The Green for All – Green Wave is Coming!

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins

The Green Wave is coming. That’s what Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green for All, told us at last week’s SRI in the Rockies conference. The question isn’t will it come, the question is, will America participate and will it help people rise out of poverty? Green for All is poised to help America ride this wave in a very big way. They’ve got eight billion dollars of federal stimulus money and a lot of passion and good ideas and are working very hard to implement plans that will put this money to use in the most effective ways possible to meet their twin goals of green jobs creation in a clean energy economy and moving people out of poverty.

Green for All was founded by one of my heroes, Van Jones, a pioneering force in human rights and the clean energy economy, and former special advisor for green jobs at the White House’s Council for Environmental Quality, as well as author of The Green Collar Economy. He has been a voice of drawing awareness to the global climate crisis and its disproportionate impact on the poor.

In the U.S. he has called upon poor communities and people of color to step forward and become players in the Environmental movement despite its stereotype as a movement of wealthy white people. Through Green for All, he strove to create an institution that can demonstrate what change looks like and move forward on strategies to mitigate both pollution and poverty. And today, with 8 billion dollars of federal money behind them, Green for All has developed several tools for making the leap from “inspiration to implementation.” Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, they will receive this 8 billion dollars over the next 18 months toward the creation of green jobs. Not just short term, putting on a band-aid kind of jobs, but training that leads toward careers in growing fields that meet real developing needs in a world that absolutely must rise to the occasion of addressing global warming. Their goal is to craft a strategy to leverage this 8 billion as incentive to create an industry, in fact a “new green economy” that is sustainable for the long term while making a real positive impact for communities that are suffering the most. The new jobs need to meet several criteria: they must pay a living wage that supports families, set people on a career track, require a high school degree but not a college degree, preserve or enhance environmental quality, and build community assets. Vital to Green for All’s strategy is working to prepare low income communities and people of color to be involved in these new industries and to create leaders within communities to help move policy forward.

Right now they have money, resources and people rooting for them and they are rushing to take advantage of this incredible window of opportunity before it closes. Through partnerships with private and public sectors, Green for All is beginning to introduce programs nationwide that offer financing and job training to meet what is now being recognized as the greatest threat of our times: Global Warming. With the knowledge that 43% of the carbon emissions contributing to global warming produced by the United States come from existing buildings and homes that are terribly energy inefficient, Green for All is focusing its first major effort on energy efficiency. And so, goal number one is energy retrofits for homes and commercial and community buildings to reduce waste and carbon emissions, and save money.

My hometown of Portland, Oregon is the base of Green for All’s first project called “Clean Energy Works Portland.” By partnering with the City of Portland, Energy Trust of Oregon, Northwest Natural, Portland General Electric and ShoreBank Enterprise Cascadia, Green for All has provided the initial investment to fund the weatherization of 500 homes by summer of 2010 followed by the weatherization of 100,000 homes over the next 10 years with an estimated 10,000 new jobs created. In Oregon, which has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the nation and is the 3rd hungriest state, (not to mention being cold and rainy) this program has been welcomed with open arms by Portland’s progressive leadership. Green for All provided 3/4 of the financing to create a revolving loan fund in which homeowners can borrow the average $8,500 needed to weatherize their homes and through an ingenious tool called “on-bill financing,” easily repay their loan. On-bill financing means using the difference between the original energy bill’s cost and the post-weatherizing energy cost to repay the loan and having it handled by the energy companies themselves. So the homeowner never has to actually cough up any additional money – they just continue to pay what they have been paying, and in time the energy savings pay for the retrofits. To top it off, the loan stays with the home so if the home is sold to someone else, the new owner takes on the on- bill financing of the weatherization project. It’s a fairly ingenious method of guaranteeing the loan with the least impact on the borrowers, making it extremely accessible to people of all income levels. In other states with less collaborative energy companies, other methods of financing are being considered. In Santa Clara, for instance, Green for All’s next target site, financing will probably come through property taxes instead.

This energy retrofit project is being funded via Green for All’s new Energy Efficiency Opportunity Fund. The $20 million dollar social investment fund, created in partnership with Living Cities, a philanthropic collaborative of 22 of the world’s largest foundations and financial institutions, serves as a leverage tool to spark $200M in financing for building energy retrofits nationwide. The fund was officially announced on September 25th at the Clinton Global Initiative and boasts some extremely impressive annual outcomes. Through the work it will finance and complete, each year 37,000 tons of carbon emissions will be avoided (that’s the equivalent of 4700 cars being taken off the road), 15,000 homes will see 25% energy savings with total household savings of $6M, 2000 commercial and community buildings will see 25% energy savings, and there will be 25,000 new clean energy jobs created. This fund offers triple bottom line returns; for the environment by reducing carbon emissions, for society in offering a clear path to careers with a living wage to support families, and financially with a 2-3% annual financial return to investors.

This is brand all new stuff – the project in Portland started just 3 weeks ago as of this writing, and the city of Santa Clara is coming on line in just 3 more weeks. Green for All is a mere 2 years old with a staff of 50 people. They acknowledge that they can’t grow quickly enough to take advantage of this opportunity and therefore they are working as quickly as possible to connect people to their vision and mission and identify people across the country to be leaders in their cities and communities, and to help move policy forward to tackle poverty and pollution. They have a fabulous CEO at their helm in Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins. She is articulate and inspiring and doing great work to get the word out about their mission. Keep an eye out for Green for All’s work in your community and offer them your support. Check out Green for All’s site: www.greenforall.org to follow their work.

Malaika Maphalala is our Portland, Oregon advisor.

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Jim Cummings

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