By Lisa Clauson, CLU Executive Director
Excitement across the country has been growing over transitioning towards a sustainable economy as a means of achieving environmental and economic justice. Historically, low income communities and communities of color have borne the brunt of our economy’s unsustainable environmental practices, while benefiting the least from the vast wealth that it has generated. But now, our communities are leading the way towards a green and socially just future. And we are being joined by the growing numbers who believe that climate change demands such a transition. Who will benefit from this transition, however, is far from settled.
In Boston, Community Labor United (CLU) sees the potential of green economic development to lift people out of poverty while creating healthier living conditions. Together with one of our community partners, a strong environmental justice organization called ACE; we have begun exploring a green jobs campaign. We started with identifying local opportunities, researching national precedents and models and determining local organizational interest.
The City of Boston has begun developing some exciting and ambitious proposals to both green their own properties and to implement policies requiring private energy reduction. Over the next few years, the city aims to raise $300-$500 million to invest in a major private energy reduction in our city. This financing will fuel job development with energy auditors, business and home retrofits, and weatherizing. Major funding is also being proposed at the city, state and federal levels for job training within this sector.
Unfortunately, in our City and State’s greening plans, little attention has been paid to ensure that a new clean energy economy will equitably provide working and low-income Bostonians and local youth with a clear pathway to family-supporting livelihoods. In fact, there are signs that without further organizing and advocacy by our communities, these programs will primarily engage and benefit wealthier residents and subsidize the private sector to implement measures with no standards around hiring practices or wages. While the rhetoric is promising, there is need for strong organizing to ensure it is equitable.
From a justice perspective, low income communities and communities of color have been the pools of low wage labor for hard and dangerous work and the dumping grounds for toxics and pollutants. There is a desire to both ensure that the new green job development doesn’t come at further costs for these communities, that low income communities aren’t the last to “green” and that people from these communities share in the job development opportunities that come with this new economy. We also want to examine who controls and profits from the green industries we are proposing to grow. Particularly to the extent that public capital is helping finance and incubate this industry growth we need to examine who it will be helping most and at what costs.
ACE and CLU have begun the task of organizing a coalition of base-building community organizations, unions and environmental allies to develop policy demands and an organizing campaign for green jobs with justice in our region.