Editor’s note: Van Jones defends Seattle’s green jobs program, which has been taking some fire in the media. He argues that building a sturdy foundation takes time.
All of us have had the experience of struggling early in a new area of interest, learning the right lessons and then later triumphing. We all know that a stumble at the start of a race does not doom the runner to defeat – as long as the runner does not give up. Nobody declares a football game over as soon as the other team scores its first goal.
So I read with raised eyebrows the recent cynical media assertions that Community Power Works is not going to deliver.
Oh, really? I wouldn’t be so quick to count out the City of Seattle’s neighborhood-based energy upgrade program.
The $20 million federal grant runs through 2013 – more than two years from now. The program aims to provide energy upgrades to more than 2,200 buildings, mostly single-family homes, in downtown, central, and southeast Seattle. The work will create or preserve significant numbers of good, green jobs over the life of the grant.
Seattle’s program is showing great promise. Four hospitals and 19 city buildings are already on the rolls for upgrades. Just four months into the Community Power Works for Home effort more than 350 homeowners have signed up for the program and momentum is building. Major projects scheduled for this fall will employ graduates from the Seattle Vocational Institute and South Seattle Community College.
In some ways, the media is faulting the program for trying to do this pioneering program the right way. Engaging with multiple stakeholders and setting high standards in various areas of performance takes time. And if creating a good energy upgrade program with decent wages were easy to do, someone would have done it already.
Someday soon, Americans will be able to “tune up” our homes to save energy, in much the same way that we “tune up” our cars. Our country is in the process of creating this capacity on a broad scale, with Seattle helping to lead the way.
Local leadership is making it possible. A dynamic group of people that included contractors, labor, training providers, community organizations, and public agencies, under the leadership of Mayor Mike McGinn, came together as partners to ensure Community Power Works is a paragon of triple bottom line thinking. Stakeholders agreed and promised that the program will measure its success according to impacts on people, the planet and the pocketbook.
That approach is in keeping with the City’s values. As Mayor McGinn said when the agreement was finalized, “This program will ensure that where the City invests public dollars in energy conservation, we are creating career pathways and producing high-quality work that saves residents money and follows our value of shared prosperity.”
All of the community leaders who are involved should be praised, not scolded, for endeavoring to create good jobs in important fields.
Green jobs are good jobs, often in manufacturing and other traditionally blue-collar employment. Median wages in the green economy are 13 percent higher that median U.S. wages. And there’s a role for government. Every $1 million invested in clean energy creates 16.7 jobs. Stimulus dollars steered into green investments created or saved one million jobs through 2010, according to the Political Economy Research Institute.
The people of Seattle know this work is important. You were going green before the rest of the country. Anything good and beautiful and lasting takes time to build. It takes heart, determination, patience, and perseverance. The little pig that built the house of straw was done way before the pig that built the brick house.
We could throw taxpayer money around and create straw jobs for a year or two. But we need a brick-house economy.
I hope you stick with it, Seattle. Ultimately, the final numbers will depend on homeowner interest in Community Power Works for Home. Keep getting the word out!
People will recognize the wisdom of making an investment in their homes that saves energy, increases their comfort, protects their health, and is good for workers and businesses in their communities. It’s a tough economy right now, but you’re taking your economic and ecological destiny into your own hands by creating a sustainable economic sector.
It will take hard work. But it will be worth it. Negative determinations about the outcome are premature. Don’t forget: the federal government did not even recognize the category of green jobs until 2007. The effort to build a green economy is just beginning.
Van Jones serves as president of Rebuild the Dream. He is the author of The Green Collar Economy and former green jobs advisor in the Obama White House.