At first glance, it may not be looking too good for those of us who are trying to save the planet and put people to work. Pollution from cars, coal plants, and toxic industry is poisoning us more than ever before. Already, global warming is taking a toll on the world’s most vulnerable people -- the World Health Organization has linked tens of thousands of deaths to climate change. Across the globe, economies are faltering, and here in America, the unemployment rate is still painfully high. Meanwhile, groups like the Heritage Foundation are attacking the green economy with new vigor.
And yet, I’m feeling more hopeful than ever.
Why? Because I’ve been meeting with some of the smartest, most innovative business leaders in America. If anyone can find creative ways to meet the challenges we face, it’s these folks. Not every conversation that happens in our nation’s boardrooms is about how to squeeze out profits at the expense of hardworking families. In fact, I’m hearing more and more conversations about how businesses can create the kind of world they want to operate in. A world with clean air and water. A world where kids aren’t going hungry. A world where more Americans have access to good jobs they can be proud of.
Two weeks ago, I joined business leaders from companies like Calvert and Sungevity at the Social Venture Network’s meeting outside of Portland, Oregon. Over the course of the meeting, hundreds of industry leaders grappled with the question of how businesses can most effectively serve as forces for social change.
This is exactly the kind of networking and problem solving we need if we want to put America on the road to prosperity and sustainability.
We also need to be bold. And one of the boldest things we can do right now is to believe that change is possible in our lifetime.
Opponents of the green economy are attacking us because they’re scared. I think that’s a good sign. It means we’re on the verge of winning. Our opponents say the solar industry is a flop. Meanwhile, the American solar industry has seen triple digit growth over the past two years—and this in the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression. Our opponents say green jobs aren’t real. Meanwhile, the green economy is already employing more people than the fossil fuel industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last month that 3.1 million Americans are working in green jobs today. And even as purse strings tighten around the world, investments in clean energy are on the rise. In 2011, global clean energy investment reached a record $263 billion.
When I look at the numbers and the facts, it’s not hard for me to believe that change is possible in our lifetime. It’s already happening.
But believing isn’t enough. Believing won’t put a meal on the table or a paycheck into a single mom’s checking account. It won’t take the mercury out of our water or the pollution out of our kids’ lungs. We need to solve real environmental problems and create real jobs. That’s where business comes in. Businesses—both small and large—can start changing things right now. They don’t have to wait for federal or local government to take action.
They can do it by reducing the environmental footprint of their own companies. They can do it by hiring the folks who have been shut out of the old economy—like youth, veterans, women, and people of color.
They can do it simply by seizing the opportunities that crop up from efforts to make America’s air and water healthy and safe. As we repair our crumbling transportation and water systems to make them cleaner and more sustainable, there will be a chance for local contractors and companies to join the effort—and much of this work can’t be outsourced to other countries.
And they can do it by innovating solutions—like the new ways companies like Sungevity, Solar City, and Solar Mosaic are pioneering to make solar power more affordable and give more Americans access to clean energy.
If we hope to turn things around—to put Americans to work again, to clean up our air and water, and fight climate change—we’ll need support from both big industries and small businesses. Because this fight will be won or lost in board rooms as much as it will on the streets.