In February of last year, President Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The $787 billion act included $500 million allocated to train “green-collar workers” in the environmental sector. The inclusion of this funding in the bill was a major boon for the city of Philadelphia, whose own commitment to building a green economy was well under way.
The Philadelphia initiative was spearheaded by local BALLE chapter and founding member Sustainable Business Network of Philadelphia (SBN). SBN Executive Director Leanne Krueger-Braneky heard Van Jones, author of The Green-Collar Economy, speak at the 2007 BALLE annual conference. Inspired by his work to bring green jobs to disadvantaged communities, Leanne realized that green jobs development could have an enormous, positive impact on Philadelphia’s low-income communities. She invited Jones to Philadelphia where he challenged the city to meet a simple, straightforward goal: train 100 low-income individuals in green jobs within one year.
Backed by the support of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and a City Council resolution to support green jobs development, SBN created a Green Economy Task Force. The group included key leaders from local government, community-based organizations (CBOs), green businesses, labor unions, and workforce development agencies. The diverse group of stakeholders was chosen specifically to help connect green jobs initiatives with those most familiar with urban issues and challenges in the city. While SBN researched and identified key green growth sectors, Task Force committees on Employer Commitment, Funding, Job Training and Policy worked to set short and long-term goals for building Philadelphia’s green economy.
By December of 2008 the SBN had received a $125,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to create a Philadelphia Green Jobs Corps that would train low-income individuals in environmental industry jobs. With a working model in place, they have since secured $1M in economic stimulus funds to train an additional 200 individuals. Their programs involve both CBO-based and “on-demand” employer-driven training. While CBOs already working in the community train more vulnerable populations in the areas of solar installation and energy efficiency, “on-demand” training gives environmental companies the opportunity to dictate exactly what kinds of jobs they want filled and receive training programs in those areas. While it has been difficult to obtain explicit promises of jobs from companies, tailoring training to their needs improves participants’ chances of securing employment following training.
Speaking at the 2010 Annual BALLE Business Conference, SBN Director of Green Economy Initiatives Kate Houston explained the key elements that have made the Philadelphia initiative successful. The first was bringing together a large, diverse group of stakeholders who could accurately represent the needs of the community. A second was creating a simple goal – 100 people trained within 1 year – that was both concrete and feasible. Finally, SBN has ensured that as an “infomediary” they maintain complete transparency and inclusivity to help bring together unlikely allies. This has meant hosting regular events to keep participants connected and making all relevant information easily accessible to key stakeholders. SBN is now in the process of designing a Green Economy Task Force Toolkit in order to share the Philadelphia model with other communities interested in undertaking similar green jobs initiatives.
Vale Jokisch is a first year MBA student at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and is interested in how for-profit businesses are finding innovative ways to create social and environmental value. Her specific interests are around community economic development, local economies, and impact investing. Prior to enrolling at Fuqua she was the Deputy Director at Empowerment Group, a non-profit microenterprise development organization based in Philadelphia. Jokisch has a BA in Economics and Political Science from Swarthmore College.