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Week of 11.14.08

Transcript: Green Collar Jobs

BRANCACCIO: "Harness new energy and new jobs"...the first two things mentioned by President-Elect Obama on his to-do list once the election results were in last week.

Let's spend a moment then looking at one practical way to make both these things happen at the same time...thousands of new jobs while addressing America's energy challenge. They're called "green jobs" and we have some vivid examples for you now. Senior Correspondent Maria Hinojosa and Producer Jennie Amias have our report on social entrepreneurs at work, part of a series we call, Enterprising Ideas.

HINOJOSA: Meet Omar Freilla, an environmental visionary who believes that a green utopia can exist in an unlikely place: one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City.

FREILLA: We—we need to sustain ourselves. And there needs—there need to be—there needs to be work. There needs to be jobs that are available to people. And we have to create ways of sustaining ourselves that sustain life. You know, that enable us to pass on what's—here to future generations.

HINOJOSA: Freilla is the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. He grew up here in the South Bronx. And went to the prestigious Morehouse College. Several years ago, before the term 'green jobs' was even in the American lexicon, he came back to the South Bronx and announced to his mother that he was going to start a green business here... recycling other people's trash.

FREILLA: The first thing she said to me was that—you know, "I'll believe it when I see it. You know—all you—all I know that—what you do is, you go to a lot of meetings. And you talk a lot. You know, but when—show me the proof. All right?"

And then once it got close—and it kinda started to sink in that, "Okay, this thing was becoming real. This co-op is about to take off," then, you know, she looked a little closer a—and—and she kinda a—you know, asked more questions about how it actually operates. And so then the response is more of, like, "Well, you're picking up trash. That's what you're doing."

HINOJOSA: And she says, "Have I spent all my working years so that my college graduate with a Masters degree could pick up trash?"

FREILLA: Go around and pick up trash.

HINOJOSA: A—a—and do you feel like the people of the Bronx have been historically treated with respect in terms of the environment?

FREILLA: Oh, no. No, this is—this is an area that's for too long been cast to the side. You know, we've been used as—as a dumping ground. You know, and it's a—it's a good metaphor. That's pretty common. You know, we've been used as a dumping ground for the things that no one else wants.

HINOJOSA: Freilla's answer to that was to found Greenworker Co-operatives and start a home-improvement store that sells salvaged construction materials.

So how does this small green business that isn't yet turning a profit fit in to the future of America?

OBAMA: I'll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy—wind power and solar power and the next generation of bio-fuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced.

HINOJOSA: President-elect Barack Obama made the promise of millions new green jobs...jobs harnessing solar and wind power...but in the mind of Omar Freilla...a green future also means dealing with garbage.

A topic that might not have sounded so great in a political stump speech...but this is where Omar Freilla's heart is.

FREILLA: What we're out to do with—Greenworker Cooperatives is out to do is start lots of these different cooperatives. You know—lots of these different businesses, all of them in the South Bronx, all of them owned and operated by people who are from the South Bronx.

HINOJOSA: It doesn't just stop at green jobs for Freilla...his company Greenworker Co-operatives is just that...a workers cooperative...where profit isn't the motive...it's about instilling the values of democracy among the people of the South Bronx...some of the poorest and most disenfranchised in our country.

FREILLA: We've allowed for communities, whether it's the Gulf Coast of—of the United States that has been home to oil refineries long before—it became known a—because of Hurricane Katrina, you know, people there were suffering with high rates of cancer. And—major cancer clusters. Or whether it's the South Bronx, that's also known as Asthma Alley because of the high concentration of—of polluting vehicles and industries You know, whether it's any of those things, or any other place around the country, around the world, you have communities that have been vulnerable.

Because they're politically vulnerable. You know, that have—have very little economic clout, very little political power, that as a result, are seen as targets. You know, these are the places that are easy. You know, you can site something easily. You can get it through the permitting process, you know, with very little concern. Because everyone thinks, "Well, there's already an—a waste transfer station there. There's already a waste facility there. There's already, you know, some kind of polluting something that nobody else wants. So, why not put something else there? They're not gonna fight it anyway."

HINOJOSA: Changing that mindset isn't easy, and Friella isn't the first green business-man in the South Bronx to try and take on that mindset and city hall... a decade ago, Allen Hershkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council wanted to build a paper mill in the Couth Bronx. The mill would have provided jobs and recycled most of New York City's waste paper.

HERSKOWITZ: We stepped into the South Bronx, because it was an area of opportunity. An area—that we could actually heal. And we were looking to do a sustainable project, a project that would set a model for sustainable development, sustainable industrial development throughout the world.

