What the (bleep) is a green job?

26th July 2011 by

I am going to be writing a monthly guest blog on green jobs over at 10:10. Here’s the first one copied here for your pleasure, but click this link to see the original post with the pretty pictures…

A new phrase has been popping up more and more frequently over the past few years – it’s the ‘green job’. You may have also heard green economy get thrown around liberally too, by governments and activists alike. You might even have used these phrases yourself. But one question remains – what does it all mean?

Good question. The thing is, no one knows. Or, at least, no one agrees (no surprises there). Broadly speaking when people talk about green jobs, they are talking about jobs that will be created, or ‘upgraded’ by the transition to a low carbon economy. Beyond that, it’s all up for grabs.

For some, the term ‘green jobs’ conjure up images of young men and women in green hard hats; for others, it’s about hi-tech jobs that require an engineering degree. President Obama includes employment created by the nuclear and carbon capture and storage sectors in his definition of green jobs, whereas Caroline Lucas MP would run a mile from that, for all her talk on the subject.

The downside of this disagreement, is that when we hear politicians, or think tanks, or campaigners talk about how many green jobs will be created by the transition to a low carbon economy, they are all talking about completely different things and using different methodologies to get to those figures.

We can see this illustrated most clearly by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union’s Group’s petition, which eschews the term green jobs entirely and calls for One Million Climate Jobs instead.

The upside of this vagueness? As I said, it’s all still up for grabs. There is still time for us to decide what we want the terms ‘green job’, or ‘green economy’ to signify.

I’m working with the East London Green Jobs Alliance, on a jobs programme that will take young, unemployed people from the local area through a training scheme and into apprenticeships in solar installation or home retrofitting.

I’m doing this because, for me, a green economy is one that gives opportunities to those who need it most, as well as cutting carbon. A green job is one that provides meaningful, dignified work to those who need it, a living wage and opportunities for career progression, as well as having stewardship of our environment at the core of it.

I have hope that this programme will not only give some young people the chance to get into employment, but will have a ripple effect, educating their friends and family about green issues and inviting the local community to be part of a environmental movement that has, up until now, been more focused on organic food and hybrid cars than the very unsexy topics of fuel poverty, health impacts of waste incinerators and other examples of environmental injustice.

So that’s what I’m up to. Every month I will be updating you on my progress with the project and tackling other issues related to green jobs and the green economy. It would be great to hear what you think – what do you think should be included in the definition of a green job? What potential do you see in the government’s Green Deal? No one else has the answers, so perhaps together we can come up with a few!

Join the debate on Facebook and Twitter.

Green Jobs – Main learnings and ways forward

12th April 2011 by

It’s time to wrap up my green jobs journey!

First, I’m going to tell you my main learnings and takeaways from my week on the IPPR learning exchange. Second, I’m going to do a call-out for those who are interested to keep in touch or work together on the green jobs agenda. Third – I’ve told you in detail my learnings from 7 of the organisations and networks we met with. I picked the ones that I thought were most relevant to the work being done (or that needs to be done) in the UK, but at the end of this email I will list the other organisations we met with together with a brief one or two line description of the work, if you’re interested.

