What's next for the Green Economy?

Authors: Rosa González, Director of Education and Outreach

This was the leading question at the GreenBuild conference earlier this month in Toronto, organized by the Center for American Progress and the Blue Green Alliance. I spoke on a panel titled "Building Power on the Ground," and it was clear to me—and, hopefully, others—that "what's next" is the need to build power, from the grassroots up.

Listening to the keynote addresses and the other panelists at the Green Jobs Summit, I was struck by a contradiction. There is a stark contrast between the current political landscape (and the negative press affecting the future of the green economy) and the incredible successes of the green economy developing in the US. Even more so in Canada, where public investment in infrastructure is attacked less. The tone of the conference was thus a curious mix of foreboding and celebration.

Practitioner after practitioner shared success stories of putting people back to work in exciting new fields that improve the quality of life for current residents and secure resources for future generations. Fields like green construction and energy efficiency that create new economic opportunities for businesses, save families millions on their energy bills collectively, and significantly reduce the amount of carbon we emit into the atmosphere.

It was so strange to hear these causes for celebration juxtaposed with fears regarding the future of the green economy. How can these efforts be so heavily under attack in the media and in Washington, D.C., especially at a time when a) everyone is in favor of job creation, b) climate change-related devastating weather events are on the rise in this country, c) the majority of voters both believe in climate change and want solutions to it, and d) the green economy bears some of the fastest growing and most innovative new industries responding to the challenges of our time?

How do we ensure that these efforts to create jobs building sustainable and healthy communities not be undermined by a handful of oppositional politicians? The answer lies in building power from the ground up. Sustainable development is something that happens at the grassroots and must be supported and sustained by the grass-tops. This is why Green For All is dedicated to investing in local leaders from low-income communities. This is why we build the capacity of women and minority-owned small green businesses, why we partner with local practitioners to help replicate what works. And this is why I was happy to be among the 23,000 people at GreenBuild who are working to build real solutions to joblessness and climate change.

What's next for the green economy is, in some ways, obvious—it's going to continue to grow and thrive. The question may not be what's next. The question may be: how do we grow it faster?

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