HINOJOSA: But just a few short months before breaking ground, Hershkowitz tells us that the project abruptly lost the support it needed.

HERSHKOWITZ: We had been working on that project for almost nine years—and it was a—economic and ecological model. We were going to—actually build day care centers, a—dormitory for homeless children in the Bronx. The United Nations gave us an award in Istanbul—at its international conference on sustainability. It was looked at as an international model.

HINOJOSA: Ultimately the project failed due to lack of political support, a shakey paper market and the loss of investors.

HERSHKOWITZ: What people need to recognize is that sustainability is not just a function of resource productivity by sophisticated technology. There are many political and cultural barriers in the way of building sustainable communities.

HINOJOSA: If a well-established group like the Natural Resources Defense Council couldn't pull off its project, how realistic is it to expect that a community group like Greenworker Cooperatives can challenge the status quo here?

FREILLA: You know, we don't want jails. We don't want more polluting industries. You know, we don't want dirty coal. We don't want any of that. We want jobs that are actually a part of the future.

HINOJOSA: Omar Freilla has become something of a darling in the national environmental movement...with just his energy, vision and commitment he was able to raise almost a million dollars from philanthropists and others who believe Freilla just might hold the key to fixing the economy and the environment. The money came from a variety of sources, New York state, church groups, the Rockefeller Foundation, and also the Nathan Cummings and the Tides Foundations, which, in full disclosure also provide funding for our show.

But the move from visionary to businessman has taken quite awhile. The home improvement store was originally supposed to open in the fall of 2007, but that first location turned out to be in a toxic building, and it took time to find a new venue.

Finally in April of this year the store opened its doors to the public.

FREILLA: This is really a dream come true for us. We don't have no background in businesses, you know we're a community, we're community folks, so on behalf of Greenworker Cooperatives, thank you all.

HINOJOSA: Greenworker Cooperatives is actually modeled on a business created in the 1950's to fight local poverty in the Basque region of Spain: the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation, which is a collective of worker-owned ventures. Today it includes 250 business entities and is Spain's 7th largest company. Omar Friella isn't having that kind of success yet. In fact, Greenworkers has spent most of the last five years just trying to get its first store opened

You have a vision. But to make that vision come into reality has taken a long time. How long from the vision to actual opening up, how long was that time?

FREILLA: It's been four and a half years.

HINOJOSA: Four and a half years?

FREILLA: Yeah. The first two to three years—was really about prep, preparation. It as really about, you know, coming up with the idea, getting a business plan done, and doing the feasibility studies.

Doing lots of, you know, the—the grunt work behind the scenes. That was about phone calling and surveying, all the work that goes into a business plan. And then later, you know, was the—the fundraising. Tryin' to raise money to get enough money going so that we could eventually bring people on board.

HINOJOSA: And Omar is already onto the next phase. So, what happens when you're actually able to turn a profit? Do you take that money and re-invest it in this business?

FREILLA: It's running. And it's doing its own thing. And the money that we've invested as an incubator, we use that money to start up another coop.

And that's—that's our model. You know, we go out and we raise money. You know, we an—use that money to invest in—in incubating, starting up, you know, a new cooperative, a new business. You know, so we put that money in. And eventually it breaks—you know, the business breaks even. It does well. We use that money then to invest it in s—some other cooperative.

HINOJOSA: Have you started to turn a profit? Have you even—

FREILLA: No, no.

HINOJOSA: Broken even?

FREILLA: Not yet. We just - this place just opened up a few months ago. So it'll be a few years before we project breaking even. I man, hopefully - you know, it's -it's our hope that it'll happen a lot faster. But you know, we are —we're very - try to be very realistic. You know, while we dream big but we try to be realistic.

HINOJOSA: The store is still more about Friella's big dreams than anything else; it currently provides employment and business-ownership to just four people. but spurred on by Barack Obama's commitment to young people and a green future...Freilla sees an unlimited potential...after all, we are talking about garbage recycling here...in a city that produces several thousand tons of it every week. Much of it ends up in the South Bronx.

In terms of the scale, it's, like, "This can only get bigger. As long as there's construction and renovation—"

FREILLA: You could have one of these—

HINOJOSA: —in New York City—

FREILLA: —in every single neighborhood in New York City. And maybe then—maybe at that scale, you might be able to deal with all of the, you know—or, you know, most of the waste that's being handled in New York City. But there is a huge amount of waste that happens each and every day in the city. So, there's an incredible amount of growth opportunity here.

