Green Jobs Serve Many Ends


By Wendy Gordon

A couple of Fridays ago, George Soros, the author of The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Mean, suggested that efforts to build a green economy could be the “motor of the world economy in the years to come.”

I certainly hope so, and hope that it can start here and now. Our economy is in such clear distress, and hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs in the last nine months. Perhaps it is already beginning. In cities and towns around the country, Van Jones, founder and president of Green For All, believes that corporate and civic entrepreneurs are seizing opportunities to revitalize the economy by creating jobs and improving the environment at the same time. Here are a few examples from his book The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems:

* The Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS), hoping to move workers in the Rust Belt into the clean-energy economy, has developed a program to retrofit all of Milwaukee’s buildings and create thousands of green-collar jobs in the process. A new building-efficiency service, Milwaukee Energy Efficiency (Me2), is being created in the process, and there is no upfront payment. You sign up for a retrofit, and when it’s completed you pay it off a little bit at a time as part of your reduced electricity or utility bill.

* Andy Lipkis, founder of TreePeople in Los Angeles, saw an opportunity to solve a major water-runoff problem by building cisterns to capture the rainwater. L.A. officials were so impressed by TreePeople’s demonstration cisterns, which collect, on average, 1.25 million gallons of water for every inch of rainfall, that the city gave the green light to a $200-million cistern project in Sun Valley, a flood-ravaged community mostly populated by low-wage workers. TreePeople predicts about 300 jobs will be created, including manufacturing and installing water-capture systems, adapting landscaping to function as watershed, and maintaining the landscape, trees, berms, cisterns and other elements of the system. Better still, some city sanitation workers will be transformed into watershed managers, a job that takes more time and has more dignity.

* A nonprofit in Baltimore called Second Chance launched its architectural salvage and deconstruction services in 2003. Over the next 4 years, the company grew quickly, filling a 120,000-square-foot warehouse space and engaging more than 50 employees-three deconstruction crews and a retail store crew-all drawn from local low-income neighborhoods. The nonprofit’s founder, Mark Foster, has established contracts with Baltimore that provide for worker-development funds for training. After satisfying the training requirements, workers are guaranteed permanent jobs with company benefits.

Jones provides numerous other examples involving major resource systems–water, energy, food, materials–where rethinking and retooling society can help communities save money and generate new jobs.

With our national deficit in the trillions, and our economy in recession, how can we manage a New Deal-type investment in a green economy? Jones replies, “How can we not?”

It’s an inspiring, empowering book, by a course-changing social entrepreneur. I urge you to read it.

Human Journey