Toward Greener Pastures: Older Americans and Sustainable Solutions

Many older Americans with manufacturing backgrounds are beginning to find themselves in precarious employment situations. While they might have decades of experience in highly skilled manufacturing areas, they are facing uncertain futures.  

Manufacturing jobs were one of the best tickets into comfortable middle class lifestyles from the postwar manufacturing boom until the last few years. Unfortunately, these manufacturing jobs are increasingly moving overseas to nations like China and India. And as they begin to recede into the distance, political rhetoric and campaign speeches often emphasize bringing back the glory days of American manufacturing might. And it’s true that there is a bright future for American manufacturing—but the old manufacturing jobs that have disappeared are never coming back.  They’re gone for good. 

 Instead of wasting time bemoaning their loss, we ought to start looking at how to harness the power of American ingenuity that made us a manufacturing powerhouse because of our unique innovative spirit.  

Green Manufacturing

One of the ways that the United States can continue leading manufacturing innovation is in the rapid expansion of green manufacturing.  Manufacturing workers, faced with the prospect of needing to start a second career later in life, are finding it difficult to translate their skill sets into dramatically different jobs. The growth of green manufacturing presents a unique opportunity for older workers to offer their wealth of experience in a job sector that may have the potential for better pay than other alternatives. As the importance of sustainable and responsible manufacturing processes continues to move into the mainstream of public opinion, workers in the United States have the opportunity to create the new standard that the world will follow.

 The Growth of Greener Living

The move toward sustainability has begun to permeate all aspects of our lives.  Earthship homes are good examples of ideas moving from the fringe into the broader mainstream. Back in the early 1970’s when Mike Reynolds began constructing these rammed earth and tire homes in the desert of the American Southwest, they carried connotations of the hippy dippy fringe. But earthship homes are quickly becoming popular throughout the United States and Europe. The popularity comes from their passive solar design and the heavy use of recycled materials. These factors combine to create energy efficient, low cost homes that can operate entirely off the grid in a self-sustained manner.

Green Education

The growing understanding that sustainability needs to be an integral part of our collective outlook comes in large part from the Baby Boomer generation. The hippy movement may not have lasted, but the drive toward a greener future survived to flourish into a mainstream ecological consciousness.

 It’s appropriate that America’s move forward into the new frontiers of making sustainability and green manufacturing both profitable and aesthetically pleasing is possible by teaching young students about old ideas. The students at the Waldorf School in Costa Mesa, California experienced the opportunity to learn about practical green living solutions in a visceral way. These students go to school every day in a new 10,000-square-foot addition composed entirely of recycled steel shipping containers. Rather than the temporary mobile structures so often seen clustered around schools, these four new additions form a permanent part of the Waldorf School. There’s no better way to teach students about responsible recycling and sound environmental practices than building classrooms from recycled materials. When schools adopt green building practices, that’s evidence of green going mainstream in a big way.

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