossing structures had no detectable effect without fencing.

When large mammals were examined, the combination of fences and crossing structures led to a roadkill reduction of 83%, while animal detection systems (such as laser tripwires or radar) led to a 57% reduction.

The study also determined that expensive measures were much more effective than cheaper ones.

Equally important in this study is its potential to improve the quality and consistency of future research.

The researchers suggest reporting more carefully on how animals fare at “hotspots” at the end of fencing stretches. Many animals seem to move along the fence, cross the road at the end and get killed there. A different design of the fence-ends could help reduce this effect, but research about this idea still needs to be done in the future.
Concordia University press release by Suzanne Bowness

How Effective Is Road Mitigation at Reducing Road-Kill? A Meta-Analysis by Trina Rytwinski, Kylie Soanes, Jochen A. G. Jaeger, Lenore Fahrig, C. Scott Findlay, Jeff Houlahan, Rodney van der Ree and     Edgar A van der Grift in PLOSOne

CBLP Certification Registration

Registration is now open for the 2017 Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional (CBLP) Level 1 training and certification. CBLP Level 1 is a baseline certification in design, installation and maintenance of sustainable landscapes, with emphasis on how to properly troubleshoot and maintain stormwater best management practices. Five two-day Level 1 classes will be held May-July 2017, in Baltimore, Annapolis, Richmond, Virginia Beach and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Space is limited. Certification exams will be administered beginning in September.

Sowing Beauty

"Sowing Beauty: Designing Flowering Meadows from Seed" by Dr. James Hitchmough, University of Sheffield, England, tells how to create beautiful flowering meadows. James brought the world brilliant, tapestry-like seed-grown meadows overflowing with flowers at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Some plantings included North American prairie natives, some had South African flowers and still others British wildflowers. In "Sowing Beauty: Designing Flowering Meadows from Seed," he describes how his study of natural plant communities growing in a variety of soils, climates and exposures provided him with the knowledge to create designed communities for specific sites.

Compost guide update

The composting goddess Rhonda Sherman released an updated version of "Backyard Composting of Yard, Garden, and Food Discards," available as a web version (for tablets, smartphones and computers) and as a PDF (for printing).

While you’re on the NCSU site, check out Rhonda’s other commercial composting resources as well. You'll see that vermicompisting is Rhonda's specialty. Every other year she conducts the Vermiculture Conference -- the only conference geared for commercial scale vermicomposters. BTW, there are worms underneath that watermelon rind.

Reader comments

“I have thought about this concept for some time and considered developing a non-profit that could beautify cities, make cities carbon sequestering agents and develop urban forests. I have not invested the time to research carbon credits to understand the costs and financial aspects of it all. It is also hard for the Southwestern U.S. states to sequester carbon in the soil because of the lack of water, but I think it is a great idea.
--Ken Romig on "Urban Forest Carbon Credit Registry"

“Have observed many insects and their behavior to hybrid cultures vs.true natives. In most cases, we found there is [a] huge difference, sad [as] it is. For example, bumblebees in Florida are gone along the West Coast. We blame it on insecticide and agree newer Bayer insecticides have created demise. But two years ago, observing several bumblebees, they would avoid the new strain of gaillardia from Ball vs. an older strain that came up from seeds present from [the] past year’s plants. The mason bees did approach and land on flowers, yet were they collecting nectar? They used the flower [as a] resting place. My answer [to] 'native vs. hybrid:' it’s native. [I] agree at times insects like Monarch caterpillars will cross over. In fact, in our own nursery, self-seeding exotic milkweed have escaped and [are] growing around our nursery. The Monarchs seem to enjoy devouring these plants. Some insects will go to other plants, but bees will not pull nectar from hybrids in most cases. A good percentage of every landscape should be native plantings so nature has [a] fighting chance!
—Frank Gabry on "Natives vs. native cultivars - Which are most valued by pollinators?" (Edited for clarity and space)

