By Ying-sun Ho Green For All
Green For All came on the scene at the end of 2007, with the simple idea that America could fight pollution and poverty at the same time by investing in clean-energy industries that created jobs for everyday people. We called them “green jobs,” and we thought they would be a big part of making the 21st century a prosperous one here in the U.S.
A lot has happened since then, including a historically bad recession, a historic election and surge in public investment, and the lightning-quick popularization of the term “green jobs.” And right now, as the final quarter of 2010 begins, we can say one thing for sure: Green For All’s original idea was right; green jobs are for real.
What is a green job?
It’s easy to say green jobs are for real, but it doesn’t mean much until you define the term. It’s a new term, and people use it in a number of different ways. This can bog down or confuse the conversation.
At Green For All, we define a green job as a healthy job — healthy for workers, healthy for communities, and healthy for the planet.
To be healthy for workers, a job must pay family-supporting wages, offer benefits like health insurance, and provide opportunities to advance in a successful career. To be healthy for communities, a job must be open and available to all workers, including those from disadvantaged or historically excluded populations. To be healthy for the environment, a job must contribute directly to preserving or enhancing environmental quality.
How do we know green jobs are for real?
We know that green jobs are real because we see them making a difference in real people’s lives every day, all across the country.
Green For All is a national organization that partners with other organizations, businesses, and governments at the local, state, and national levels. This gives us the chance to meet, talk to, and learn from people across America who are either bringing green jobs to their hometowns or who are enjoying the green jobs that investment (both public and private) is creating where they live.
Here are two instructive examples.
Portland, Oregon has created an exciting program that creates jobs, boosts business, and saves consumers money on their energy bills by investing in energy-efficiency improvements to local homes. Clean Energy Works Portland’s creative financing allows it to do this with no up-front costs for residents or homeowners.
Initially implemented as a 500-home pilot program, about 200 of the targeted retrofits had been completed as of August. Marshall Runkel is one of the local contractors working on these retrofits. At a recent Green For All event, he talked about how Clean Energy Works Portland has affected his business and his experience as a small business owner:
[The program] requires me to hire 100% of my new employees from qualified training programs. I hired a young guy a couple of weeks ago, a young African American guy, 20 years old, two kids, his mom is incarcerated, never had a job. And this guy is kicking [butt] every day, I’ve got to tell you. It’s going to make me cry. It’s an enormous opportunity, and it really felt great to do. One of the joys of this business is really providing those kinds of jobs and those kinds of opportunities for people.
The numbers tell a similar story. Preliminary data (reflecting about half of the completed retrofits) show that, in just its pilot phase, the program has already created 13 brand new jobs. And in one of the whitest cities in America, historically underrepresented people (e.g., people of color, women) have performed 44% of the total work hours to date. Well over 20% of total program dollars to date have gone to minority- or women-owned contractors (including sub-contractors).
New York, New York
In New York, green construction is providing people with a pathway from poverty to prosperity. In our work with the Community Environmental Center (CEC), we met Tahlia Wiliams, a single mother of a 3-year-old son. “Construction is something that I wanted to do for a long time,” Tahlia told us. “I had no way of knowing how to get into this field because I always heard it was a man’s world.”
Now, Tahlia has a job weatherizing homes.
“Some of the things we do is weather stripping, switch out light bulbs to energy-efficient light bulbs, energy-efficient shower heads, we check out the boiler, make sure there’s no back drafts into the house,” Tahlia says. “When we do the insulating part, we blanket the house to keep it warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
“I want to make a career out of this. I just feel good that, even though it’s small, I’m doing my part.”
Tahlia isn’t the only one whose life is better because of CEC. CEC is the state’s largest provider of the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which weatherizes low-income homes. It is also the first WAP provider in the state to sign a contract with a union, the Laborers Local 10. As a union shop, CEC provides good wages and benefits to its employees while gaining access to the skilled workers it needs to respond to the expanded WAP investments in the Recovery Act. And a partnership with Non-Traditional Employment for Women is helping Local 10 recruit more women and historically disadvantaged workers for good, green jobs in weatherization.
Thanks to these partnerships and the Recovery Act’s large investment in WAP, more low-income New Yorkers are benefiting from CEC’s services that lower their energy bills and make their homes more comfortable in the extreme temperatures of winter and summer. And CEC is making a real dent in New York’s greenhouse gas emissions, 70% of which come from buildings.
Green Jobs: A Nationwide Trend
Portland and New York are far from the only cities whose local economies are getting a boost from green sectors.
Several cities, including Seattle, Milwaukee, Santa Clara (CA), and Cincinnati are adapting Portland’s “High Road Agreement” model to ensure that their local energy-efficiency programs create real opportunity for low-income communities and communities of color. In the Gulf region, wind turbine manufacturing has recently created 600 new jobs while the local Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation is developing an ambitious urban farm project that will create new jobs in agriculture for workers whom the BP oil spill displaced from the fishing and oil industries. Kansas City, Missouri, has established a 150-block “Green Impact Zone” in the urban core of the city to encourage green redevelopment and create green jobs. Three new programs in Chicago are combining to create more than 650 green jobs for formerly incarcerated people.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. Green jobs are creating real opportunity for people across America. At first, we believed these jobs could be a big part of a prosperous 21st century for America. Now we know they can be. The next step is to make sure that they are, by increasing investment in green efforts and focusing that investment on job creation as well as wealth creation.
The past three years have confirmed that a prosperous, green future is possible. Now it is up to us to make it real.
Please follow along on the main green jobs series page. Incidentally, there are still a few open slots. If you’d like to contribute a guest column, please comment on this post, identifying yourself and your topic and provide a way to get in touch with you.