by Adriana Villavicencio
When the average person thinks GREEN – unless they’re thinking about money – they usually imagine some fringe movement of crunchy tree-huggers eating granola in Birkenstocks. But the reality is that the green industry is no longer just about recycling and changing your light bulbs; it’s about jobs and creating long-term careers for the chronically unemployed.
A leader in the green jobs movement in New York City is Solar One, whose Workforce Training Program provides training primarily to Black and Latino men. (Full disclosure: my partner works at Solar One and no longer litters.) In 2000, the state passed a law to grant generous tax credits to owners of buildings that meet green standards, and 2010 legislation requires that they meet specific environmental standards. Environmentally conscious policy looks great on paper, but real change requires skilled individuals to make it a reality.
To meet the demands of the law and the growing green economy, Solar One trains individuals in areas such as:
- Green construction
- Solar and thermal installation
- Energy auditing
- Electrical retrofitting
If these sound as foreign to you as Russian rocket science does to me, here’s a brief primer: These practices reduce utility bills and increase energy efficiency. They also reduce waste, and promote clean, renewable energy, which improves the health of those in proximity and helps slow down the eventual decay of our planet.
Solar One’s training program targets high-need populations who often can’t get jobs, much less the opportunity to develop new careers. Its participants include incarcerated adults, disconnected youth, veterans, homeless, and residents of public housing. While located in NYC, they have brought their job development programs to other low-income populations in Flint, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.
The green economy is projected to grow. Like other new industries – the building of the railroads, the birth of the cellphone, and the dot.com era – it will require a technically trained labor force. But, unlike other industries in the technological revolution of the last two decades, jobs associated with installing green infrastructure cannot be outsourced to China or India. If you need roofers, insulators, and electricians, you will need them in your homes, at your office, and on the roofs of your buildings.
Green jobs for Blacks and Latinos hold so much promise because they don’t merely provide minimum wage in the short term. They provide transferable skills for long-term employment. These aren’t jobs; they’re career paths.
Moreover, green jobs help Blacks and Latinos address the environmental injustice that disproportionally impacts low-income neighborhoods. Even if you don’t buy into the idea that carbon emissions are depleting the ozone layer, you can’t ignore the fact that many poor neighborhoods have the worst air quality, the highest asthma rates for young people, and the largest number of brown fields (brown plots of land where nothing grows).
Training people in green jobs not only provides access to a new career, but also provides them with the tools to mitigate the environmental injustices in their own neighborhoods. Both spell empowerment and hope for future generations to come.
For more information on Solar One’s Workforce Training Program, visit Green Workforce.
To learn more about Adriana, visit The Radical Ideas.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.