“But why so few locally native species (I count three in this article). Use mostly natives to offer the best habitat possible. (BTW, this article is 4-years-old).
--Eileen Stark on "Designers recommend Oregon rain garden plants” (Eileen, thanks for noting the date on the article. I missed that! Debbie)


May 8-10: Grey to Green Conference

The Chestnut Conference Centre is the location for the 2017 Grey to Green Conference in Toronto. The conference will kick-off with a free public event featuring Jennifer Keesmaat, Chief Planner with the City of Toronto. Explore the latest in performance, economic valuation, design, policy and technology from Canada, the U.S. and worldwide. This interdisciplinary conference is the leading forum for designers, policy makers, manufacturers, growers, landscapers and other green infrastructure professionals to discuss the benefits and growth of the green infrastructure industry. 

October 9-11: Pollinator Conservation, Traverse City

The second national conference related to pollinator conservation in ornamental plant production and urban landscapes, organized by Michigan State University and North Carolina State University, will be held at Park City Hotel, Traverse City, Michigan. The conference, geared to research, extension, industry, government and NGOs, fosters discussion about issues, such as insecticide safety and habitat conservation.

Worth reading

Designed to Fail: How Green Infrastructure Standards Create Conditions for Failed Plantings by Thomas Rainer on Grounded Design.

University of Copenhagen Green Surge Project list of published research papers, many available in full. The Green Surge project is a collaborative project between 24 partners in 11 countries. It's funded by the European Commission Seventh Framework Programme. 

Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life by an interagency group from The State of California.

A new Piedmont prairie? by Meredith Hebden on

In U.S., Water Pollution Worries Highest Since 2001 by Justin McCarthy for Gallup.

Biophilic Cities, A Global Journal of Innovation in Urban Nature on Issuu.

Extinction Debt: Is Urban Nature Conservation in Peril? by Marié du Toit on The Nature of Cities.

China to Plant 'Green Necklace' of Trees around Bejing to Fight Smog by Edward Wong in The New York Times.

NC Solar Farms Do "Double Duty" Helping Pollinators by Stephanie Carson on Public News Service.

When it rains, Los Angeles sends billions of gallons of 'free liquid gold' down the drain by Bettina Boxall in the Los Angeles Times.

The rise of the urban jungle by Georgia McCafferty for CNN Style.

An Ecologically Friendly Virginia Garden by Donna Dorian in Garden Design.

Bloomageddon—seven clever ways bluebells win the woodland turf war by Vera Thoss on The Conversation.

Flooding Risk and Naturally Resilient Communities by The Nature Conservancy.

Pocket parks convert vacant lots to tranquil spots by Linda Robertson in the Miami Herald.

Polish law change unleashes 'massacre' of trees by Christian Davies in The Guardian.

Scientists challenge Center for Biological Diversity report claiming wild bees near extinction by Richard Levin on the Genetic Literacy Project.

U.S. streams carry surprisingly extensive mixture of pollutants from The American Chemical Society.

Researchers Find Mushrooms May Hold Clues to Effect of Carbon Dioxide on Lawns from the University of New Hampshire.

Worth listening: Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery on The Native Plant Podcast

The Power of the Palette: A Tool to Guide Planting Decisions by Rhiannon Crain on Habitat Network

We’re in a Tight Spot — Landscape Design for Small Urban Spaces by Amy Nyman in the ELA Newsletter.

The Biophilic Design Movement Takes Shape Part 1 and Part 2 by Jared Green on ASLA’s The Dirt.

The District of Columbia’s Flexible Green Area Ratio Policy by Dr. Hamid Karimi and Margie Noonan in Living Architecture magazine. 

Beyond Sedum: Allium species for Green Roofs by Bradley Rowe in Living Architecture magazine.

Major infrastructure opportunities for landscapers by Sarah Cosgrove in Horticulture Week.

NY Water Infrastructure Investments Are Worth Every Penny by Joan Leary Matthews for NRDC.


Debbie Hamrick


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