I mean, you look at a place like this, you know, w—we would be excited if we handle—if—if this place handles 300 tons of building materials in a year. You know, and you have four to five people that are working here.

You know, you've got the same number of people at one of these transfer stations, at one of these private facilities that's just crushing material into —into a pulp. You know, they've got the same number of people. Five people—four to five people. And they handle a thousand tons in a day. So, if we flipped it and said, "You know, we're gonna take that same amount of waste. And we're gonna take—take that material and not call it waste anymore, but, you know, really treat it as a resource," then you're creating hundreds and hundreds of jobs.

You know, we're completely flipping it. And we're just, you know, creating jobs where there weren't jobs before. Creating an industry, you know, that didn't exist.

HINOJOSA: The effort to create green jobs is not just happening in the South Bronx. On the west coast visionaries Alison Riback and Jason McKinstry are working to fulfill their own dreams. They're the founders of Materials Matter, an organization dedicated to making sure discarded construction materials stay out of California's landfills, and instead go to the needy.

RIBACK: We are a centralized distribution facility. So, we basically take in large donations and then redistribute them to the non-profits who are building or renovating affordable housing and shelters.

HINOJOSA: Riback and McKinstry came up with the idea for their organization while they worked at Habitat for Humanity. They both noticed a need that wasn't being addressed: well-meaning companies that wanted to do the right thing and donate goods, were being inundated with phone calls from non profits, all asking for the same building supplies.

MCKINSTRY: A lot of times when we were talking to the donors, they said, "We wanna help more. But, we can't afford to have—you know, receive 500 calls every month for donations. And we only have limited budgets. And we'd—it be nice if there was one place that we could call to make donations that we know that it could be fairly distributed out to all other—agencies."

HINOJOSA: Materials Matter collects the donations, sorts them and trucks them out to the non-profits.

McKINSTRY: Our goal is to bring as much as we can in and then redistribute it right back out as quickly as we can. Ultimately, we like to have the warehouse full, and then completely empty so we can fill it right back up again.

HINOJOSA: The donations have made a huge difference to agencies like Home Sid San Diego, that recently completed renovations on an apartment building for soldiers returning to the U.S. from Iraq and Afghanistan.

But it's a costly business. To help finance their operations Riback and McKinstry run a retail store that operates in a similar way to Freilla's store.

RIBACK: For the most part, everything is about 50 to 70 percent off retail. And that's really the—the target that we shoot for. The store is almost all of how we're able to—to fund our operations. We've actually been able to survive a great deal on the money that the store earns.

HINOJOSA: They believe their model is working and say lots of communities can benefit from it.

RIBACK: Ideally, we would love to have some satellite warehouses and satellite stores. And probably starting with maybe L.A. and San Diego.

HINOJOSA: Most of the construction material is overstock donated by manufacturers, but Materials Matter also reclaims usable goods from home renovations.

GORDON: We're gonna reclaim countertops, kitchen cabinets, wood, studs, flooring, tiles. These things can all be reused.

HINOJOSA: Scott Gordon is on the board of Materials Matter. He heads up this side of their operation - termed eco-demolition.

GORDON: Today, we're proud to say 75 million pounds of perfectly good construction material has been kept out of landfills as a result of—of the efforts of Materials Matter, and the eco-demolition team who goes in and actually pulls all this stuff out.

HINOJOSA: In early September Riback and McKinstry's mission was disrupted when they were suddenly forced to move out of their donated retail location in Corona, due to a dispute between the building's owners and a store that shared the space.

The move cost Materials Matter approximately $100,000 in lost revenue. They have relocated and are now up and running again here in Laguna Hills.

The financial melt-down hasn't been all bad news for stores like Materials Matter. They say that sales were up by 10% in September. It seems that during economic down-times people turn to discount stores rather than their for-profit counterparts.

Back in the Bronx, Omar Freilla reflects on his neighborhood's role as a trailblazer in the green economy of the future.

FREILLA: My vision now is, you know, a green—completely green South Bronx, with businesses throughout the area that are owned and run by people who are living in the area together, you know, where the workers are actually the owners of a business together. And that's something that we can spread, you know, throughout. And we want the South Bronx to be known as a place that is, you know, a beacon of hope and, you know, a showcase for what another kind of economy that's really based on democracy and being green can look like.

BRANCACCIO: These children are hard at work - many of them not only missing school but spending every day in a toxic environment. For most Americans the two hundred million children who have been put to work around the world are out of sight, out of mind. David Parker interrupted his career as a medical doctor and took up a camera because he was determined to change that.

