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Advancing the Green Economy into Massachusetts’ Black Community

Crystal Johnson | 3/14/2012, 7:57 a.m.

The Massachusetts 3rd Annual Sustainable Economy Conference (SEC) scheduled for April 30 at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston recognizes that the engine of our economy is business. How business conducts its affairs and defines its goals and values can drive and improve the state of the economy. Massachusetts and the world economy face unprecedented challenges as well as opportunities in the 21st century. In response, the mission of the SEC is to build bridges within and across Massachusetts’ government, business, academic, nonprofit and community sectors to foster sustainable communities and a viable 21st century economy.

As these conversations occur, how can Massachusetts’ black communities foster sustainable communities and secure a positive role in a viable 21st century economy? While the existing economic situation is complex, a key to creating a prosperous economic reality for black communities is for individuals to educate themselves to secure careers in the green economy. It is also key for black churches, community leaders, civic organization, professional affiliations and grass roots organizations to join together to advocate for a community-wide participation in the market shift to embed sustainability. This can generate growth and improvements in people’s lives.

A green economy can be thought of as a new vision for growth and development that promotes a triple-bottom-line that is measured in profitability, social equity and environmental sustainability. It is based on jobs rooted in environmentally friendly practices and solutions. By creating and advocating for careers based on this new set of values, a new economic engine for the black community can be developed.The demand for sustainable solutions will be drivers for the 21st century economy. The market for cleaner products and processes is growing rapidly throughout the world. Massachusetts has the ability to serve these markets, but for Massachusetts’ black communities, the green economy continues to be stalled behind a lack of vision and a supporting plan.

We must make sure the black community is not ignored or left out of the green economy. It has its roots in the environmental movement and we have always been key players who have driven the environmental movement. This notion is unfortunately not recalled or known by many. The Environmental Justice Movement emerged in the 1980s in reaction to discriminatory environmental practices. In the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s, while conservation was a pressing issue, black communities simultaneously, primarily in isolated cases, battled toxic dumping, municipal waste facility dumping and land use decisions.

Black communities created strong environmental activists who viewed these actions as environmental attacks on their civil rights. We were so persistent with this that the term environmental justice was used to recognize that low income, predominately black or other communities of color, were disproportionately targeted.

Today, rather than only being reactive to environmental conditions forced on us, the black community must also be extremely proactive. Proactive to advance the knowledge, perspective and networks of Black Communities to improve economic recovery and growth, drive job creation, build sustainable communities and expand the Green Economy in Massachusetts Black communities. The black community must seek an equitable and ecologically sustainable economy.