Saturday, August 2, 2014
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Creating a lasting green economy

Leanne Krueger- Braneky's goal is to create jobs that pay well and are long-term.

Leanne Krueger-Braneky says stimulus funding has sent her task force into overdrive for fear of missing out on an opportunity.
Leanne Krueger-Braneky says stimulus funding has sent her task force into overdrive for fear of missing out on an opportunity. JOHN COSTELLO / Staff Photographer

From her seat at the Franklin Institute last week, one of nearly 300 on hand for the unveiling of Mayor Nutter's plan to make Philadelphia "the greenest city in America," Leanne Krueger-Braneky drew praise from a White House envoy.

Van Jones, a green-jobs trailblazer and now an adviser to President Obama, lauded Krueger-Braneky for her leadership on sustainability issues in Philadelphia long before political officials embraced the cause.

Two years ago, even Krueger-Braneky wasn't familiar with the terms "green jobs" and "green economy." Now, the 32-year-old West Philadelphia resident is leading an effort to ensure that a meaningful green economy takes root here.

As executive director of the nonprofit Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia, Krueger-Braneky pulled together a variety of local activists, business professionals, and public officials a year ago to form the Green Economy Task Force.

Her rally cry was inspired by Jones himself, whom Krueger-Braneky first heard speak in 2007 in Berkeley, Calif.

"I was sitting at the table and got goose bumps," she recalled, deciding at that moment that his "message needs to come to Philadelphia."

That message, in part, is that no effort at building a green economy will be successful if steps are not taken to ensure that those most in need of work - and able to do it - find employment.

"If that doesn't happen, the green economy will bubble up and eventually burst without positively impacting communities in North Philadelphia and West Philadelphia and other low-income communities across the country," Krueger-Braneky said in an interview last week.

She finally managed to get Jones to Philadelphia for a speaking engagement in February 2008, then roped him into returning a month later to help inspire a strategy session of key stakeholders on what it would take to get 100 people trained for green-collar jobs in a year.

From that effort, the Green Economy Task Force was born, simultaneously forming committees to focus on four specific topics: policy changes, employer commitments, job training, and funding. A fifth committee was soon added to tackle outreach and communication.

That in itself blew Jones away, he said in an interview Friday. "Very few cities" have actually responded to his urgings for a green economy with the kind of swift, measurable action that Krueger-Braneky has, Jones said, calling her "extraordinary."

In Krueger-Braneky's view, something even more remarkable than her ability to swiftly form the task force happened after Jones' initial visit here:

A green-minded president was elected, and a $787 billion federal stimulus package was passed with an unprecedented investment for the building of a green economy, including $500 million for green-jobs training.

"All of a sudden, there was more money than any of us dreamed would be possible," Krueger-Braneky said.

Stimulus funding has sent the Green Economy Task Force, which counts 200 volunteers and 130 organizations as members, into overdrive.

"There's this tremendous sense of opportunity right now, but also the sense that if we don't move quickly enough, we're going to lose out," Krueger-Braneky said.

With the phone "ringing off the hook" with calls from City Council members and state legislators seeking information, and from the unemployed wanting to apply for green jobs, the task force recently decided it needed another strategy session "to focus, because if we didn't get focused, we were going to get lost," Krueger-Braneky said.

So during an April 20 gathering, the task force decided that it would stay true to its original mission: to get Philadelphians with barriers to employment, such as inadequate education or criminal records, into green jobs.

Mayor Nutter's green framework for the city, called "Greenworks," sets a target of 15,000 green jobs by 2015. Nutter frequently defines such jobs as opportunities for a gamut of people - or, as he puts it, from those holding "GEDs to Ph.Ds." The task force wants to make sure that it's those nearer the general-equivalency-diploma end of the spectrum who benefit from any new green-job opportunities.

Nutter's director of sustainability, Mark Alan Hughes, said that goal was in line with the mayor's priorities.

"The main reason he is focused on Greenworks is because of its economic-development aspects . . . because of the opportunity that it represents for diversifying the workforce," Hughes said.

The pressing issue, he said, is: "How do you adequately prepare your constituents for jobs that are just now emerging?"

Pat Eiding, president of the AFL-CIO and a member of the Green Economy Task Force's job-training committee, said his appeal to Nutter and all those working to bring green-related employment opportunities to the city was that they be "long-term jobs that pay living wages with benefits, [at] the very least, health care."

Kate Houstoun, who as green-jobs coordinator at the Sustainable Business Network oversees the Green Economy Task Force's work, put it this way:

"I don't want to see a bunch of transitional jobs, and seasonal jobs, and minimum-wage jobs. We want to see jobs that are lasting and are going to help people sustain their families."

To that end, the task force will hold a series of "employer-commitment roundtables" over the next couple of months to better understand businesses' needs for green-collar workers, and to assess what it would take to get a commitment from them to hire those workers.

"There are a lot of ambitious, ambitious goals," Houstoun said of Nutter's Greenworks agenda. "The link that is so hard to make real is the link between the people in poverty and the $20-an-hour job."

 


Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466 or dmastrull@phillynews.com.

 

Diane Mastrull Inquirer Staff Writer
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