Vera Steinberg lives in Bonn, Germany, and grew up very near the Black Forest, one of the most beautiful areas in the world. As a M.Sc. in Forest Ecology and Management, she works as a Policy Advisor for Forest Europe where she leads the work stream “Green Jobs and forest education”. This includes research and campaigns regarding Green Jobs, which are getting more attention as a key component of a better future for both ecosystems and people.
This former Girl Scout who loves to light campfires and sleep outdoors is keenly aware that mental health issues are a primary concern that can be addressed by not taking ecosystems for granted: “It’s time for us to explore nature as a resource or as a source of calm. When I’m hiking, my mind is calm, it is almost like meditating. Just me and my thoughts. I can walk for 5 hours all by myself“.
Vera will be addressing the importance and research of Green Jobs at the IV International Congress Forests and Its Potential for Health in Portugal.
Spreading the word
“So what is a Green Job? A green job in the forest is a decent job, with which you have a good income, workers’ rights, in a sustainable environment or towards a sustainable environment. For example, a forester who manages the forest under sustainable management criteria, but also a forest kindergarten. There are many Green Jobs you might not be aware of at first, for example creating textiles out of wood fabrics: new products within the bioeconomy are Green Jobs along the value chain.
“When you look at the figures they show there are more Green Jobs coming up, there’s a lot more attention and attractiveness to work in the sector”.
“At the Congress I will talk about Green Jobs in general. With Forest Europe we established an expert group on Green Jobs and we are doing an analysis to learn more about the situation in the field, try to overcome data gaps, and discuss a common definition.
“We have a campaign called Grow Green Jobs (#growgreenjobs) and we collected almost 50 videos of Green Jobs in the forestry sector: forest therapy, forest kindergartens, planting trees… It is a tag and share campaign on Instagram. We want to spread the word and everyone is invited to share his or her own Green Job”.
Girls don’t make campfires
“I come from a place very close to the Black Forest, Emmendingen. Sport was always present in my family. We used to go hiking a lot in the mountains, where we spent our vacations, also in Austria or Switzerland. From a very early age I was linked to the mountains and being outdoors.
“When I’m hiking my mind is calm, it is almost like meditating. Just me and my thoughts. I can walk for 5 hours all by myself not talking, just dreaming, thinking, and of course I like hikes in the forest.
“When I was 9 I joined the Scouts and there it was always about sleeping in tents, making fire, being outside. I never felt that prejudice that “girls can’t make a fire”, I just tried and was always encouraged to do what I want: sleep outside if you want to but don’t complain the next day if you are cold. That was just part of the experience”.
“It was great for me to explore that freedom. In nature I feel very relaxed and protected at the same time. Of course we had adults around who checked on us, but we were allowed to make a little bit of stupid stuff”.
Curiosity as a driving force
“I always realize I’m very curious about why the landscape looks the way it does. Why is it shaped like this: was it the glacier, was it the river, was it wind? So I studied a Bachelor degree in Physical Geography, where we learned all these processes, and erosion was a very big part of the studies. After my degree I had the feeling that I knew a lot about erosion, but what to do against it? How can I protect the soil?
“The answer would be vegetation, so there would be either forests or agriculture. For me it was more of an emotional decision. I like trees more than fields, so I studied an international Master’s degree in Forest Ecology and Management. It’s all related. In my view, it’s about ecosystems: nature and humans are part of the big picture. I love it.
“I worked for the Federal Office for Agriculture and Food in Bonn, and started there as a project manager with international research projects in Horizon 2020. Since my master’s degree, I’ve been working in the international field, which I really like”.
“Then I started working for the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, supporting Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Since 2021 I am working in the Liaison Unit Bonn for Forest Europe, where Germany has the chairmanship until 2024”.
A piece of advice
“In my point of view, it is all connected. I cannot imagine how one can be a happy person in a destroyed environment. In our modernized world, mental health is a big topic. The pressure, the speed of life, the digitalization with all the advantages but also with the disadvantages: I think a lot of people don’t know how to deal with this anymore.
“Going back to nature and breathing fresh air can help to relax… It is time we explore nature as a resource or as a source of calmness, to give you energy.
“The pioneer work is always the hardest. Some ideas that might have seemed very bizarre 10 years ago are becoming more accepted and more mainstream. As an advice, if you are thinking of starting a really innovative Green Job in your region and people say this is impossible, don’t believe them. If it has worked in many other places, it might also work at your place. It is a process, it’s a change and change always needs time”.