Green Jobs and Green Communities

September 30, 2009 -- Working Partnerships USA

With the immediate economic crisis exacerbating the long-term decline of the American middle class, the green economy has emerged as a potential savior. In this messianic view, a new wave of green-collar jobs is ready to sweep in to replace the millions of vanished manufacturing jobs, restore the shrinking middle class, and lift up the foundering boats of millions more working poor trying desperately to keep afloat.

The emerging green economy offers great promise for a new, sustainable economic boom. But that promise is not a guarantee. Strategies for green development must be explicitly designed to achieve the three 'E's: environment, economy and equity. When this is not done – when we push forward with one aspect of green development while assuming that local hire will just happen, or that green jobs will automatically be good jobs – the results are classes that train people for jobs that don’t exist, subsidized solar plants that don’t hire local residents, or underpaid green-collar workers surviving on food stamps.

As the pieces of a comprehensive clean energy strategy are put into place, concerted efforts will be necessary to assure this strategy is equal to the scope of the environmental challenge and – of equal importance – that it places the needs of low-income communities and communities of color at its center. 

Working Partnerships USA's Green Economy project aims to create quality green jobs, promote climate justice, and move towards green and equitable communities through a multi-pronged strategy of developing policy models at the local level while bringing together partners to create change in our region, state and nation.

We have launched coalitions to pursue two parallel programs: Wave One, a pilot project focused on small businesses, and the Green Careers Initiative, a broader partnership focused on building systemic linkages connecting low-income workers, green jobs training programs and creation of green jobs. The basic model for both initiatives involves offering low-cost financing for energy efficiency retrofits and/or solar power installations, with explicit objectives of equitable access for low-income residents and small businesses, and creation of quality construction jobs for local residents. 

Green Careers Initiative 

WPUSA has convened a network of local partners to develop a county-level Green Careers Initiative with the goal of linking publicly supported green building projects to a new workforce development model aimed at creating and maintaining high-quality jobs in the building trades while affording members of disadvantaged communities increased opportunity to enter a career in the building trades. 

This initiative incorporates elements of the Construction Careers model, the emerging "gold standard" for the building and construction trades workforce which links labor standards to community hiring, workforce development, and the creation of career ladders. The Construction Careers model will be enhanced with novel elements linking in training, job creation and job quality standards in green building, energy renovations, and potentially low-income weatherization. 

We are working closely with the Santa Clara & San Benito Counties Building & Construction Trades Council and affiliated local unions to develop the Green Careers Initiative. Other key partners include work2future, Silicon Valley's Workforce Investment Board; San Jose/Evergreen Community College District; Sacred Heart Community Services, the county's largest social services provider and designated Community Action Agency; the City of San Jose; the County of Santa Clara; and the office of Congressmember Mike Honda. The Initiative has initially focused on developing partnerships to apply for ARRA-funded federal and state green jobs training grants; we anticipate applications for three grants totaling $4 to $5 million dollars will be submitted within the next month.

As part of the Green Careers Initiative, WPUSA is developing a policy model for creating green construction jobs by providing financing of energy efficiency retrofits of residential and small commercial buildings. This initiative would be designed to achieve three goals: reducing total greenhouse gas emissions, helping residents and small businesses to save money on energy bills (with an emphasis on equitable access for all residents and neighborhoods), and creating quality green construction jobs for local residents. Through initial research we have focused on moving forward with a property tax financing model administered by the County, while building the infrastructure for a more flexible model such as on-bill financing that could be available to renters and lower-income residents.

Small Business Pilot

The opportunity to design a new approach to retrofits through an "on-bill financing" program – a highly promising model in which the upfront cost of energy efficiency retrofits is paid for directly out of the energy savings – came from an unlikely direction: the City of Palo Alto. WPUSA was approached by a local developer for assistance with his new project to green small businesses in Palo Alto. The project had ambitious goals for reducing building energy use but no financial means to achieve them. As a result of our extensive research into retrofit models, we were able to propose a model for on-bill financing through Palo Alto's municipal utility. 

In May 2009, following advocacy by an unusual coalition of labor, business, environmental and environmental justice organizations convened by WPUSA, the Palo Alto City Council voted to move forward with the financing model. Our next step is to track the implementation plan to ensure that it includes job quality and local hire elements. The long-term goal is to create a replicable model -- rooted in a framework of community standards -- for large-scale small business retrofitting. Our alliances and our policy expertise have given WPUSA leverage to include labor and community representatives alongside businesses in an effort to bring in equity and economic justice goals into what began as a traditional environmental project.

For more information, contact Louise Auerhahn, Associate Policy Director at 408-269-7872, Ext. 576 or