What is child labor? How do we define it? I mean, kid mowing the lawn next door doesn't fit in my definition of child labor

PARKER: You know, sort of at a basic level anything that pulls children away from getting that basic education, I would consider child labor. Be that taking care of a sibling at home or working in a brick factory.

BRANCACCIO: How big is the problem of child labor around the world.

PARKER: The official estimate, which is from an organization called the International Labor Office, says it's about 230 to 250 million children around the world.

And then they break it down one other way, which I think is—is very important, more recently, which is called children engaged in the worst forms of work. That would be things like forced labor, bonded labor, which are kids who are working to pay off a debt, or sort of slave labor. Child soldiers, things of that sort. And the estimate for there, I believe, is about 120 million children.

BRANCACCIO: A hundred and twenty million people?

PARKER: Yeah. It's huge. And—and that's just a fu—the defined forms of, the worst forms of work. It's really hard to know what makes work a worst form of work. Let's say we take a kid who is working in a garbage dump. Well, we say, "What would make that a worst form of work?" Well, in my view, it is. It has to be, that a child who lives and eats garbage, has to be sick. I mean, would there be any doubt that if you're eating rotting garbage, you would be ill with—with some type of illness?

BRANCACCIO: Many of the kids are working in the dump are—are also forced to eat whatever's there?

PARKER: That's what they eat. And you say, "No, no. That can't be true." But it is. These children and their families eat rotting garbage.

BRANCACCIO: For instance, here we have people carrying these heavy bricks. They didn't mind you photographing this?

PARKER: Bricks are never exported. So, they never really care particularly if a person comes in and photographs and visits, and wanders around.

BRANCACCIO: One of the areas of child labor that has gotten a fair amount of attention in the United States is just where these wonderful rugs are coming from that are imported from places like Bangladesh, and—is it young people with their delicate hands, doing this intricate weaving. And—

PARKER: Uh-huh.

BRANCACCIO: There's been some efforts to raise consciousness about this.

PARKER: Well, the Rug Mark Program is, been a—a really fine effort to try to do that. And I, Rug Mark has—labels carpets as having not been made by child labor. They have a very good inspection program in India and Nepal. And so—if you see the Rug Mark label, you can be sure that the carpets are not made by child labor. They put kids in school, to be sure they get an education. And they—they really monitor what happens to these kids.

BRANCACCIO: Ultimately, aren't you really talking about an economic development issue? That if—if there was a way, or alternatives for the children or their families, maybe they'd be less likely to do this kind of work?

PARKER: I kind of see it as a three-legged stool. Education is essential for girls, in particular, 'cause where girls are educated, they're likely to have smaller, more healthy families. And where families are healthier, economically, they're better off. The availability of healthcare, immunization, sanitary water. These things all pull down family wellbeing. They all pull down economic wellbeing.

BRANCACCIO: And if someone reacted to these vivid photographs by saying, "We just have to go over there and prevail upon the governments there to stop allowing this kind of labor." That could be counterproductive, if—if that was the only approach, is banning this form of labor, without getting into the healthcare issues or the education issues, you're saying?

PARKER: Child labor really does represent a failure, at a very high level of government, to provide adequate food, adequate nutrition, especially within the school.

And an education that is decent. But at a family level, it's not just a—so simple as, "Oh, go to school. You can't work." School? Well, what if you're gonna be hungry? Not that I condone the kids doing this. But what are you gonna tell a family? "Be hungry"?

BRANCACCIO: Is there anything anybody can do at the individual level to—get at this larger problem?

PARKER: One of the things about child labor is it's very easy—to—for a third grader to look at an image and say, "That kid's no older than me." And—and I talk to first grade classes and second grade classes and tenth grade classes. At every single level, kids are engaged and understand what these children are doing. There's a group of students in Quincy, Massachusetts at a place called the Broad Meadows middle school. Sometimes they have political events. Sometimes they push the United States to ratify conventions. They've been to Geneva to the international labor office meetings.

BRANCACCIO: So we may be raising a new generation that is—more attuned to this issue globally?

PARKER: They all understand and they're all compelled to try to do something.

BRANCACCIO: Well David Parker, physician, photographer, thank you very much.

PARKER: Thank you too, Dave. It was very nice to be here.

BRANCACCIO: And that's it for NOW. From New York, I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.


THIS WEEK ON NOW
Green Collar Jobs

Interview: Dr. David Parker on Child Labor

The Future of Green Jobs

Blog: The Latest from Materials Matter

Feedback Forum


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