Van Jones: Greenbuild Master Speaker On The Green Collar Economy

Bill Walsh | November 17, 2008 | Policies

Van Jones

Van Jones is the founder and president of Green For All, and a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. He will be a Master Speaker at Greenbuild 2008 on Wednesday 11/19 @ 2 PM in Ballroom East (Session BL17).

Van Jones is an optimist. His new book, The Green Collar Economy, analyzes the twin crises of “rampant environmental destruction” and “radical socioeconomic inequality,” but is subtitled How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems. The book has been praised by the likes of Thomas Friedman, Al Gore and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. for breaking through the “jobs vs. environment,” “economic growth vs. ecological preservation” and “eco populism vs. eco elitism” arguments that too often result in political stalemate.

You might call Jones an improbable candidate to be an environmental leader. Shortly after earning a law degree from Yale, he co-founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland to “document, challenge and expose” systemic human rights abuses in the criminal justice system. At the root of the problem, he discovered decades of disinvestment in cities that have lead to despair and hopelessness, and a cycle of violence that makes everyone less safe. Looking for practical solutions to break this cycle, he found a “powerful source of hope in all things green.”[1]

But Jones is no Pollyanna. Opening Chapter 3, entitled Eco-Equity, he writes: “Sadly, most of the economic power we need to green the Earth is still in the hands of people with a ‘pillage and pave’ mentality. And they have unleashed their lobbyists to further defend their prerogatives, extend their power and prop up their positions.”

Reading those lines, I could not help but think of the destructive role the lobbyists from the plastics, chemicals and timber industries have played in the USGBC, undermining efforts to address the disparate environmental impacts on people of color rooted in status quo industrial and forest management regimes.

Just this week, a new study confirmed the point Doug Pierce made in our October 23rd newsletter. He argued that the proposed revisions to the LEED FSC credit, driven by an industry trade group that certifies timber taken from forests subject to Indigenous land right claims, would “greatly reduce the standing that Indigenous Peoples currently enjoy in the FSC process” and “significantly reduce the social equity values as currently expressed by the LEED wood credit.”

Tania Bubela of the School of Public Health, University of Alberta (Canada), co-author of this new study by the International Expert Group on Biotechnology, Innovation and Intellectual Property said: “The dominant argument, internationally, has been that traditional knowledge can be protected by property rights. Our case studies have shown that, in practice, this is very hard to do. In our view, promoting autonomy and capacity for self-governance for indigenous communities rather than property is the key.”[2]

Later in Chapter 3, Jones writes, “It is important that we wrestle with these questions consciously and openly – before the greening of the world’s economies proceeds irretrievably along the same lines as the unjust, unequal, gray economy.”[3]

USGBC chapters continue to do just this – wrestle consciously and openly with important issues -- from the Cascadia Region’s contributions to the LEED FSC credit revisions backing strong Indigenous rights, to the innovative collaborations supporting low-income communities that will be discussed at Greenbuild by representatives from the New York, Northern California and Arkansas chapters.[4]

Jones’ address to Greenbuild looks to be the right message from the right man at the right time.

HBN @ Greenbuild

This year you will find HBN at our Pharos booth, # 124.

HBN Policy Director Tom Lent will speak on Nutritional Labels for Products: Taking Control of What’s Green For You

Wednesday 11/19 @ 2 PM Rm. 156 ABC

HBN Senior Researcher Jim Vallette will speak on Unity Homes: Producing Green Gulf Coast Solutions

Thursday 11/20 @10 AM Rm. 109 AB

HBN Board Member, Ken Geiser, Ph.D. will speak on the Precautionary Principle

Thursday 11/20 @10AM Rm. 052 AB


[1] Van Jones, The Green Collar Economy, p.35

[2] New Study Shows Traditional Knowledge under Threat: Faulty Laws, Lack of Trust Stymie Promising Advances

Challenges in Deciding Who Owns Information of Interest to Researchers; Unique Definition of Property in Kenya, Overlapping Rights in Brazil Block Progress; Autonomy for Indigenous Communities the Key

For more information, please contact:

Coimbra Sirica:, or Elisa Henry:

To be posted soon at:

[3] Van Jones, The Green Collar Economy, p.72

[4] OR18 - The Greener Good: USGBC Chapters Present Local Green Jobs and Social Equity Initiatives, Thursday 11/20 @ 10 AM Ballroom West