Care2 Editor’s Note: Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins of Green For All is a winner of the 2010 Social Venture Network Innovation Awards. Phaedra was honored at SVN’s Fall Conference in Long Branch, New Jersey, October 21 – 24. The conference brought together leaders of socially responsible businesses to share best practices, collaborate on efforts and expand their impact to create a just and sustainable economy. Click here to learn more about the SVN Innovation Awards.
Low-income communities and communities of color were recycling before the term existed: reusing grease from the stove top, turning empty jars into drinking glasses, building compost piles for home gardens. For decades – centuries – we understood that practices that we now know can save the planet also save money. But we didn’t see those actions as environmentalist.
In the same way, the neighborhoods that low-income families can afford have often been the neighborhoods where heavy industry locates, or oil refineries, or power plants. The land that’s cheap enough for the poor is also cheap enough for pollution. When children got asthma, got rashes from the water supply – it was part of life, not an environmental issue. For the people who lived in those communities, the industry responsible for those ailments wasn’t a polluter – it was an employer. For people who haven’t learned a trade, or completed a college degree, these businesses were often the only paycheck available.
A few decades ago, a nascent environmental movement began a conversation about the wounds that people were inflicting on the planet. Their message was absolutely right – but their arguments were a luxury that not everyone could afford. What they saw as an attack on polluters, the people who needed those jobs to make ends meet saw as an attack on their livelihood.
There are two important lessons to take away from this. First, that unless people feel economically secure, it’s hard for them to worry about longer-term issues like the climate and the environment. Second, that little measures people use to address economic needs are often steps that can address those same big picture issues.
Green For All exists because the worlds of the economy and the climate crisis have multiple points of intersection. In fact, we believe that the joint crises our economy and our planet face have a common solution: building a new, clean energy economy.
We work with everyone from local grassroots organizations to the White House to build that economy. It’s an ambitious task, reshaping the economy for the new century. As with any ambitious task, it can be difficult to know how to measure success. We try to keep it simple: we are succeeding if we are making a difference in everyday people’s lives.
We’ve seen a lot of success. Our work takes place in cities and states throughout the country, in town halls and labor halls, in classrooms and in the streets. We build local capacity for energy efficiency programs, advocate for innovative public policy that bolsters the clean energy sector, train up-and-coming leaders. Our programs and our advocacy have put thousands of people to work in ways that reduce energy usage, create new, clean sources of energy, and increase local access to fresh food and clean water. (To learn more about our work and our successes, please visit greenforall.org).
Green “for all” means making the green philosophy important and useful even to people whose first priority is buying food for their families or paying their mortgage. It means supporting an America in which no one has to choose between his long-term personal needs and the long-term needs of the planet. It means building an America and an economy in which those needs are aligned.
After all, everyone believes in acting responsibly. We are all committed to having homes and jobs we can be proud of. We are all advocates of an economy that treats our communities and our planet with respect. We always have been; it just hasn’t always been easy.
It still isn’t easy. But now it’s possible.
Photo courtesy of Green For All
By Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins