by Cesca Janece Waterfield
Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins is chief executive officer of Green for All, a national organization with the dual goals of creating green jobs and reducing poverty. She was appointed last summer by the organization’s vibrant co-founder, Van Jones. Under her leadership, the organization works towards a “green economy” by building national, state and local initiatives and by bringing together people and teams working to forge new direction for the nation’s climate and energy legislation. She has been featured in Essence and Time Magazines, MSNBC and more. Before moving to Washington D.C., she was an effective and respected advocate for working families in California and was named one of the most powerful women in Silicon Valley by San Jose Magazine. www.greenforall.org
At what point in your life did you become dedicated to environmental action?
I grew up in Suisun, a small California town in the San Francisco Bay Area. Located near big refineries and factories, Suisun had a lot of pollution. Many kids, myself included, were sick with asthma and other conditions but our parents believed that working at these plants were the only way to provide for their families. When I grew up, I worked for a long time in the labor movement so that people like my mom and our neighbors would have good jobs that helped them take care of their families – jobs that treated them with the dignity they deserved as workers and people. I was applying one of the main lessons of my childhood: parents should not have to choose between their families’ health and their economic future. It was when I realized that working not just for good jobs but for green jobs could create opportunities for work, wealth, and health for kids like me that I really became dedicated to environmental action. That was when I came to Green For All to lead the charge for green jobs and the clean-energy economy.
What are your goals for Green for All?
Green For All has one fundamental goal: to build an economy that both protects the planet and moves people out of poverty. To do that, we need to accomplish three things. First, we need to win real, meaningful policy victories at the federal, state, and local levels. We need policies that combat climate change and create opportunity for low-income people and people of color in the green economy. Second, we need real jobs for real people. Green For All is working to create quality, career-path green jobs for low-income people and people of color. Third, we need to build a movement of people who have the knowledge, resources and will to build an inclusive green economy in their communities. If everyday people aren’t behind this, it won’t happen.
How far away is any real vision of a green-collar economy?
Green For All has already championed a number of successful green-collar initiatives. At the federal level, many of the green provisions in President Obama’s Recovery Act came from Green For All’s policy initiatives, as well as those of our allies. We’ve helped states like New Mexico and Washington develop their own innovative, robust green jobs programs — programs that other states are now looking to as models. And Green For All was a key partner to the City of Portland, Oregon, in designing a groundbreaking revolving loan fund that helps homeowners pay for energy-efficiency improvements to their homes while creating jobs for the local workforce.
That being said, the biggest green-collar initiative is still ahead of us: a comprehensive climate and energy bill that puts America firmly on the path to a clean-energy economy. And in the wake of BP’s disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, America is more ready than ever for this kind of national effort. Now we need to get the federal government, particularly the Senate, to respond to the will of the people. That’s the next big task for Green For All.
How can working people make environmentally-friendly consumer choices?
People can do a number of small things in their day-to-day lives that can have a big impact when you add them up. Everyone knows that recycling can make a difference, as can riding a bike or walking instead of driving your car. But what about cleaning your dryer’s lint screen, or washing clothes in cold water? What about turning your computer and other electronics off when you’re not using them? Simple things like that will save energy, save you money, and help stop pollution and climate change. And, of course, people can take some time to focus on larger things like climate change and clean energy. For more ways to get involved and make a difference, visit Green For All’s website, www.greenforall.org.
What is an average day for you?
Every day is different. I recently relocated temporarily to Washington, D.C., so every day is a bit of an adventure. I start early and end late, meeting with all kinds of people from all kinds of organizations — from members of grassroots advocacy groups to Members of Congress. My team and I work to develop strategic relationships, promote key policies and programs, and build a grassroots movement in support of a clean-energy economy. I also make as much time as I can to read and learn more; you can never know too much. As different as they are, I can definitely say my days are exciting, busy, and certainly rewarding.
What are your hobbies?
I guess exercise is like a hobby. I love it, and I try to make time for it every day. I love spending time with my friends and family. It’s hard to do that when I’m in D.C., but I spend as much time with my loved ones as I can when I’m back in California, especially my three nieces.