Time for Green Collar Jobs

This morning the Center for American Progress hosted an event on Green Collar Jobs — sort of like blue collar jobs, but with an environmentally-sustainable edge to economic development.

The panel was packed with four leaders (an activist, a community organizer, a city government rep. and a private real estate developer). They were: Van Jones (Ella Baker Center in Oakland, CA), Majora Carter (Sustainable South Bronx in NYC), Sadhu Johnston (City of Chicago), and Carlton Brown (Full Spectrum, LLC).

Collectively, they outlined the problem:

  • global warming
  • environmental injustice: the likelihood of low-income communities also being where waste facilities and power plants tend to concentrate — and, most likely to be where African-American and Latino communities are located
  • unemployment, its correlation with imprisonment, and the generally poor management of human capital

More importantly, they focused on the solution:

To Majora Carter, that means ‘environmental justice,’ and to Van Jones, a new ‘social-uplift environmentalism’ (to which Carter uttered “Amen” under her breath).


In essence, the solution is giving “the jobs most needed to the people who need them most.” Speaking from experience, Jones said that on green projects (construction or retrofit, and in the big picture), the capital exists, the technology exists, the investment exists, the policy often even exists, but the labor is missing.

Meanwhile, Carlton Brown recounted that his projects have required up to 6,000 new jobs and that with 2–3 weeks worth of training a low-skilled worker with minimal education can acquire the skills to earn $25/hour. That’s good for the worker, the community, the economy, the environment, and the good ol’ U.S. of A. because installing solar panels isn’t a job that can be shipped overseas.

In accelerating such projects, Sadhu Johnston referred to Chicago’s policy of granting building permits in 30 days to green developments, versus the 120 (or so) days required for traditional developments. This procedural change is just one of Chicago’s many leadership examples.

To close the event, Van Jones compared his social-uplift environmentalism to the civil rights movement in that its objectives are for equal protection (from the impacts of global warming) and equal access to opportunity (economic and environmental prosperity).

As long as the environmental movement can prove its value through personal investment (in the form of jobs, parks and livelihood), a pillar of Majora Carter’s rationale, the opportunities to combat global warming and poverty simultaneously are abundant and powerful.