Climate Change

Van Jones, a leader in the clean energy economy movement, delivers his keynote address.

Building the “Next American Economy”

Senior officials from 15 cities focus on developing green economies and creating green jobs.

“What you are engaged in now is bigger than the green economy,” Van Jones told an assembled crowd of 70 senior city officials and community leaders in May 2010. “What you’re really doing is laying the cornerstone for the next American economy.” A green economy, he says, that is based on “building rather than borrowing, conserving rather than wasting, and respecting the earth rather than destroying it.”

Spurred by the growing threat of climate disruption and the high cost of energy—and facing high unemployment in their cities—municipal leaders are looking for new and creative ways to rebuild their economies and put people back to work.

In response, teams of practitioners from 15 cities and metropolitan regions across the U.S.—including including deputy mayors, assistant city managers, sustainability and economic development directors, business executives and workforce development specialists—traveled to Washington, DC in May for ISC’s Climate Leadership Academy on Green Job Creation, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, Living Cities, the Blackstone Ranch Institute, and the Home Depot Foundation.

“Usually when we talk about climate change, we talk about cutting back, consuming less, using less, spending less,” says George Sarrinikolaou, a senior program officer at ISC. “But with green job creation, we get to create wealth and prosperity at the same time that we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.”

What are green jobs? The U.S. Department of Labor’s draft definition says “green jobs are jobs involved in economic activities that help protect and restore the environment and conserve natural resources,” such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, or greenhouse gas reduction, among other fields.

The goal of the Climate Leadership Academy is to help practitioners in cities and metropolitan areas work effectively with key partners and stakeholders to improve, scale-up and accelerate local solutions to global climate disruption.  More energy-efficient building stocks and transportation systems, as well as increased use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power and next-generation biofuels, will all be crucial in meeting this challenge.  In the process, we have a unique opportunity to give unskilled, low-income workers training that leads to meaningful careers in the new economy.

For this academy, 15 faculty members and the practitioners themselves shared both the difficulties and successes of creating green jobs in cities, particularly for low-income people. A contingent representing the East Bay corridor in California, which includes Berkeley, Oakland and Richmond, talked about how regional cooperation has allowed them to link sustainability initiatives with economic and workforce development in disadvantaged communities.

Many attendees also cited the Los Angeles Trade-Technical College’s creation of job training programs and career pathways as a model that might help solve the problem of whether enough green jobs will exist as more people are trained for them.  Trade-Tech’s coordinated use of research, career mapping, and employer engagement is one of the nation’s leading examples, and inspired many attendees to bring similar ideas home to their own cities.

Above all, these city leaders were excited to step out of the office to roll up their sleeves, share ideas with colleagues, and plan for the long term. “We got three months of work done in three days,” said Larry Frank, Deputy Mayor for Neighborhood and Community Services for the City of Los Angeles.

In July 2010, ISC brought the Climate Leadership Academy to China, delivering two peer-learning workshops on low-carbon city planning for leaders from 18 cities in the country’s two most industrialized provinces: Guangdong and Jiangsu. Next up in September 2010, ISC will hold our fourth U.S. academy on climate adaptation and resilience, to help cities address the local impacts of global climate disruption, ranging from strained water supply systems and overtaxed drainage systems to increased air pollution and degraded ecosystems.

Visit our Climate Leadership Academy page to learn more, or download the Green Job Creation Resource Guide.

“I really think the green economy is going to revolutionize this country and put us back on track. But it’s going to take everything we’ve got. It’s going to take the same extraordinary effort as putting a man on the moon, or building the national highway system.”
—Jigar Shah, CEO of the Carbon War Room, at ISC’s Climate Leadership Academy