Main learnings

  • Funding - We were shocked at how much money these organisations had. Almost all of the organisations we met with had been funded through government, either through the Recovery Act pot, or through city government funding. In light of the current cuts in the UK, we are not looking at a similar funding scenario here. So, an urgent question to ask is how we can fund this work if we want to create a similar movement here in the UK.
  • Definition – Most of the orgs we met with defined green jobs as those that were in clean tech or energy efficiency. I felt this was too limited a definition, and too limited a way of visioning what is needed in a new green economy. That’s why it was so nice to hear about Green For All’s work looking at jobs in the food and water sector, and the Ella Baker Center helping to “green” California’s nail salons. More of that please!
  • Numbers – The numbers of jobs being created are small. “Green jobs” are not going to solve unemployment, even a little bit, any time soon. So we must be careful not to frame the movement in that way, otherwise it will come back to bite us and will be deemed a failure.
  • Frames – So why focus on green jobs at all? We did ask ourselves that during the week. My answer is that these programmes are an excellent way of creating a vision of what we want a green economy to look like – an economy which values how people do their jobs and how they contribute to the local community and larger society. An economy that puts equity and justice at its heart, and sees the transition to a low carbon world as an opportunity for underserved communities to combat environmental injustices and poverty. So perhaps we should be framing this issue as one around the new “green economy”, rather than just “green jobs”, to reflect the scope of the aim.
  • Names – we met so many organisations with ridiculously inspiring names! It was a back and forth conversation among us about whether we needed more inspirational stories and names here in the UK, or whether that’s a particular American need! Any thoughts on this appreciated!
  • Social justice - Every programme we visited had social justice at the heart of it, and that is what I found most inspiring. The numbers may have been small, but I’m pretty sure the ripple effects of the quality of the work are large. The programmes might have been billed as jobs training programmes, but it was about much more than just jobs – it was about empowerment, organizing skills, dignity and meaning, counselling, a second chance, literacy. Green jobs alone aren’t going to forge a new world, but together with these other elements, they just might be one of the important building blocks.
  • It’s not new – The majority of the work being done is not new. Great jobs training programmes existed before, and these new programmes are just building and adding to the quality and number, with added environmental literacy and hard skills components. The green jobs agenda can seem overwhelming, but it’s worth remembering that there are loads of people out there who are basically already doing the core of this work really well (I’ve just got to find them ).
  • Broadening the environmental movement – Speaking to trainees at Richmond Build really convinced me of the potential of this green jobs/green economy movement to broaden the environmental movement in general and make it more accessible to those who have felt excluded. Of course, Green For All and the Ella Baker Center are doing this really well too. Time for us to take on the mantle I think.
  • Coalitions – Californians have got it down when it comes to creating strong coalitions and partnerships. It was incredibly inspiring and motivating to see environmental organisations, labor unions, government, community networks, social justice organisations, businesses and academics all working together towards a common goal. It has been really exciting working with different groups back in the UK, and meeting more people on this trip, and I’m very excited to see this continue and see what we can build together!
  • Policy – I’ve said it before, but I was really bowled over by how successfully the organisations we met with used policy as a tool to push for and achieve their goals. Having experts in policy and grassroots organizing work for the same organisation with the same goal seemed to make all the difference in terms of their success. It’s a model I’m keen to see replicated in the UK (Capacity Global, who were also on the IPPR trip, are already doing it – yay). And IPPR reminded us at the end of the trip that there will be opportunities for us in terms of policy, as green jobs are a key part of the government’s strategy around low-carbon communities.
  • International – One point we kept coming back to time and again as a group was global justice. It’s all very well advocating for justice within our local communities in our developed countries, but how are we going to communicate our message within the reality of global poverty? Is it okay to encourage installation of solar panels that have been produced by an underpaid workforce in China? (This is partly why the Apollo Alliance are advocating for American manufacturing as their next focus). We talked a lot about growth as well – how can we balance promoting the growth of a green economy, whilst recognising that we can not grow indefinitely and that infinite growth, in whatever sector, will most certainly not be “green”.
  • The need for a national framework - It was great meeting the Apollo Alliance, Emerald Cities and Green For All – all national organisations that are pushing for policy specifically in this area and that have collectively achieved massive policy gains. It seems to me that the UK would really benefit from a strategic national body to fill this role.

Stay in touch

  • Thanks to all those who have already emailed me in response to this mail-out. I was overwhelmed by the response, so I hope you don’t mind me asking you to email me again (hanna@otesha.org.uk) with a bit more information about yourself so I know how best to move our relationship forward.
  • If you are interested in learning more about, working with, or joining the East London Green Jobs Alliance, please email me with who you are, your contact details, your organisation (if applicable), where you are in East London, your current work on green jobs (if applicable) and/or your interest in green jobs.
  • If you are interested in the broader conversation on green jobs / the green economy in the UK, please email me who you are, your contact details, your organisation (if applicable), your current work on green jobs or the green economy (or your interest in it), and what role you’d like to play/are playing in pushing the agenda forward.
  • If you are interested in both… great!

Once I’ve got your details I can work at connecting the dots.

Thanks so much again for reading, I look forward to working with you all!

And now for the other meetings we had in California (if you have any specific questions regarding any of these, let me know):

– Phil Ting – the Assessor Recorder for San Francisco. Created a solar installation programme through the city government, creating 40 jobs in last two years.

– SunPower – solar manufacturing company. Gave corporate perspective on how to move solar agenda forward.

– Tradeswomen Inc. – working to create fair and safe conditions for women working in nontraditional blue collar jobs. Very interesting stats – only 2% of women are in the trades nationally. Before Prop 209, which prohibited affirmative action in California in the late 90s, women made up 6-7% of apprenticeship programmes. It’s now 2%. A question I am asking myself is, how can green jobs make a difference for women?

– The Breakthrough Institute – think tank on energy and climate change. They were very critical of green jobs movement and thought it had been overhyped in a big way (you can read their article on it here). A few very valid points, although I questioned some of their claims and numbers, and they got really angry when we tried to question them on their assumption that you can have infinite growth on a finite planet…

– Unions – we met with San Francisco Labor Council, the Oregon and California AFL-CIO, and the Canadian B.C Federation of Labor. It was really exciting to see the labor movement take this issue on for themselves and it was interesting to note that the representatives there had pretty much all become radicalized on this issue from being a part of a delegation to either UNFCCC conferences or a developing country that was being affected by climate change.

– Ceres – VERY interesting presentation from this organisation on how investors need to be brought into green jobs alliances.

