Chip Giller in Gore mask
Photo courtesy Cheryl Levine

Last week, I attended the Ceres conference in Boston. My table was sitting down to lunch when the person next to me whispered, “It’s Al Gore!”

Cool, sez I! We were already pretty excited about the prospect of hearing from Van Jones (president, Green for All), Theodore Roosevelt IV (managing director, Lehman Brothers), and Michael Eckhart (president, American Council on Renewable Energy). Having the Goracle drop in unannounced seemed like a perfect way for Ceres President Mindy Lubber to cap off an already great event.

Alas, it was not to be. The should-have-been-President was actually just Grist’s own Chip Giller in a cheap Halloween mask. What a letdown! My feelings were not unlike those of Dorothy when she discovered the little man behind the curtain.

This crushing disappointment aside, the Ceres conference was an exceptional event:

The Ceres tagline is “Investors and environmentalists for sustainable prosperity,” and the audience reflected that idea. At the event were nearly 800 people from more than 350 different banks, investment houses, pension funds, environmental organizations, utilities, consulting firms, universities, property management companies, and other businesses.

I was there to gather advice for job-seekers from employers in fields like carbon measurement/verification/management, clean energy production, energy efficiency, water management, social responsibility, green investing, and sustainability management.

As a green careers guy, the job titles of participants were as informative as the speeches and PowerPoints in the sessions. “Sustainability” was a popular adjective, prefixing titles like strategist, analyst, manager, director, and VP. There were similar numbers of corporate social responsibility folks. Climate change and carbon-control researchers, analysts, and strategists were roaming the halls in fair numbers as well. Green-minded communications, public relations, and marketing types also made appearances.

I had two questions for the people I met: “Are you hiring?” and “Who are you looking for?” I’m compiling the answers now and will post them as a full article in a future Remake a Living feature.

The short answers, however, were revealing. Although nearly all of the banks, investment houses, and consultants said they were hiring in titles related to sustainability, carbon management, CSR, and the like, the numbers were usually very small — sometimes as few as one or two, hardly ever as many as 10. In addition, several employers noted that they planned to add training and responsibilities to the jobs of existing employees rather than (or perhaps in addition to) hiring new people.

It’s clear that job growth in the world of green investing and corporate sustainability will often be a case of cumulative impacts that emerge from small additions at many firms.

Beyond gathering green careers information, I attended some intriguing sessions in Boston last week. Some of the 700-plus people who came to town are still talking about the charged climate change policy debate among Jim Rogers (chairman, Duke Energy), Ralph Izzo (chairman, PSEG), and David Doniger (climate center policy director, NRDC). If you have a few minutes, you can grab some popcorn and watch it yourself in two installments.

There was a nice moment on the event’s first night when Ceres announced the creation of an award for “building sustainability into the capital markets,” named after responsible investing pioneer/heroine Joan Bavaria from Trillium Asset Management. One of the winners was Bainbridge Graduate Institute, the creative, sustainability-focused business school in Washington state (which also won high marks from students in the 2008 Net Impact surveys). You can find details about the awards here.

The awards for “sustainability reporting” also drew my attention. Ford Motor Company and Timberland took top honors, but the selection process, the list of other nominees, and the “report of the judges” are at least as interesting from a job-seekers’ point of view. Sustainability reporting has become a flourishing niche industry and those interested in launching a career in the field can learn some valuable lessons by studying the criteria used to judge results and the names of those who receive good grades for their reports.

Finally, as someone who tends toward vegetarianism and attends a lot of conferences, I can tell you the food was particularly good. All “green” conference-goers should be so lucky. Congrats to event planner Marilyn Castriotta, who (I’m informed) had a lot to do with the choices.

For more information about the conference program, speakers, and attendees, check out the Ceres website.

Kevin Doyle writes Remake a Living, Grist’s monthly green careers feature, and is bringing his green jobs campus workshops to colleges and universities this fall as part of Grist U.