Taking the LEED in Your Community

Through local and regional initiatives, communities are tailoring the eco-revolution for their backyards.

The initiative will interview businesses to determine the number and type of green jobs and the skills and training required for these jobs. We will then invite businesses to become engaged with the Initiative’s Employer Advisory Council to review current training programs and, based on identified employer demand, to advise on new curriculum development for both incumbent workers and those seeking entry into green jobs with career ladders.

Victoria Cooper, director of the Environmental Technology Program at Chicago’s Wilbur Wright Community College, pioneered a six-course, 21-credit-hour occupational certificate in building energy technologies. As a founding partner, Victoria offers both her environmental and educational expertise to the initiative. Cooper notes, “The initiative is bringing the right partners to the table to identify the most promising green-collar jobs and then to design a career-ladder approach so an individual can first gain entry to a green job and then pursue further training. This is a great example of how educational institutions and non-profits can work together with employers to promote green.”

The timing of the initiative has coincided with the formulation of the City of Chicago’s Climate Action Plan, which is developing strategies to reduce emissions centered on buildings, renewable energy, transportation, waste, and pollution. The initiative will work with the City’s Climate Action Jobs Task Force to also study employers’ demand for green-skilled workers in these sectors and to identify funding opportunities for new green-jobs skills-training.

A Green White House?

As the Chicago efforts and other sustainable-development initiatives nationwide build momentum, practitioners and policymakers alike are becoming more aware that the November elections are likely to have a profound effect on their outcomes. It’s not only about a change in environmental policies; it’s about economic incentives for green businesses and federal funding for green jobs.

Whoever occupies the White House during the next four years will have to heed the calls for green policies and practices. How much the next president embraces the green economy will have lasting environmental and economic impact on the nation and our communities.

A starting point for the next administration is the Green Jobs Act of 2007, (H.R. 2847), introduced by representatives Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) and John Tierney (D-Mass.), with significant support from Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). The Senate version was sponsored by senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Promoted by Green for All in conjunction with The Workforce Alliance, the Green Jobs Act of 2007 authorized $125 million annually to create an Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Worker Training Program as an amendment to the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). The Green Jobs Act (GJA) is a pilot program to identify needed skills, develop training programs, and train workers for jobs in a range of industries — including energy-efficient building, construction and retrofits, renewable electric power, energy-efficient vehicles, biofuels, and manufacturing that produces sustainable products and uses sustainable processes and materials. It targets a broad range of populations for eligibility, but has a special focus on creating “green pathways out of poverty.”

The Green Jobs Act became Title X of the Energy Independence and Security Act (often referred to as the “2007 Energy Bill”), which Congress passed and President Bush signed in late 2007. The program will be administered by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) in consultation with the Department of Energy.

However, while funds were authorized, they were not appropriated, so full funding will have to be secured in the next appropriations cycle — which will not be completed until late 2008. It is also possible that Congress will find a way to fund the GJA programs in a supplementary spending bill or an economic stimulus package before the end of 2008.

Eco-Development or Eco-Apartheid?

Whether authorization happens in 2008 or whether it is delayed until a new administration takes office, the community-development field should not wait to organize around a green agenda.

The National Community Reinvestment Coalition held a plenary at its March 2008 annual conference titled “The Nexus between Environmental and Economic Justice: Harnessing the Green Economy for Community Reinvestment.” The session included a screening of the documentary, “The New Dream…the 3rd Wave of Environmentalism.” This enlightening documentary produced by the Ella Baker Center presents opportunities for future community development such as installing solar panels to make homes more energy efficient and affordable.

However, as Van Jones predicts in his closing comments in the film, inaction on our part will only further divide our country — with “eco-development” and green benefits for some, but “eco-apartheid” for low-income and minority communities exposed to hazardous environmental conditions and denied access to the skills training necessary to participate in and benefit from a green economy.

The nation cannot afford to squander the opportunity to coalesce around an environmental and community development agenda that offers pathways out of poverty and moves us toward energy-efficient, healthy communities. As community-development professionals, we must embrace green as a local economic and employment-development strategy to fulfill our mission.

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Ted Wysocki is CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs-USA and founder of U2Cando Consulting. Previously, Ted was CEO of the Local Economic & Employment Development Council, now North Branch Works, and CEO of the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations (CANDO). Ted is also a director emeritus of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

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