– SeedCo – fairly big organisation that works in 22 cities across the U.S., advancing economic opportunity for people, businesses and communities in need. They make loans to minority- and women-owned businesses, which I thought was pretty neat, plus they have 30 different initiatives that are promoting green industry, which are projected to create 13,000 jobs over the next 10 years. Now that would be amazing.

– UC Berkeley Labor Center – research center and “critical friend” of the Californian green jobs movement. Stressing that we can’t train for bad jobs – need to ensure quality is there and that the jobs are adding value to the economy. Also stress that reskilling and upskilling of the current workforce is essential.

– Rising Sun – they have an interesting summer programme for 15-22 year olds, but I was more impressed with their adult green jobs training programme. They include “english language for construction” classes for immigrant participants, who spend 2 hours every day improving their language skills as well as learning the hard skills. They also have developed a new social enterprise, which provides energy efficiency services to the local community and hires graduates from the training programme for between 4-6 months, to provide “bridge employment”. Thought that was a great idea.

Green Jobs – Emerald Cities

1st April 2011 by

On Tuesday night I went to the famous Castro theater to see Sing-a-long The Wizard of Oz with Donna Hume from Friends of the Earth. Best experience of my life (only a small exaggeration)! Never let it be said that environmentalists are no fun. Oddly enough, that was the same day we went and met with the Oakland chapter of Emerald Cities. Here is what I learnt.

The background

  • Established in 2009, the Emerald Cities Collaborative (ECC) is a consortium of diverse organisations – businesses, unions, community organisations, development intermediaries, social justice advocates, research and technical assistance providers. Their creation was led by Policy Link, MIT, the trade unions and Green for All, amongst others.
  • They are based in Washington, and operate 10 affiliate offices across the country.
  • Their 3 goals are to “green our cities”, “build our communities” and “strengthen our democracy”.
  • They aim to reach these goals through promoting a large-scale reduction in CO2; healthy and sustainable communities; community, city and labor civic engagement; collective bargaining practice; and pathways to good jobs and lifetime careers.
  • ECC’s first project is the comprehensive retrofit of America’s urban building stock. It proposes to do this city by city, while realizing as many gains from joint and mutual assistance and learning as possible.
  • Watch their intro video here.

The local need

  • There is a 30% or higher unemployment rate in construction in Oakland. Only 8% of that construction sector is unionized.
  • In California, one in 4 high school students don’t graduate, yet most job training programmes and employers require a high school certificate and driver’s license, etc. Emerald Cities comes in to provide the bridge and support to take people into the workforce.
  • Low-income communities don’t believe they have access, or are invited to the green movement. This is an old assumption ECC aims to turn around.
  • Prop 209 in the late 90s in California scrapped all forms of affirmative action. Women went from being 6-7% of employees in the trades, to 3-4% in 10 years.

The programmes

  • Targeted energy-efficiency upgrades – focused on the MUSH market (municipals, universities, schools and hospitals) and providing dollar incentives for renters, moderate income homeowners, and businesses in neighborhoods of need.
  • New opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses – helping with asset and wealth-building, and creating additional employment opportunity for minority, low-income communities for retrofit building and other sectors.
  • Partnerships to facilitate strategic, equitable growth of local green economies – leveraging environmental education projects with other capital investments to improve public housing and multi-family affordable housing etc. Creating multiple leadership and engagement opportunities for youth and residents.

The hope

  • They aim to train 160 young people over the next 3 years
  • AB32, California’s clean air act, means the demand for energy efficiency technologies should keep growing.
  • Obama’s Better Building Initiative is a tax credit for improving energy efficiency by 20% – this is now set to increase to 60%.

The challenges

  • The current economic climate is creating reluctance amongst communities and the city, to believe that the money and assistance will really be there to help them retrofit.
  • Focus and funding really needs to be placed on the root causes of these community problems – why are a quarter of high school students not graduating?
  • Making sure the jobs are “decent” jobs. Many employers would like to deskill “green” employment, so that they can complete basic training in 6 weeks and therefore pay employees the minimum wage. The challenge lies in ensuring people get substantial training, with wrap-around skills, and a potential career path.
  • It was easy at the beginning for all launch partners to see a benefit, but it will get tougher and tougher in the current economic climate as some partners benefit more than others.
  • There is a trade off between the public budget and the minimum wage – the more you pay employees, the less buildings you can retrofit, and vice versa.


  • Tara and the ECC blew me away with their strategy. I wish I could share her power point with you, but essentially it was filled with diagrams illustrating their method of system-building, their strategic framework, and the structure of their programmes. Theories of organizing and movement-building seem to be underpinning all their work.
  • The policy is a big area of their work, along with the grassroots work. This is a feature that I am seeing time and time again in these US organisations – policy and groundwork working together in a strategic way, under the same roof. I think we can definitely learn from this.
  • They have a lot of money, as do most of the orgs we’ve met with. It all seems to have come from Obama’s Recovery Act stimulus package and something called the public goods surcharge, which is a small charge on public utility bills and gets funnelled back into green energy projects.
  • I think there is definitely a space in the UK for an organisation like this. Anyone up for setting up Emerald Cities UK? Let me know!

