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Q. Dear Umbra,

I am wondering if you can help me with this question: What makes jobs in sustainable manufacturing “sustainable” (as opposed to just “manufacturing” jobs), and what do employers look for in determining whether a candidate is right for a “sustainable” or “green” job? And while we’re thinking about jobs, do you know where one can see what jobs are out there in the sus-man sector?

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Jesse W.

A. Dearest Jesse,umbra factory

Have you ever been to a wedding reception where someone’s toast begins with some variation of, “The dictionary defines marriage as…”? My eyes always glaze over a bit at that point. I blame a substitute teacher I had in first grade who made us copy pages out of the dictionary verbatim for an entire school day. I hope, Jesse, that you never had such a scarring experience and will stick with me as I relay a couple of carefully researched (not in dictionaries, mind you) definitions of sustainable manufacturing.

The U.S. Department of Commerce defines it as “the creation of manufactured products that use processes that minimize negative environmental impacts, conserve energy and natural resources, are safe for employees, communities, and consumers, and are economically sound.” Nice and thorough — though as the National Council for Advanced Manufacturing helpfully points out, sustainable manufacturing can refer to both the manufacturing of sustainable products and the sustainable manufacturing of all products.

So how does one go about snagging one of these sustainable manufacturing jobs? Sounds like you have a manufacturing background, so if you want to add some green sheen to your skills, seek further training — and make sure you have a passion for the subject (as Confucius said and I reiterated, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life”). Look for green job training programs in your area or sign up for a continuing education class in renewable energy — resource and energy efficiency are important elements in the sustainable manufacturing landscape. Plus, it’s hopeful/helpful to hear that renewable energy and energy efficiency technology created about 8.5 million new jobs in 2006.

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Finally, you might try searching for manufacturing jobs on sites like The Environmental Careers Organization and Green Dream Jobs. Good luck!


Q. Dear Umbra,

I have heard that a recent study out of Boulder, Colo., has determined that the fish in the upper Gore Creek are found to be sexless due to the amount of hormones that exist in the water. Pray tell!

Vail, Colo.

A. Dearest Amy,

Oh how I wish this was just an errant tabloid headline. Alas, you heard correctly — and this sexless fin-demic isn’t limited to Colorado.

A U.S. Geological Survey study released in the fall found that 40 percent of smallmouth bass and one-third of largemouth bass sampled from the Colorado River (the Gore Creek is a tributary of the Eagle River, which is a tributary of the Colorado) were intersex, a condition indicated primarily in male fish that show female organ growth and occasionally female fish with male characteristics. The study was nationwide, covering 1995-2004 (the Colorado River data were from 2003), and intersex fish were found in about a third of all tested waters.

While no particular chemicals or environmental conditions were pinpointed as the cause, one likely culprit is rising levels of human-sourced river pollutants like drugs, farm chemicals, and detergents. The study findings didn’t indicate how the hormone disruptions in fish impact humans who drink water sourced from these same rivers. The USGS kindly left that to our imagination.

Scary stuff, I know. But in the meantime, while scientists continue to research the sources, you can do your part by becoming a more conscientious consumer of products that may eventually end up in these waterways. Opt for household and personal items that don’t contain endocrine disruptors (free of pesticides, plasticizers like BPA, parabens, etc.). Check out my advice on proper pharmaceutical disposal. And the best advice of all: Don’t use toxic stuff if you don’t need it. Sexless fish across the country will thank you.


Q. Dear Umbra,

I don’t buy disposable plastic. I especially wouldn’t buy a disposable plastic lighter after seeing photos of those things inside dead albatross chicks. I don’t smoke, but I do light candles.

I always assumed that matches were the most eco-friendly alternative for generating flame, but recently I started wondering about the chemicals on match tips and how toxic they are. Do you know? I also wonder what percentage of matches is made from recycled materials or FSC-managed forests.

So forgetting disposable plastic lighters, which is more eco-friendly: using disposable wood/cardboard matches or refilling a metal lighter with petroleum-based fuel?

Beth T.
Oakland, Calif.

A. Dearest Beth,

Big ups to you for steering clear of disposable plastic lighters, and for the extra gruesome yet important detail about those poor birds — though I can’t recommend doing an Internet search for “dead albatross chicks” and “disposable lighters” right after lunch.

Anyway, as you already know, disposable lighters are out when it comes to an eco-fire starter option — more than 1.5 billion of them end up in landfills each year already. For sway-prone concert-goers, might I suggest a virtual lighter app for your phone or just showing your appreciation in a different way. Clapping? Whistling? Anything’s possible.

Back to candles, let’s take a look at the metal lighter. They’re definitely a step up from the plastic disposables; however, they are filled with butane or traditional lighter fluid that typically comes in a can with a plastic top or in a plastic bottle. The fuel, the plastic — both products made from our dwindling and toxic petrochemical resources.

And then we have wooden matches. Safety matches, the most common variety, are made of woods like white pine and aspen and soaked in fire-retardant ammonium phosphate and paraffin wax. The tip is treated with a mix of antimony trisulfide, potassium chlorate, sulfur, powdered glass, and glue. Yum! I couldn’t find a definitive answer on the toxicity of fumes from a briefly lit match; however, good to know: The Diamond Match Company, the largest U.S. producer of matches, patented our current nonpoisonous match in 1910 after its employees became ill from inhaling the phosphorus used in match manufacturing at the time. Another thumbs up goes to Diamond for using wood sourced from responsibly managed forests. Even better option? A book of cardboard matches made from recycled paper.

So what are you using these candles for anyway? To unwind, destress? Well, perhaps this will help you relax a little more: Despite the fact that there’s no eco-perfect option for lighting a candle, striking a match isn’t going to make or break us on the path to a brighter green future.


P.S. Keep an eye out for my video tomorrow on making your own seltzer. It’s going to be fizz-tastic! (Sorry, all those bubbles have gone to my brain).

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