Van Jones’ Last Unvetted Speech

van-jones%202.jpgI had the privilege of attending what Van Jones called his “last unvetted speech” last night. Van spoke to a crowd of friends of the Presidio School of Management at a private event attended by about 200 people. He had to leave the venue early to go home and pack – he’s got a red eye Sunday night and he reports for duty Monday morning at the White House in his new role as Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. This is a crowd that that regards him as a hero – he received a standing ovation before he even opened his mouth.
On the one hand, his message is something those of us that are in the sustainability movement have heard a million times before: there is an enormous challenge ahead, we need systemic change, and we have the tools to make it happen. It’s a speech I could give in my sleep if I were that charismatic, but alas, charm like that seems to come along once or twice in a generation. At one point in the speech, hallway chatter filtered into the venue and with a snap of his wrist and a wave of his finger, Jones sent an audience member to quiet them down. When the person left, I assumed that it was a member of his staff, and only upon the gentleman’s return from his duty did I realize it was my Capital Markets TA. When Van Jones speaks, people listen, gladly. He told us his best hope was that the “green MBA” would become obsolete because there won’t be any MBA programs that teach people to do things that are mean and stupid – and of course we lapped it up.

Jones has the ability to craft a sound bite that puts it all together for you – even if you’ve heard it all before. He challenged the audience to remember that we needed to pursue systematic societal changes because if we didn’t we’d end up with biofuel bombers and solar tanks. The planet would be all dead, but at least it would be temperate! We need systematic changes.
When asked to describe his first hundred days on the job in the white house, he reminded us that for the first time since 1993 he’d have a boss. “You don’t get to go into the white house and tell them you’ve got a plan. My first 2 weeks are orientation to learn about the plans that are already in motion and then we start talking about a work plan, because, as they tell me, any ideas I might have right now are either redundant or illegal.”
I left the venue feeling as if the stars had aligned and this time in our lives, this desperate life changing challenge, could only be met with these courageous, brilliant, charismatic leaders, Obama and Jones. I felt so proud to have them on my team – to have them working for the causes that I also fight for. I have hope and faith that we can create change, and really save the world. That’s the brilliance of this speaker – he really believes it and he has the passion and the love to make his audience believe they have the keys to change.

Jen Boynton

Jen Boynton is editor in chief of TriplePundit and editorial director at 3BL Media. With over 6 million annual readers, TriplePundit is the leading publication on sustainable business and the Triple Bottom Line. Prior to TriplePundit, Jen received an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. In her work with TriplePundit she's helped clients from SAP to PwC to Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA -- court appointed special advocate for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

5 responses

  1. I was also lucky enough to see Van speak last night and came away inspired and motivated. At the White House, he will make a large deposit in the great bank of hope that Obama is building. He also gave me a new appreciation for the Bush years: the deeper the darkness, the greater the response must be to renew and regenerate.

  2. Hey Anony,
    He didn’t specifically address that, but based on the Green MBA comment, I believe he means that all jobs should be green jobs– jobs shouldn’t exist that are bad for the planet.

  3. I was also at this talk and I think I can comment on what Van means by ‘Green Jobs for All’…
    In the future he envisions, and I do too, the delineation of ‘green’ from ‘not green’ will disappear. Consumers will begin to understand that the only products/services that we want around for the long term, indeed the only ones that allow us to be around for the long term, are those that move society toward a better future and are produced in an environmentally and socially responsible way. Employers will begin to understand that the best way for them to improve their bottom line is to not only provide such products/services, but also create a work environment in which employees are treated with respect and dignity, and given the tools and opportunity to succeed.
    In this future, as Jen says, all jobs will be ‘green jobs’. And when all jobs are ‘green jobs’, there is no longer a reason to call them green – they will simply be jobs.

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