Tag Archives: equity

GoGreen Austin 2011: Recap + Resources

Our crew has a great love for the Pacific Northwest, but we have to say that Austin blew us away. We are so inspired by the ideas, the passion and incredible commitment to sustainability and the triple bottom line we witnessed in your fine city. We hope that everyone who attended left as excited as we were and armed with actionable practices to take back to your businesses and organizations.

We want to kick this post off by saying a humble and heartfelt thank you to everyone who attended the conference, and all the speakers, sponsors, exhibitors and community partners that made GoGreen Austin 2011 a smashing success. We absolutely could not have done it without your participation and support! Our special thanks to the City of Austin and all involved departments for the warm welcome and commitment to the mission of GoGreen. We are also incredibly appreciative of support from Lucia Athens, Jessica King, the Austin Convention Center, Texas Gas Service and the Austin Business Journal.

In case you missed out on GoGreen Austin 2011 or just want to relive the fun, we’ve put together a recap with session highlights from three of our favorite talks and resources to explore. We also hope you’ll add your insights, takeaways, links we missed and links to your own recap blog posts in the comment section. Sustainability is a conversation and we want to hear your take on it!

Keynote (Lucia Athens, City of Austin)
Austin’s Chief of Sustainability, Lucia Athens, certainly came armed with inspiration and new resources from the City. Her talk on changing operations to create viable solutions was both practical and visionary—taking into account human behavioral psychology to form the foundation of creating sustainable change. Her approach centered on 4 New Operating Principles to use:

1. Try a new operating system
2. Keep up with the Jonses
3. Backyard Pride
4. Pay it forward

Lucia also announced several new initiatives the City of Austin is starting to enhance green business and provide additional resources for those committed to sustainable practices.

Greenwashing (Valerie Davis, Enviromedia)
Enviromedia CEO and co-founder Valerie Davis (fellow co-founder Kevin Tuerff spoke on the Green Branding and Marketing panel) gave us a lot to think about with her session on what constitutes greenwashing and how to avoid it. We watched several commercials that showed what a wide spectrum there is between intentionally misleading people outright and inadvertently playing up your sustainable efforts a little too much.

The key, said Valerie, is to be transparent, authentic and prepared to prove your claims. How you deal with challenge says as much about your brand’s commitment to sustainability as the initiative you are promoting. An example of a company getting it right is Patagonia, which breaks down their products and reveals all of their sustainable and not-so-sustainable components in a compelling way through the Footprint Chronicles.

If you want to learn more on greenwashing (and how NOT to do it), visit the Greenwashing Index, which is an interactive website designed by Enviromedia and the University of Oregon to give the public tools to vet advertisements and render judgment on the level of greenwashing each employs. It’s a great resource.

Equity + The Triple Bottom Line (Sheryl Cole, Austin City Council; Armando Rayo, Cultural Strategies; Brandi Clark, EcoNetwork; and Susan Roothaan, A Nurtured World)
An increasingly important issue on the sustainability front is the “people” aspect of the triple bottom line (i.e. taking care of people and planet, in addition to profits). The GoGreen Austin panel on equity brought a robust conversation on fair access to information, resources and jobs in the green economy to the forefront of the conference agenda.

Bringing to light that sustainable living is a something to be enjoyed by all people, our panel made a convincing argument for realigning our goals and priorities to be more inclusive of groups historically left out of the sustainability movement—including people of color and low-income populations. One of our favorite takeaways was that we, as a culture and a civilization, have to get beyond the idea that a sustainable citizen is a middle-class, white, hybrid-driving, yoga-practicing American—because most of the world and an increasing portion of America does not fit that stereotype. We need to broaden the definition by bringing more people to the table, recognizing the vast array of cultural contributions to the green movement, creating solutions that fit a wider set of needs, and fostering participation in sustainable living by all.

