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Taking a Stand for People and the Planet

Van Jones was lauded for his green-collar jobs campaign, which combines his lifelong commitment to racial and economic justice with his latest fight to save the environment.

By Pamela J. Johnson
May 8, 2009

Van Jones was appointed in March to serve on the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Photo courtesy of Green For All.

Van Jones was appointed in March to serve on the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Photo courtesy of Green For All.

During a recent ceremony, founding president of Green For All Van Jones was honored with USC College's 2nd annual Sustainability Champion Award.

Jones' Oakland-based green jobs advocacy group strives to resolve the ecological crisis while lifting millions from poverty.

The group advocates for local, state and federal commitment to job creation, training and entrepreneurial opportunities in the emerging green economy. Fighting both poverty and pollution, the organization focuses on people from disadvantaged communities.

“Perhaps more than any single individual in the U.S. today, Van has highlighted the linkages between ending poverty and the emergence of a green jobs economy,” said Jennifer Wolch, director of the USC Center for Sustainable Cities (CSC), which presents the award and is housed in the College.

Echoing Jones, Wolch said social inequity and environmental destruction are connected economically, politically and morally.

“The solutions for each must, therefore, be one,” Wolch said, quoting Jones.

Jennifer Wolch, director of the USC Center for Sustainable Cities, pictured here during the April 30 event, also organized last year’s Sustainability Champion Award honoring Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on behalf of his environmental group.

Jennifer Wolch, director of the USC Center for Sustainable Cities, pictured here during the April 30 event, also organized last year’s Sustainability Champion Award honoring Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on behalf of his environmental group. Photo credit Jennifer Mapes.

The awards ceremony took place during the center’s April 30 conference titled, “Cities and Climate Change,” and was sponsored by a grant from HSBC Bank. The all-day event featured policy makers, practitioners, justice advocates and business leaders who discussed how cities can curb climate change.

Generating enormous waste streams and high levels of greenhouse gases, cities are part of the pollution problem, Wolch said. But they can also play a large part in the solution.

Cities can enhance transit, make smarter decisions about where to build, produce more energy efficient buildings and move toward a cleaner industry, to name a few solutions.

Later, Jones accepted his award via video. Jones was unable to attend after President Obama appointed him in March to serve on the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Jones is special advisor for green jobs, enterprise and innovation. Last year, Jones was named a Time magazine 2008 Environmental Hero.

“We don’t just have hybrid cars anymore. We have a hybrid movement now,” Jones said via video. “People who care about the planet and people who care about poor people are beginning to see that there’s one answer to both problems. And that is a green economy.”

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, who succeeded Van Jones as chief executive officer of Green For All, delivered the lunch keynote speech.

“When you organize with one another you create a circle,” she said. “How do we slow down the impact of global warming and use that as an opportunity to move people out of poverty, while addressing people of color? The spirit of Green For All recognizes that both struggles are critical.”

During the conference, Manuel Pastor, professor of geography and American studies and ethnicity in the College, presented a plaque to Wolch, who on July 1 will begin her new post as Dean of the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley.  Inscribed was, “Your leadership has transformed CSC, the University and the City.”

Wolch, professor of geography and urban planning, has a “stellar soul,” Pastor said, adding:

“She brings to her work and her life a deep moral vision and unwavering commitment to social justice and a new and fully developed vision of sustainability to which many of us aspire.”

 

Read more articles from USC College Magazine's Spring/Summer 2009 issue.