Note: In honor of Social Venture Network’s 25-year anniversary, the network is inducting 25 of its most innovative and influential leaders into its hall of fame Nov. 13 at Gotham Hall in New York City. To recognize these sustainable business pioneers, SVN’s news program, ‘Sustainable Solutions,’ is interviewing the hall-of-famers to celebrate their accomplishments and learn what more needs to be done. Read the whole series here.
Van was in his 20s when he first attended a SVN meeting at the invite of the network’s co-founder Josh Mailman. The Yale-trained lawyer and founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights remembers at the time thinking only nonprofit and government activities could advance social change.
Attending the SVN meeting, where he recalls sitting at the back and “feeling completely intimidated by the level of genius, passion and accomplishment in the room,” Van began to shift his perspective on entrepreneurship.
“I had never heard of triple-bottom line businesses,” recalls Van.
“Being in the conversation with SVN showed me that we had a much bigger toolkit to make change, and that some of our most effective change-makers are actually in the private sector.”
As a result, Van began to champion the green economy as the solution to multiple problems — a failing U.S. economy and the devastated environment.
He was heartened to see the ideas find resonance in unexpected places like urban America. Van went on to write The Green Collar Economy, which became a New York Times bestseller, propelling the green jobs agenda into the national conversation.
The book is now used in 100 U.S. universities and is translated into more than six languages.
The book also led Van to co-found Green for All, a national organization that develops strategies to improve the environment while creating good jobs that allow people to support their families.
He was named one of Time magazine’s “Heroes of the Environment” and Fast Company called him one of the “12 Most Creative Minds of 2008.”
In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed him Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
For his work in championing solutions that both rescue the economy and the environment, SVN will pay tribute to Van at its Hall of Fame celebration Nov. 13. The network is recognizing its Top 25 change-makers to mark its 25-year anniversary.
Van, whose most recent book is a manifesto on rebuilding the American dream, says being honored by a group who played an influential role in his own development “is a pretty incredible feeling.”