Cultural Strategies’ Armando Rayo wrote a great follow-up post on this topic as regards bringing the Latino community further into the “sustainability” fold and recognizing their cultural approach to being stewards of the earth. Read that here.

Another group that is actively broadening the reach of green practices is the Sustainable Food Center (this is pulling in a resource from the Austin Business Journal Going Green Award Winner Session, but their work is extremely relevant on this front). SFC is finding ways to provide sustainable, farm-sourced produce to a wider spectrum of Austintonians. Visit their site here.

So what was your favorite session? What did you take away from GoGreen Austin that’s stuck with you over the past 10 days? Our comment section is ready and waiting for your insights!

P.S. Pictures from the day are on their way—so check back for those. We’ll also be releasing select video of the main stage sessions throughout the spring.
And remember, you can get the latest green news and information on GoGreen Austin hot off the press year-round at @GoGreenConf and #GoGreenAUS. We’ll see you on Twitter!

PDX 2010 Green Line Series: Verde’s Alan Hipólito Talks Equitable Access To The Green Economy

We’ve heard the rumors and seen the proof about explosive growth in what’s called the new “green economy.” But not everyone’s getting a fair share of the benefits. Verde’s Executive Director, Alan Hipólito talks with The Green Line Series on how to better integrate underrepresented populations into this new green economy, the advantages of a richly diverse workforce and why it’s crucial to the sustainable business movement’s success.

GG: Can you give us an overview of Verde’s programs and what your mission in the community is?
We used to say that our goal at Verde was to connect low-income people and people of color with the economic benefits of protecting the environment. But over time that’s evolved into a broader goal of building environmental wealth in those communities. Environmental wealth coming from traditional, natural resources —like clean air, clean water, uncontaminated land, parks, green spaces and habitat—to environmental technologies—like storm water management, ecoroofs, solar installations, weatherization, etc.—and then lastly a third kind of group which involves knowledge and economic opportunity—so environmental education, job training, jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities.

We build wealth in a community in two ways –through social enterprise, and through outreach and advocacy activities.

GG: We obviously talk a lot about making businesses more sustainable at GoGreen–what’s the missing link in your mind that Verde is trying to address?
If you accept, as I think most folks do, that the definition of sustainability involves a triple bottom line or a three-legged stool—highlighting environment, economy and equity—the sustainable movement has done a pretty good job delivering environmental performance and economic performance, but it does a terrible job of delivering equity. It comes down to the fact that most sustainability practitioners do not wake up in the morning and think about how their activities are going to impact lower income people and people of color. They wake up thinking about how they’re going to make money and protect the environment. They’re lacking that focus and so it doesn’t always happen.

GG: Other than the obvious reasons of fairness, what are the additional advantages to bringing those stakeholders to the table?
There are a number of them. One is, as we’ve seen with climate change legislation, sustainability practitioners don’t have the political numbers to consistently carry or achieve their legislative priorities. That’s a big building block right there in front of them, that’s often completely discounted.

There’s also an intellectual benefit, that’s been documented many times, to having diverse perspectives around the table. Instead of coming from one limited perspective, you have broader perspectives that tend to uplift the entirety of a program or movement. And there are competitive advantages to having a more diverse workforce as well, because we live in a global economy and the nation is getting more diverse over time. Monocultural, monochromatic initiatives and businesses aren’t well poised for success as we go forward.

GG: Do you think it’s possible for us to make the transition to a green economy if we leave behind low-income populations and people of color?
No. Absolutely not. It’s not possible. Some states are majority minority now. How are you going to have sustainability when you leave half the population out? You can’t do that.

There’s a train of thought out there, which recognizes that a lot of sustainability involves adopting practices that low-income immigrant communities never got rid of. So these notions of basic reduction of consumption, and reusing items that have already been purchased, local economies, bartering and exchange, local economic networks, alternative transportation—these are behaviors that low-income immigrant communities use all the time. Granted, some of them are forced upon these communities because of economic marginalization—they can’t afford a car or to dispose of items purchased that could be used again. But there are a lot of sustainable practices that already exist within these communities that the mainstream culture is just trying to reorient itself towards.

