One year on from San Francisco – are green jobs gaining traction in the UK?

4th May 2012 by

I can’t believe that it’s been over a year since I was in San Francisco cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge, eating ice cream in the grounds of UC Berkeley, and strolling down Haight-Ashbury.

Oh yes, AND learning and being inspired by tons of California green jobs projects, as part of the IPPR West Coast Green Alliances learning exchange. Many of you read and responded to my blog posts from California, and I thought that now would be a great time to take stock of what has happened in the UK since then. I want to ask whether we have managed to implement any of the lessons that we learned in California; what more needs to be done; and are we any closer to making that transition to a just, green economy?

What have we been doing?

In answer to that first question, there is a ton of exciting green jobs stuff that’s happened and got off the ground in the past year. Here is a run down of some of the projects that have been initiated and managed by those on the learning exchange. 

- IPPR released a report in July 2011, Green Expectations: Lessons from the U.S. green jobs Market. More recently, they have turned their attentions to the potential economic and social impact that might arise from the Green Deal.

The Greener Jobs Alliance, led by UCU, has launched the Green Skills Manifesto (if you’d like to endorse it, and been busy working with South Thames College and Sustainable Merton to provide training in green skills. Watch their video on Community Approaches to the Green Deal.

Capacity Global convened the London Greener Jobs Hub in the months after the learning exchange, with a view to create leadership in London on green jobs and provide an information hub. Keep your eyes peeled for a launch event in September, as well as a green jobs fair! Their Skin project is also up and running, working with the hair and beauty industry to demonstrate that we can create green and decent jobs within non-traditional green industries.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation have continued to be an exciting and progressive funder, supporting the work of The Otesha Project UK and their Greener Jobs Pipeline project, the London Greener Jobs Hub, the Transition Network’s ReEconomy project, and the Finance Innovation Lab, among many others!

Friends of the Earth took the government to court over the cuts to the feed-in tariff, and won! Our Solar Future estimate that the FIT cuts threaten 25,000 jobs in the UK.

Oxfam Scotland have been doing amazing stuff setting up social enterprises that plant trees as a means to regenerate marginal land for community benefit. On the employability front, they are developing a programme on community improvement and sustainable development in secondary schools with a view to increasing awareness and employability skills for the green economy, and a programme for young unemployed people is currently underway. 

Claverhouse have been able to sustain 5 full-time equivalent jobs in their construction materials reclaim/recycling enterprise and are now producing a tonne of wood fuel briquettes per week from recycled timber!

The Climate Alliance renamed itself the Alliance for Jobs, Climate and Communities and is currently planning a big campaign…

And I have been really busy at The Otesha Project UK, moving ahead with our work with the East London Green Jobs Alliance (so many alliances..).

So I think, maybe, we’ve done a pretty good job as a team since our return from California! Granted, we don’t have a green economy yet, but we sure as hell are paddling fast to get there.

What else is going on?

There are some other very cool things going on too, including the One Million Climate Jobs Caravan (coming to a town near you in a couple of weeks), and the UK Youth Climate Coalition Youth for Green Jobs campaign. Actually, there are too many cool things going on for me to list. Upsetting that I can’t list everything, but also kind of heartening!

What more needs to happen?

Um, a lot. Because unemployment is kerazeee right now and that pesky climate just won’t settle down. Because the solutions being presented through government programmes, like Workfare, are neither green nor decent. If you want me to talk about, you know, actual concrete things, then I suggest that we can all shine a spotlight on the UN Earth Summit come June (also known as the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development). Why? Because they are negotiating two big themes, and a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication is one of them. This is a crucial opportunity to shout loud about the commitment we want to see from nation states in making the transition to a green economy, by making actionable plans that will create green and decent jobs, and promote access to green skills. So why not sign up for updates and take action. I will also be following the negotiations and blogging from Rio, so may be sending along a personalised update or two…

So that’s the One-Year-On update! Well done if you got to the end, since it was looong. But I think that’s testament to the fact that, although we’re operating in a very difficult economic and political climate at the moment, things are still moving forward. We are pushing ahead and little by little, change is happening.

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 ( 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 – Green for All

11th April 2011 by

First I just want to say thank you for going through this learning experience with me. It’s been really great to have the opportunity to sit down and to really distill what I have learnt from each meeting. That doesn’t mean that it’s over though, at least one or two posts still to go!

For now, Green For All!

Who are they?

Green For All is a national organisation building the national movement for an equitable green economy. In January 2008, Green For All spun out of the Ella Baker Center and is now a totally separate organization. Green For All focuses on Washington D.C., and also provides support in “the 49 states” other than California. Van Jones was co-founder of both the Ella Baker Center (1996) and Green For All (2008).

A note on Van Jones

If you haven’t heard of Van Jones, read his wikipedia entry here. He is pretty much credited with spear-heading the green-collar jobs movement in the U.S., and is author of the excellent book, The Green Collar Economy. He was so successful at pushing the message, that Obama created a special post for him as Special Advisor on Green Jobs in 2009 (however, he stepped down shortly afterwards when Glenn Beck pulled his usual trick and orchestrated a rather public witch hunt). Jones is currently a senior fellow at the Center For American Progress and a senior policy advisor at Green For All. He also holds a joint appointment at Princeton University and is ridiculously good-looking (…wait, did I say that out loud?).

Green For All’s three primary tasks

  • Innovate Policy – GFA develops and advocates for innovative policies that 1) promote a clean energy economy to solve the urgent problems of both the economy and the environment, and 2) enable governments at the federal, state and local levels to expand access and opportunity in the clean-energy economy.
  • Develop capacity – GFA helps develop and strengthen the capacity of – and partnerships among – business, government, labor, non-profits and grassroots communities. These groups, sectors and partnerships leverage public and private investment to sustain a clean-energy economy and create millions of quality green jobs.
  • Build a movement – GFA engages and equips diverse and unlikely national and regional networks of leaders, organizations, coalitions and communities to build awareness and increase demand for policies and infrastructure that create clean-energy jobs and investment in green industries. The organization works to strengthen this popular movement’s ability to organize and effect change at the local, state and national levels.

Practical examples & Reading list

  • Check out the website for descriptions of all their brilliant programmes. More specifically though…
  • …we heard a lot about their pilot green jobs programme, Clean Energy Works Portland, which GFA are now using as an example of a leading national model. It sounds brilliant. Read the report and watch the video here!
  • Hot off the press! GFA’s Toolkit for Residential Energy Efficiency Upgrade Programs. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but it looks VERY useful.
  • And another one hot off the press! Green Jobs in a Sustainable Food System, which looks at the potential to create good, green jobs as the food system is becoming a source of sustainable economic development in local communities. As part of the IPPR group, we were particularly excited about this, as Green For All seemed to acknowledge that they needed to move away from a narrow definition of green jobs = clean tech / energy efficiency, and look towards other sectors. Water is a big one they’re thinking about too.


  • Green For All work on a $6 million a year budget (phewee!).
  • Again the numbers are smaller than you’d hope – 22 hires in the Portland model came from community-based training programmes.
  • They are brilliant at policy – they have helped pass 7 statewide policies to aid the creation of green jobs in the past 2 years.
  • They are BRILLIANT at media. This has a definite upside (having the ear of government, getting the Black Eyed Peas to tour the U.S. promoting green jobs for their Green the Block programme!), but also a downside – they seem to be playing catch up with their promises, and having to remind people that they are only 3 years old and still working towards their goals.
  • They see themselves as a “convenor”. They push for policy and demonstrate practical models. They support the replication of these models by hooking up other green jobs programmes with each other, giving advice on funding sources and other practical support. It strikes me that an organisation like this would be very useful for someone like me in the UK right now, trying to create their own pilot green jobs training programme!
  • This is just my impression, but they seem to be more flexible and adaptable than other programmes we visited (for example, broadening out their definition of green jobs sectors). Perhaps this is because they are purely focused on the green economy, and have no other agenda, which the labor movement or pre-existing non-profits with a prior remit might have.
  • This is their strap line – “Green For All is a national organization working to build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.” Using the term “green economy” and not “green jobs” might also be another way that they can remain quite open and flexible in their work going forward. They have a clear focus, but not so narrow as to back themselves into a corner.

Thanks for reading again! Till next time.

Goodbye Gear Up.. Hello East London Green Jobs Alliance!

15th March 2011 by

How time flies. It is March already, and that means our Gear Up programme is wrapping up. As coordinator of the programme, I have had such a fun time meeting all the young people we have worked with, mentoring them, helping them to gain more experience and start their journey towards green and meaningful employment.

We have worked with 18 young people in total, connecting them in internships and training in ethical fashion, waste management, green woodwork, green enterprise, and bike mechanics. They have also received training in local food production, money management, cv-writing, and cycling proficiency – Ozlem (above) loved her cycling training at Bikeworks so much that she is planning on giving up her car and buying a bike! I said goodbye to Ozlem earlier this week, sending her off with a reusable coffee cup and a copy of the Otesha handbook. But this isn’t the last we’ll see of her, or any of our Gear Up participants, as they will all be added to our alumni network, and continue to hear of job and volunteer opportunities, and other exciting things, through our weekly update. You can’t get rid of us that easily! Once you’re in, you’re in.

We’d like to say a big, heartfelt thank you to the Youth of Today for supporting this project.

And now, to pastures new! Our Gear Up programme might be winding down, but we have been squirrelling away in the background making even bigger plans for the coming year. Last November, we held our first roundtable discussion for organisations interested in local green job creation in East London, and we’ve had two more since then. Some very exciting people have been a part of the conversation – TUC, Friends of the Earth, Hackney City Farm, Bikeworks, Friends of the Earth, IPPR, UK Youth Climate Coalition, Aspire, London Development Agency, Tower Hamlets council, Tower Hamlets College, Young Foundation, Capacity Global, Fairbridge – I get excited just writing it out! Together, we have established the East London Green Jobs Alliance.

We have looked to the example of projects in the States, who have successfully created pathways into green jobs for young, unemployed people. We want to take that model and see how to make it work here in the UK. It’s all still early days – our mission statement is getting final touches to it as we speak – but we will be very excited to make it public in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about the alliance, and how we plan to learn from projects in the US, please look at my blog entry below and sign up for updates from my learning trip to San Francisco!

Lessons from California – want to be on a Green Jobs mailing list?

15th March 2011 by

From 28th March – April 2nd, I will be joining IPPR on their West Coast Green Alliances learning exchange. We will be meeting with some incredibly inspirational organisations and alliances over there, including Green for All, the Ella Baker Center, and the Apollo Alliance, among many others, to learn from their challenges and successes in stimulating the creation of good-quality, local jobs in emerging green sectors.

From a personal point of view, I am incredibly keen to establish what worked and what didn’t for these organisations, and to take the lessons learned and start to understand how to apply them to a UK context. This will be crucial to inform my work at The Otesha Project, as anchor organisation of the East London Green Jobs Alliance. It will also be crucial for those other organisations and projects here that seek to be at the forefront of the green jobs movement, and that is why I would like to share what I learn with those who are interested.

If you would like to receive email updates on my meetings in San Francisco (which will be brief and to the point, I promise!), and to be a part of sharing best practices on local green job creation, please email me at and let me know. Please also feel free to suggest anyone else who you think might benefit from this, that I might not be in contact with.

I look forward to building this movement with you!

Search Blog

Get Social