Opinion: It’s Time to Reduce Our Climate Impact Through a Stronger Green Workforce

Read the story by Ana Chapman on LinkedIn

Every Earth Day, individuals, communities, and organizations reflect on how they’re doing their part – personally and professionally – and the ways in which they can contribute to a more sustainable future. For me, enacting change stems from my role in the workforce development field. I’ve worked in this sector for 25 years, and throughout that time, I’ve come to a conclusion: in order to implement large-scale climate solutions, we must invest in workforce training for the green economy.

In my role as the Chief Program Officer at The HOPE Program, an organization that empowers New Yorkers to build sustainable futures through comprehensive training, jobs, advancement and lifelong career support, I oversee the program design and implementation of our six job training programs. Five of these programs train participants for green careers, such as green construction, solar PV installation, energy efficiency retrofitting, and horticulture. With the support of our job placement and retention services, HOPE graduates consistently obtain high-paying jobs in the green economy.

So much potential lies within the green sector, benefitting both jobseekers and our climate. In 2022, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) released a Clean Energy Industry Report, outlining the recent growth and potential in the field. In New York, the clean energy sector rebounded from the pandemic faster than nearly all other industries. Even during the height of the pandemic, employment in the sector grew by 5 percent, and by the end of 2021, more than 165,000 people had clean energy jobs in the state. These occupations have also shown promising wages – in 2021, green sector salaries exceeded the national average income by 23 percent.

Additionally, at all levels of government, legislation is being proposed for the expansion of green energy, and the creation of new green jobs. One piece of legislation that has been signed into law is the New York State Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). This act centers around cultivating a clean energy workforce pipeline, as well as job training opportunities for workers of all experience levels. By 2030, the CLCPA aims to create more than 200,000 new clean energy jobs in New York State.

It goes without saying that economic growth in the sector is directly tied to reducing our climate impact, with further investment in clean energy driving our economy away from reliance on fossil fuels and the production of greenhouse gas emissions.

While witnessing the growth of the green sector in New York City, I’ve also seen the persisting environmental injustices occurring in neighborhoods like the South Bronx. The community has long been burdened with environmental hazards, including peaker plants, waste transfer stations, and perpetual diesel truck traffic. This has led to serious environmental and health-related injustices, including toxic air pollution and a lack of green space. As 91% of the Bronx County population is composed of people of color, this is a prime example of environmental racism. Communities of color are disproportionately targeted and impacted by environmental injustices, and often lack the access and resources to combat these issues or participate in problem-solving.

In the process of creating new green jobs, the CLCPA aims to prioritize equity and inclusion, stating “The Climate Act mandates that no less than 35% with a goal of at least 40% of our climate action benefits will go toward New York’s disadvantaged communities.”

This is a tall order. For acts like the CLCPA to achieve their ambitious goals for expanding the green economy, it requires individuals to fill the roles. It is crucial to include those who have been disproportionately affected by environmental injustices in these new green career opportunities. Not only is it important to have the chance to influence positive environmental change in your own community, but those who have been impacted by climate change have invaluable perspectives on the issues at hand, helping to inform the implementation of climate-related solutions. My upbringing in Central Harlem – a neighborhood historically impacted by the effects of climate change, as well as environmental racism – has shaped my perspective and motivated my work in this space.

At The HOPE Program, we work hard to ensure equitable access to green jobs. Jobseekers who come to HOPE often face barriers to employment such as histories of incarceration or homelessness, and many live in environmental justice neighborhoods like the South Bronx. In our programs, they receive training in green construction, maintenance, energy efficiency, and horticulture while improving green spaces throughout the city through hands-on projects. By connecting jobseekers to these career fields, HOPE is bridging the gap between unemployment in historically low-income, environmentally neglected communities and career opportunities in the burgeoning green sector.

Workforce development is a crucial component of creating an equitable green economy. Further investment in organizations like HOPE will allow more New Yorkers to gain the skills, resources and experience necessary to equip themselves for the green workforce.

On the global day supporting environmental protection, I implore you to consider the lens of workforce development in the shift towards clean energy, the expansion of the green economy, and the protection of our planet.

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