Green Jobs and the City
Think of the phrase "green jobs" and you probably imagine building wind turbines, manufacturing hybrid cars, or making ethanol or other biofuels. But contrary to what one might think, not all green jobs are located in rural America.
First, a bit on green jobs -- or "green collar jobs," as they're often called -- in general. “A green-collar job is in essence a blue-collar job that has been upgraded to address the environmental challenges of our country,” Lucy Blake, chief executive of the Apollo Alliance, is quoted as saying in a recent article in the Times. The American Solar Energy Society estimates that the U.S. has 8.5 million jobs in "renewable energy or energy efficient industries" and the Apollo Alliance predicts that the U.S. could generate between three and five million more green jobs over ten years. An additional advantage of these jobs is that they are unlikely to be shipped overseas -- solar panels have to be installed locally and most green construction has to be done on-site. According to a report by the Apollo Alliance, "Most are “middle-skill” jobs, requiring more education than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree."
The green jobs movement has brought together what are often strange bedfellows, including environmental groups, labor unions, and business coalitions. As Daniel Barbero wrote in the Harvard Review,
"The last decade, however, has seen a shift in the environmental movement away from radicalism and go-it-alone activism, and toward alliances with elements of the “machine” that environmentalists once fought so staunchly. Rallying around issues of mutual concern, like energy independence, broad-base green coalitions now include corporations, unions, and policy groups. These pro-environment alliances, which would have been impossible twenty years ago, represent the changing face of environmental action as these issues gain relevance to all sectors of American society."
For example, the Energy Future Coalition has brought together a diverse coalition of labor, business, and environmentalists. The group's steering committee has representatives from groups including the National Resources Defense Council, Monsanto Grower Advisory Council, National Association of Evangelicals, and the Sierra Club.
But back to cities. Urban green jobs include industries involving public transportation, alternative energy sources, building weatherization, and scientists creating the necessary technology for green industry. For example, Oakland, California spends $250,000 a year on a Green Collar Job Corps to train unemployed workers in fields like solar panel installation and house weatherization, and Chicago has a $2 million green jobs program that trains participants in fields like computer recycling, disposing of chemicals, and green landscaping. Richmond, California, spends $1 million a year to train low-income workers in green construction and solar installation. Mayor Douglas Palmer, of Trenton, New Jersey (who, incidentally, will be the next addition to MayorTV) has noted the potential of green-collar jobs to move people out of poverty. "This is a frontier that's going to open for the whole country, but especially for us in the Midwest and Northeast, where we need to grow our economy," he said.
Locally, some advocacy groups have worked to promote green job growth in New York City. One nonprofit, Sustainable South Bronx, installs "green roofs" -- layers of soil and foiliage on a rooftop -- which keeps buildings cool and reduces the "Urban Heat Island Effect." According to USA Today, "Since 2003, the environmental group has trained 70 former drug addicts, welfare recipients and convicts for jobs in landscaping, ecological restoration, green roof installation and hazardous waste cleanup."
Another group, Green Worker Cooperatives, is working to promote the growth of green jobs and worker-run co-ops in the South Bronx. Omar Freilla, founder of the group, explained how cooperatives could help reduce waste and improve the conditions of his community in this Alternet interview.
"Our vision is to incubate and let fly a number of worker-owned businesses that are able to improve environmental conditions generally. It's not specific to waste. We just happened to latch on to this idea of creating a co-op that could reduce waste. This particular co-op would be salvaging building materials that would otherwise get thrown out and get sent to a landfill, or even worse, to an incinerator. We have latched on to that and really promoted that as an idea."
Although legislation creating green jobs was introduced in the House this past June, there has been no substantial legislation for green job creation. Both Democratic candidates include measures to create green jobs in their energy/environment policies.
There are certainly green-job skeptics out there. Some wonder if some green jobs will just replace their old non-green counterparts, like workers making recycled paper replacing those that used to make the non-recycled variety. Others question whether those that work at the periphery of green industry -- say, the janitor who cleans the office of the solar panel company -- can actually be counted as green.
As these unlikely alliances and cities strive to create more urban green jobs in the future, it's important to realize that not all green jobs are created equal. Some of the so-called green jobs are merely an example of greenwashing -- jobs that are labeled green but don't do much good for the environment, like manufacturing massive fuel burning, but hybrid, SUVs. But, for the most part, green jobs have the potential to help the environment, decrease poverty, and improve the health of America's cities. As the strange bedfellows of various green jobs alliances have found, these environmentally friendly jobs can be a win-win situation.