Friday, August 13, 2010

Greening Our World, One Job At A Time

By Ashima Sukhdev, Summer Associate and Junior at University of Pennsylvania

The term “green collar economy” first made a lasting impact on me when I heard Van Jones speak at Penn during my freshman year. Van Jones, who has been known as the green jobs czar, is an environmental and human rights activist who served as the green jobs advisor in the Obama White House in 2009. He champions the idea that we can solve the two greatest challenges facing us today, the environment and unemployment, with one solution known as the green collar revolution. He’s not the lone voice that supports this idea either.

For those of you less familiar with all this terminology, the green collar economy refers to the creation of jobs that solve both socioeconomic inequality and environmental problems. Green jobs offer the opportunity to create thousands of low- to medium-skill jobs for the unemployed and under-skilled that help solve a number of environmental problems. For example, insulating old homes and buildings to conserve energy, installing renewable energy sources, waste management programs, urban gardening projects, etc. These are all local jobs that can't be exported, and that can provide real opportunities for the worst off groups (such as urban youth) to acquire skills, professional experience, and to become a part of the community again. Hearing Van Jones speak on this simple and powerful idea ignited a desire to figure out how this could work on a national, and international, scale – and whether it would indeed be successful. It was to my delight that I ended up working with a social enterprise heavily involved in the green economy just two summers later.

A Green Jobs Field Trip

A few weeks ago a group of us from New Foundry Ventures (previously known as Rubicon National Social Innovations), arrived in the City of Richmond for a field trip to see this green collar economy in action.

The US government has already invested approximately $625 million in green jobs training. One of the many programs that has benefited from this funding is that of RichmondBUILD, the site that we were visiting that day. The RichmondBUILD Pre-apprenticeship Construction Skills and Green Jobs Training Academy was developed to create employment and career opportunities in construction for Richmond residents aged 17-35 who face barriers to employment. RichmondBUILD has crafted its free training programs to meet the particular job training and support needs of Richmond residents, 40% of whom live in public housing and 30-40% of whom have a history with the criminal justice system.

The Green Energy Training Services (GETS) workforce development program is an optional energy efficiency training module that participants of RichmondBUILD can apply to participate in. Some of the participants of the GETS workforce program will go on to work for GETS Energy Services (the Energy Efficiency Enterprise that NFV and Rising Sun have launched), and some will go on to work for other energy efficiency retrofit companies. This is a perfect example of an industry helping to create “green jobs” in an urban community that needs them badly. The GETS program provides a particularly supportive training atmosphere for those who are perhaps seeking their first stable job to escape the traps of inner-city life or trying to get back into employment after long periods of economic stagnancy.

While at the RichmondBUILD site, we were able to sit-in on one of the energy efficiency training classes (most of which was far beyond my comprehension!), a large class of about 30 students from a variety of backgrounds. We also walked around the “mock house” which has been built in their warehouse where the green jobs trainees are able to gain experience and practice their newfound skills. Our tour of the site was conducted by Ramon, a graduate of the Green Energy Training Services Program. Ramon was clearly a wonderful mentor for the current students, and a perfect example of someone from the Richmond community who had clearly benefited from the training program. Having come from a rough background himself, he explained to us the impact such a training program and stable employment can have on an urban youth who needs guidance and a path to avoid getting involved in drugs, violence, and crime. What struck me most was Ramon’s awareness of the larger environmental movement he was a part of. He spoke of the importance of energy efficiency, and how exciting it was to know that he was involved in the process of reducing CO2 emissions in the residential sector. The visit re-instilled the sense of excitement I’d felt for the green jobs movement when I’d heard Van Jones speak, and I returned to my desk at the office reminded of the importance of the work I was doing.

1 comment:

Pavan said...

Green Jobs are really the way forward - the perfect triple-win (employment, wealth, environment). I wish you and Rubicon success in promoting and scaling models that work. All the best, Pavan