Q&A: Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green For All

A conversation with one of the leading thinkers in the green economy

phaedra ellis lamkins smilingPresident Barack Obama just delivered the State of the Union address. And so it’s as good a time as any to inquire about the state of the green economy.

We decided to talk to Green For All CEO Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins about just that. She talks environmental justice, green jobs — and the resignation of Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa P. Jackson.

Now that Lisa P. Jackson is stepping down from her role, do you feel the concerns of environmental justice in communities of color are going to be addressed in the White House?

It is a huge loss to lose Lisa Jackson. She was a warrior on the issues we care about most. We have to believe that the President has the same values that she does. Now, the questions we’re concerned about is who will replace her? What is their commitment to addressing these issues? Will our communities benefit from the green economy?

What are the current urgencies for green jobs today? What policies or programs are in place that are lightening the burden?

There are two things that we at Green For All are focused on. The first thing is to increase the number of green jobs. These jobs are growing in places like California, Oregon, Philadelphia, etc. Second, we have to work on policy-based incentives that help growth happen. This would be in the form of tax benefits to businesses and home owners. We also want people to have access to jobs and training and to be prepared to be competitive.

In what ways do you feel communities of color aren’t prepared for the green economy?

Communities of color are so committed to green jobs. Now we need to provide them. I was in Silicon Valley years ago and watched as our community got left behind as those businesses and tech companies got rich.

We need to become an economy that makes things again. Manufacturing is where communities of color benefit from the most. No communities are specifically prepared. Mayor [Michael] Nutter in Philadelphia is currently spending money on water structure and creating jobs by training people to make sure the water is safe. Cities like Cincinnati and Washington D.C. are also focusing on water and how they can continue to produce jobs to support these industries. Our communities are increasingly becoming aware of opportunities, but we need the preparation. That is a green tipping point for all of us on a local and federal level.

Can you talk about your role as CEO of Green For All and perhaps touch on a few projects in the work or that you have launched this year to support green economic development?

We are currently working with mayors in different cities to invest in their infrastructure — healthy food, clean water, clean air — and making sure that people have access to jobs. We’re also focusing on how minority contractors can grow their companies and how they can create more jobs to help the economy. These models are working effectively in cities like Portland and Indianapolis. Our goal is to provide measurable change for people who need it the most. We need to be measured on how people’s lives change and not how we feel. Change should be fun and happy. We want to have an economic revolution.

Where can people go to learn more, get involved, advocate, etc?

Think about what you are already doing. It is easy to say use less energy, recycle, take easy steps, but these things don’t actually do enough to transform our economy. We’re getting left out and it’s important that we create opportunities to get into the new economy. We like to use the term “retrofitting.” It starts with your right to know where your money is being spent when you pay a bill, electric, gas, water, etc. You can learn about what’s going on in your environment by knowing enough to make sure that the things you are paying for actually work for you.

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