GG: How is the green economy specifically suited to provide high-quality jobs to historically underserved populations?
It depends on which people you’re talking about. For adults and specifically adults of a certain age, generally speaking there are more limited career pathways available. A 47-year-old immigrant laborer has less of a chance to become a wetland hydrologist or an environmental engineer as opposed to their son or daughter or granddaughter or grandson, who are exposed to issues of environmental protection or environmental careers early on, and have the opportunity to make decisions about their future that a lot of other people make all the time.

For us, the way we always identify appropriate business avenues is through a combination of market demand–what environmental industries or businesses seem to have demonstrable demand for the foreseeable future—capital needs—how much do these businesses need to get started—and training needs—what are we training people to do and what’s the skill set required for the job. If, given the adult population that we want to serve, it doesn’t make sense for us to be heavy on professional services then we won’t. With the population we’re working with in Portland, you can see why we would have a nursery, and landscape and weatherization contracting businesses based on our populations criteria.

Speaking more broadly, a number of organizations exist at the community level that have begun to develop resources and programs to help take individual community members, who might be underemployed or unemployed, with some or multiple barriers to employment, and provide them with both the support and training necessary so that they can be ready for a long term job or career opportunity in the green economy. We have programs like that which have started up over the last three to four years—which was not happening before—in which we’ve started to see the community-based organizations that serve low-income people, people of color or a given geographic area, really try and figure out how to take somebody from where they are all the way to a good job, that’s going somewhere, at a green business.

GG: What are some of the best practices, methodologies and things that need to happen in terms of legislative support or government support to manifest a shift towards a more diverse and equitable sustainable movement?
I won’t jump into all the things that need to happen in our education system to support the children of low-income families and youth of color, because I’m not really qualified to speak to that—other than to mention that what we try to do is bring them real world examples from their own community that can say: “I’m your neighbor or someone who lives down the street. I look like you and talk like you and I have a green job. I have health benefits and am getting job training. We’re improving your neighborhood. We built that playground over there and planted that tree over here and weatherized the homes on your street—and you can do it too. In fact, you can do things beyond what I can do. The physical work that I do is good and honorable, but you have even more choices. And myself and my partners want to tell you what they are.”

But that’s just a small part of the solution to support disadvantaged youth in our communities. Governmentally and with other organizations, there are two big things. The first is concerning governments, and this is something we work on quite a bit with our partners, where we’re looking for progressive or inclusive public contracting mechanisms. These kinds of best practices are pretty late to come to the sustainable movement. In the past, many people all over the city and country have worked really hard to develop models and practices that help incentivize participation by minority and women owned businesses, support a diverse work force, etc. And those have, to a great extent, happened on large construction projects like stadiums and skyscrapers.

These practices are late to come to sustainability for a lot of reasons, although we’ve started to see a change in that over the last couple of years. But if environmental policy makers—who are trying to incent the growth of an ecoroof industry or the green building industry, or who are trying to bring the Oregon Sustainability Center to life—if they adopted progressive and inclusive contracting practices they would make a big difference in the economic lives of low-income citizens and people of color in the community, not to mention the businesses that employ them. When government comes to the market place it can make a big difference and government is certainly coming to the marketplace around sustainability.

The other thing that I’ll say is that one of the challenges that has existed in connecting disadvantaged community members with good, green jobs that are going somewhere, is the current and historical disconnect between these communities and the environmental movement. So, for example, there are people in the community and at community-based organizations who know all about these inclusive contracting practices and all about designing a job-training program to meet the needs of a certain employer or sector. They know how to create public contracting models that would incent and employer to hire a diverse workforce—but they don’t know a lot about sustainability. They generally don’t know a lot about the specific job skills that are required for a particular green business or sector.