Inspirational names, inspirational stories

  • I am getting name-envy, what with the Apollo Alliance on Monday, and now Emerald Cities! The director of the Oakland chapter, Tara Marchant, told us that the name conjured up Dorothy’s admission that “there’s no place like home”, and the idea that if we want to make change, we have to start with our own communities, and the assets in those communities. As the last scene goes…

Tin Woodsman: What have you learned, Dorothy?

Dorothy: Well, I – I think that it – it wasn’t enough to just want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em – and it’s that – if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?

Green Jobs – Apollo Alliance

29th March 2011 by

Welcome to the first instalment of my green jobs mailing list from San Francisco! I have already walked past Jack Kerouac Alley and had pancakes for breakfast, which to me are the markers of a good day. On top of that, we had some excellent meetings. First up, the Apollo Alliance…

The Apollo Alliance, founded in 2003, is a coalition of business, labor, environmental and community leaders that has really been driving the green jobs agenda over here in the US, focusing on policy work. The Alliance convenes a national coalition, and also supports eighteen state and city-based “franchises” that are staffed and coordinated by a locally-based organization. We met with Cathy Colfo, the Executive Director, who shared some real insights with us. Here are some of the main points I took away:


  • The task of each locally-based alliance in building a successful coalition depends very much on what the energy mix in that state or city is. The alliance in the mid-west, where they rely heavily on coal and gas, has a very different job from the one in California, and will have to target industry in a much bigger way.
  • Similarly, each local alliance needs to do an analysis of what the opportunities are that are specific to their area – for example Pennsylvania had a declining steel industry, but turned that into an opportunity by attracting the Mesa Steel company to use their old factories to produce wind turbines and employ local people.
  • Having the local franchises keep the Apollo Alliance low cost, as each local coalition mainly finds their own funding. For each alliance, it is very important to put together a steering committee made up of the highest-level people that you can get to come to the table.
  • Practicalities – the national alliance, made up of the eighteen local reps, has monthly conference calls and twice-yearly meetings in person.
  • It’s important to make compromises / word things in an inclusive way – whilst looking at a national transportation bill that is about to come under review, it was important for the unions that the alliance didn’t ask for a decrease in funding for road-building, but instead for an increase in spending overall towards public transportation. Cathy called it “asking for the pie to get bigger, rather than a bigger share”.
  • Having business fully involved in the coalition helps – it perks up the ears of legislators, gives legitimacy, and gives voice to progressive businesses.

Being ambitious

  • It’s in the name – “Apollo” was chosen after the Apollo space mission, and to conjure the idea that we can harness hi-tech, workforce and innovation to “race” towards a common goal.
  • Apollo has been very successful in laying out comprehensive recommendations and investment strategies. Dismissed as too unrealistic by others within the environmental movement, many of their recommendations were taken on by Obama’s team when putting together the Recovery Act. Cathy even called the Stimulus Bill a “downpayment on Apollo”, and it certainly seems that way when you consider the amount of funding now available for green jobs programmes in the US.
  • They are putting together a new report that is considered to be equally ambitious – looking at what would happen if homes were required to meet energy efficiency requirements at the point of sale. Before making their final recommendations, they are going to meet with realtors in the area to work through the potential tensions, and work together. I think this approach to working – consulting at every step – is a real key to their success.

Make It In America

  • In the 70s, manufacturing made up 40% of the US economy, now it’s less than 10%. Rebuilding manufacturing is Apollo’s focus at the moment, under the banner “Make It In America”. This was partly in response to the stimulus package – it’s all very well for the stimulus money to create demand for renewable industries, but if they don’t scale up homegrown manufacturing at the same time, the US will end up depending on imports for hardware such as solar panels etc. At the moment, it could be said that the stimulus money is helping to create manufacturing jobs overseas.
  • In light of this, an Impact Bill has been pushed through in Ohio, creating a loan fund for small to mid-size manufacturers (who don’t have the capital to retool) to incentivize them to make clean tech, or to make their operations more energy efficient. It is hoped that this will be a blueprint for federal policy.

The alliance is also about to release a very exciting report, by Chris Bush, looking at the competitive advantages for inner cities in green job creation. They have studied Flint, Michigan, in particular, and apparently found that no matter which definition of a “green job” they used (and there are many), they found that “green jobs” have grown by around 12%, compared to around 1% for a regular job. I will be very interested to read it. In the meantime, do take a look at the California Apollo Program report.

Till next time!

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