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Voices of the ReGeneration: Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green for All

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The ReGeneration is on the move! To make it easier for customers, Dell employees and stakeholders to find and participate in our conversations about the environment, we’re moving the best of our ReGeneration.org blog over here to Direct2Dell.  You’ll find the same great posts about what’s news in “green” business and technology, along with the green tips so many of you tell us you love. Join the conversation!

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins lo-res Since its inception in 2008, Green For All has had considerable success in lifting public awareness on the potential of green-collar jobs to transform the economy, curb global warming, and build pathways out of poverty for our most vulnerable communities.  Their case is simple: Green For All believes a shift to a clean-energy economy can improve the health and well-being of low-income people, who suffer disproportionately from cancer, asthma and other respiratory ailments in the current pollution-based economy.  And such a shift can also create and expand entrepreneurial, wealth-building opportunities for American workers who need new avenues of economic advance.

The past President of Green For All, Van Jones, was so successful at garnering attention for the organization that he was appointed Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.  (My ReGeneration Road Trip travel partner, Sarah van Schagen of Grist.org, had the opportunity to interview Mr. Jones during our time in Oakland, CA).  His successor, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, shares Van Jones’ passion and charisma, and has extensive experience working in these communities.  Prior to joining Green For All, Phaedra was head of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council and Working Partnerships USA. While there, she earned her reputation as one of the nation’s most brilliant, inspirational and creative problem solvers for working families.  She played a key role in expanding the living wage and launching the Partnership for Working Families, among other achievements.  She is clearly perfectly suited to fill the big shoes left by her predecessor, and shape Green For All into a leading organization within the environmental and labor movement. 

We recently had the chance to ask Ms. Ellis-Lamkins a few questions about Green For All, her role in the organization, and what is next for the movement.  We naturally jumped at the opportunity.

How would you describe your view of what’s going on in the environmental movement and what do you see as the core problem-solution?

Green Jobs Now - Oakland This is a very exciting time in the movement for a clean energy economy.  A year ago, we were inspiring people with a new idea:   that we can fix the economy and the environment at the same time by creating living wage jobs that are good for the planet.

Today, we are moving from inspiration into implementation.  We are turning that idea into reality and were given an excellent kickstart with President Obama’s recovery package, which invests billions in the clean energy economy.  Cities and states across the country are creating new models of green business that will show the way to a cleaner, safer, healthier future for everybody.  And Green For All will be there every step of the way ensuring that best programs and policies are implemented, which create real jobs for real people.

What’s your background that has led you to this cause? You were very successful in healthcare reform and helped to raise minimum wage for low income families, so what was the catalyst for deciding to make that move?

I see joining Green For All as a continuation of the work I did with the labor movement.  All of that work had the same goal: to help people build a better life for themselves and their families.

That’s what we do at Green For All.  The clean energy economy is the best chance we have to create dignified jobs for working families and pathways out of poverty for millions of Americans.  We can create clean, safe and healthy communities for the people who have struggled the most under the old, pollution-based economy.

What’s the perception of environmentalism in the African American community? Is it still a “for other people” mentality?

I think the African-American perspective is, in a lot of ways, similar to anyone else’s perspective.  Most people, first and foremost, want to make sure their families are healthy, happy and safe.  In communities that struggle with joblessness, pollution, lack of health services and healthy food for their children, above-average crime and violence, or any of the other challenges common in low-income communities and communities of color, dealing with those problems comes first.

That’s what is so beautiful about the clean energy economy.  It has the potential to solve those immediate, bread-and-butter problems AND heal the planet from the pollution and poison of the last 250 years — at the same time.

When we can make what’s good for families right now also good for the planet now and in the future, EVERY community will get behind it.  And that’s what clean energy jobs do.

What are you doing to make the green movement more accessible?

BEST Trainee Mitchell Battle demonstrating his tree climbing prowess Everything we do is aimed at making sure not only that we build a clean energy economy, but that everyone has a chance to succeed.  That starts with making sure that those who are so often left out and left behind — low-income people, working people, people of color, women, young people — have a voice and a presence in this movement and in the national debate.  From our Green For All Academy, to the technical assistance we offer local leaders, to the alliances we help forge at the local, state and national level throughout the country — we always make sure that disadvantaged communities have the space to participate and to lead.

But a place in the movement — in the debate — is not enough.  These communities also need a fair share of what this movement is creating, starting with clean energy jobs.  That’s why the policies and programs we help design and implement always aim to create jobs for those who need them most — the unemployed, the underemployed, and those with barriers to employment.

The chance to renew our national commitment to the highest American ideals — equality, fairness, opportunity for all — is the special promise of the clean energy economy.  We cannot afford to let that chance pass us by.

What do you see as the biggest hurdle for Green for All’s mission in the environmental movement?

The biggest hurdle in our mission is the second half of our name: “for all”.  At this point, we have a lot more momentum towards building a green economy than we do towards making sure that economy works for every community.  Inspired by groups like Green For All, 1Sky, the Apollo Alliance and more, President Obama has included the biggest investment in the clean energy economy ever in his recovery package.  Now we must work to make sure that low-income people, people of color and women will have a chance to earn the jobs that those investments will create.  We must make sure that every community gets to enjoy the benefits of this new clean energy economy. 

What is next for Green for All, and what can people do to help out?

Green Jobs Now - Windmills Over the past few months we’ve been supporting local leaders across the country who are working to make sure that the billions in President Obama’s recovery package translate into green jobs for everyday people.  These leaders are doing amazing work to ensure community involvement, transparency, and job quality in the recovery implementation.  They want to make sure that these clean energy investments create pathways out of poverty.

We are also focused on the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, the bill tackling our formidable energy and climate challenges.  We have two main goals.  First, we want the bill to invest more in America’s workforce and communities with job training, specifically with funds for the Green Jobs Act of 2007.  Second, we want the bill to include targeted hiring provisions that ensure that local workers and low-income workers get the chance to earn and keep the jobs that the bill creates.

The easiest way for people to get involved is by telling Congress you support these improvements to the American Clean Energy and Security Act.  It’s easy.  Just go here.

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