On the other side of that divide are the business owners and industry advocates. There are folks who know everything you every possibly want to know about how to fund, build and operate a bio-fuel facility or to grow the alternative fuel industry in the region or the state. They know everything about ecoroof design and construction, and what kinds of public policies would encourage further ecoroof use in the region. But these practitioners, correspondingly, don’t know much at all about how to create jobs for low-income people and people of color.

What we see is a real need to bring those two arenas together—the people who know how to create jobs and know how to train people with the sustainability practitioners who know what kind of job their businesses are going to need and know what is driving demand for these jobs.

GG: If I’m a business owner, and I want to integrate progressive and inclusive hiring practices into what I’m doing. What are some things I need to start thinking about and resources to reach out to in order to start the process?
Obviously, we’d encourage you to reach out to us, but only because we’re part of a larger group of community-based organizations from the Native-American community, the Black community, the Latino and immigrant communities—and we’ve come together to design a comprehensive training pathway to connect our residents to good green jobs. Together with the workforce system, trainers, apprenticeship programs and some employers, we were awarded a $4 million Federal grant to further design this pathway. So if an employer knows they will have a need for four weatherization technicians and six solar installers, and so on—then that’s the arena to engage, because we’re designing the training to meet the needs of the employers.

Alan Hipólito is the Executive Director of Verde, a Portland-based non-profit working to provide green career opportunities to disadvantaged citizens and communities. He’s also a featured speaker at the GoGreen Conference 2010 in Portland, Oregon on October 5, 2010. The conference is next Tuesday + GoGreen 2009 sold out, so register for GoGreen Conference 2010 Portland soon to join us: http://www.portland.gogreenconference.net/registration.

To learn more about the awesome work going on at Verde: http://www.verdenw.org

PDX 2010 Green Line Series: Jill Fuglister on Equity + the Triple Bottom Line

GoGreen: Can you give us a primer on the work you’re doing at Coalition For A Livable Future?
Jill Fuglister:
Coalition For A Livable Future (CLF) is a partnership of about 100 different institutions working together to shape big decisions being made about Portland’s future—and how it grows and develops. In terms of the content we’ll be discussing at the GoGreen Conference in October, the panel will be talking about the equity part of the work and looking at it in terms of advancing the concept of sustainability.

We’re very committed to taking a triple bottom line approach to that. In our experience, what we’ve seen since CLF’s inception in 1994 is that the equity part of that equation—if we look at it as environment, economy and equity—is the portion that is least understood and least acted upon in the context of regional development and decision making.

Since about 2002, we’ve put a significant amount of time and energy into shining a light on that part of the triple bottom line equation so that we can shift that dynamic.

GG: Why do you believe that addressing sustainability beyond environmentalism is so important?
From both a philosophical and a practical place, I don’t believe we’ll get closer to true sustainability if we ignore the equity part of the equation. There is ample research and evidence which shows that in places where environmental degradation is the worst—particularly when you look at developing nations—social inequality is the most extreme. So it seems that those two phenomena go hand in hand. With that in mind, we believe we have to work on all of the facets of sustainability if we want to get to where we want to end up.

GG: What is the role of partnerships? Is there no one organization that can do it all?
I think sustainability is all about holism. We’ve built our whole society and culture around becoming experts in very specific disciplines. And what we’ve found is that, in reality, the way we need to approach the world is not just by looking at things in silos and specific disciplines. It’s very helpful to have that expertise, but we need to be able to integrate across those separate areas if we want to come up with truly comprehensive solutions. Otherwise, what happens is that we only address one part of the problem with the consequence of externalizing the other impacts of our decisions and actions.

GG: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve come up against in terms of “fighting the good fight” for equity? And how has CLF overcome those challenges?
Well to start, there are issues surrounding even the definition of what we’re talking about. In the context of regional developmental decision-making, usually the main conversation about equity has centered on geography. It’s not been about what populations within the different geographic areas of our region, neighborhoods, counties and cities have the least access to the sustainability and the great livability we have in this region.

From our perspective, we’re falling short, because we believe that equity is about looking at populations that have historically experienced the greatest burdens and negative impacts of our decision-making—or has experienced the least benefit from the development we’ve put in place. That’s not true for every single issue, but for the bulk of them we think that if we’re going to make a push for sustainability, we need to ensure that every population is getting their fair share of the benefits.

GG: Is there a growing issue concerning equitable access to opportunities within the green economy?
Absolutely. We’ve been a part of several initiatives covering this issue—particularly the City of Portland’s Clean Energy Works Program—and making sure that the jobs that are created in those programs and the broader green economy, are accessible through training and contract awards guidelines, so that populations that are historically the most underemployed or unemployed are able to participate equitably.

If we look at unemployment in our region and state right now, it’s at about 10 percent. But if you look at niche communities, such as the African American community here, their unemployment rate is double what the general rate is. When we look at this phenomenon through an equity lens, we want to see that we account for that disparity and make sure that in the context of creating jobs in the green economy, we are very proactive in implementing a set of strategies that will help shift that dynamic positively. We know we can’t fix it immediately, but we need to start doing things that will continuously move the needle in a positive direction.

GG: Do you think the responsibility for catalyzing that shift lies with governments and NGOs? Or do business owners and stakeholders need to help bridge the gap as well?
Our ultimate vision is that all sectors are contributing to enacting solutions. I absolutely think the private sector has a role to play and probably has a lot of know-how to bring to the table. It’s got to be all of us working together, proactively tackling these issues. We need to acknowledge that there are these disparities and start finding ways to create pathways for those that are in poverty, and those who are part of populations that are historically underemployed above the general average.

GG: What are some of the programs and ideas CLF uses to accomplish those goals?
Within the context of Clean Energy Works—and this is something a private sector employee can adopt too—we’re actually creating a public community workforce, we’re establishing targets around the numbers of individuals and businesses from different communities of color, etc. that are employed or contracted with. We’re looking at who is providing training to them, what kind of benefits they receive, etc. You can get very specific if you outline your targeting and figure out what groups you want to reach—and again this is something that any private sector business can do as well. There are lots of organizations to connect with in terms of workforce development and they’re very open to partnerships. It just takes a little extra effort.

GG: Are there any developing trends or programs you’re seeing that are especially exciting to you and have great potential to change the landscape of equity in the Northwest?
One of the really neat projects we’ve been involved with is through Portland State University. It’s a social bottom line project and it’s focused on development. It’s a tool for developers and others in the industry to integrate more equity best practices and the social part of the sustainability triple bottom line into projects. They’ve been very explicit about saying that this is a tool and it’s supposed to be responsive to any particular context you find yourself in, so as not to overwhelm businesses that are using it. It’s very comprehensive and it gives people a place to start finding answers for a whole bunch of different questions that come up when you start integrating that equity piece into green development plans.

GG: What are your goals for the GoGreen session you’re moderating in October? What information do you hope attendees walk away with?
I think people who come to this conference every year have bought in wholeheartedly to the green part of the sustainability movement. I hope that folks will walk away from our session with the inspiration to integrate a piece of the equity part of sustainability into what they’re doing. I want to spark their interest and get them to recognize that it’s an important piece of the solution, but without overwhelming them with a menagerie of new things to be worried about if they’re actively pursuing status as a green business. We want to inspire them to start questioning and acting on behalf of equity.

Jill Fuglister is Director at the Portland-based non-profit Coalition For A Livable Future. She is also a featured speaker at the GoGreen Conference 2010 in Portland, Oregon on October 5, 2010. To register for GoGreen Conference 2010 Portland, please visit: http://www.portland.gogreenconference.net/registration. GoGreen ‘09 sold out, so make sure to sign up soon!

To learn more about Jill Fuglister and Coalition For A Livable Future, visit: http://clfuture.org. Follow their work on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/clfuture.