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Photo by Jack Huynh, Orange Photography

San Francisco's Green Collared Future

By Jordanna Thigpen

March 9, 2006

San Francisco has a thriving small business community and a healthy tourism industry. We are lucky to have several of the world's largest corporations headquartered downtown.

Our nonprofit community is one of the biggest in the country, and an urban legend abounds that we have more lawyers per capita than any other American city. Hey, a point of pride!

But to stay sharp, it is time for San Francisco to develop a new industry: a green industry. Green collar jobs for low-income workers are part of the solution.

Thus far, "green collar" jobs have been limited in the public discourse to green and sustainable interior design or architecture on one hand, and engineering and alternative technology development on the other - both highly creative fields, yet neither providing a lot of opportunity for low-income workers except in the construction, installation, or manufacturing phases. It is time to change the perception that green collar jobs are only the provenance of the liberal elite.

In Washington DC, there is a program called DC Greenworks (www.dcgreenworks.org). This program trains low-income workers to develop the urban ecosystem by installing landscaping and Low Impact Development technology. The workers benefit by gaining a marketable skill, and the entire community benefits by having a greener city. By creating a similar program here in San Francisco, we can train workers for the public and private sectors in green collar jobs with a future.

DC Greenworks goes beyond tree and sidewalk landscaping. Low Impact Development (LID) technology includes green roofs, rain gardens and bioretention, and permeable paving. All of these solutions lessen the impact of storm water and runoff. The plants collect up to 30% of the water before it hits the sewer system.

In a wastewater system such as ours, which is in the process of a major upgrade, these technologies are vital. We should implement them now in areas in which the system is subject to heavy use and flooding, pending PUC upgrade. Mayor Newsom and Supervisor Alioto-Pier's pending proposal to lower the sidewalk landscaping permit fee is a perfect vehicle for private implementation. The City can set aside a small portion of the budget surplus to address public implementation.

Yet who will install these solutions?

At DC Greenworks, workers are trained on installation of LID. In turn, they can translate these skills into the private sector. More sustainable homes are being designed, and private contractors are looking for workers with the skills and knowledge to work with sustainable materials.

Here in the City, there is a growing demand for green design for new homes and for remodels. The demand is here - but there is no supply of suitably trained workers. Employing workers in this capacity would provide them with jobs in which they could continually develop new skills. Some could end up owning and operating their own landscaping and LID businesses with the skills they learn.

As an example, green roofs are already in use in many cities around the country. For locals who are interested in learning about green roofs, a Green Roofs 101 course will be offered by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (www.greenroofs.net) on March 31. The course is meant for professionals, but by taking the course, perhaps individuals will be inspired to train workers to install green roofs. Better yet, perhaps someone will be inspired to create an analog to DC Greenworks.

It is time to provide green collar jobs with a future.

District 6 resident Jordanna Thigpen is an attorney, small business owner and a Commissioner with the City's Small Business Commission. You can usually find her at work and she doesn't get to Ocean Beach often enough. Email Jordanna at jgthigpen@gmail.com.

Click here for Thigpen archive.




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