When Generation Water’s CEO Marcus Castain started the organization, his goal was to develop the next generation of leaders for the green economy who can combine technical best practices and business skills to solve complex sustainability challenges. Five years later, Generation Water has employed and trained more than 250 youth and adults, installed 125 rain gardens, and conducted over 240 water audits and irrigation surveys for clients in the Los Angeles area including the Department of Water, Los Angeles Unified School District, the Metropolitan Water District, and the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, among others.
Generation Water is one of seven organizations profiled in our recent report, Staying Green and Growing Jobs: Green Infrastructure Operations and Maintenance as Career Pathway Stepping Stones. Each of the organizations is helping eradicate poverty and create a sustainable future by linking members from disadvantaged communities to opportunities in the green sector.
Castain created Generation Water in 2009 with the goal of providing employment opportunities for students to do hands-on environmental work. In 2010, Generation Water was awarded the State of California’s $2.5 million Green Innovation Challenge and since then, has worked with water agencies, large landscape property managers, and homeowners to save them water, time, and money.
Generation Water prepares young adults for careers in water use efficiency, sustainable landscaping, and habitat restoration. This begins with recruiting college-educated students to work on irrigation system assessments in parks and public schools; sustainable landscaping installation on private property; and landscape restoration through the removal of invasive plant species.
Generation Water has effectively combined hands-on experience, classroom education, and the use of technology to provide community members with experience that fits their professional development aspirations. By offering a wide array of work, Generation Water allows participants to select which type of work they want to do, depending on their interest in physical labor or analytical, technology-based work.
Like many organizations in the field, finding contracting opportunities is one of Generation Water’s biggest challenges. As a social enterprise, Generation Water faces stiff competition from private contractors. Castain does, however, see increased opportunities for the organization in the near future, especially in the outdoor landscape water efficiency sector where the work requires specialization and efficient water systems installation techniques. Castain is a strong advocate for bringing labor and business interests to the table to discuss workforce needs and to identify ways to collaborate on maximizing opportunities for a new workforce.
Generation Water is one of a number of cutting edge programs that are delivering triple bottom line benefits from green infrastructure investment. The organization’s work is an example of a successful private/ public/ nonprofit partnership that protects the environment, increases access to economic opportunities, and improves the social conditions of disadvantaged groups. The organization is cultivating a new generation of environmental stewards that come from communities most impacted by environmental and economic crises. These programs tap into water operations and maintenance work to create on-ramps to a variety of high-quality careers. Generation Water has shown it’s possible to perform a critical task, like managing water problems in Los Angeles, while creating real, long-term, high-quality career choices for disadvanted residents.