WMEAC and Grand Valley State University are presenting the Second Annual Women & Environment Symposium on Friday, February 15 at the GVSU L.V. Eberhard Center in downtown Grand Rapids. The symposium will this year feature keynote speaker Roxana Tynan, Executive Director of Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.
LAANE is recognized as a national leader in the effort to address the challenges of working poverty, inadequate health care and polluted communities. Combining a vision of social justice with a practical approach to social change, LAANE has helped set in motion a broad movement to transform conditions in Los Angeles and beyond. For several years, its work has touched on the intersection of environmental justice, equity and economic opportunity. Several of its campaigns and projects translate innovative approaches to environmental justice issues into green jobs.
“All of our campaigns now have a ‘blue-green element’,” said Tynan, referring to the intersection between labor (blue) and environmental (green) issues. “It’s been a core part of our work for several years. We’ve moved from pushing for parks, green space and LEED buildings to a much deeper connection with environmental concerns and environmental justice.”
In 2008, LAANE played a pivotal role in the passage of one of the country’s most sweeping anti-pollution and anti-poverty measures, a Clean Trucks Program for the region’s ports that will dramatically improve air quality and raise the standard of living for as many as 16,000 truck drivers. It has already reduced air pollution from the Port of Long Beach by 80 percent, according to LAANE and municipal studies.
LAANE recently staged a successful campaign to ensure local waste haulers adhere to a set of minimum environmental and labor standards. A significant environmental justice issue in Los Angeles, that industry disproportionately affects low income populations, with its low-wage workers often facing unsafe conditions, and landfills located in or near low income neighborhoods. Tynan envisions a zero-waste Los Angeles without the need for landfills.
LAANE also helped enact the nation’s first Construction Careers and Green Jobs Policy, which will ensure middle-class jobs for thousands of construction workers and open a path to good careers for at-risk populations. RePower LA built a career track to infuse diverse workers into the energy utility industry. Other important campaigns include Responsible Hotels in Long Beach and Good Grocery Stores, along with work on local mass transit development.
Tynan will share LAANE’s experience moving Los Angeles forward on a progressive agenda that balances planet, people and profit. Along the way she’ll illustrate how economic, social and environmental systems as we know them today are failing our communities, impacting children’s health, eliminating environmental justice, and failing to create new, meaningful careers that contribute to a healthier future.
“Broadly speaking, most of our constituents are women,” Tynan said. “We’re looking at a lot of low-wage service industries — hospitality, grocery, airport — the vast majority of these workers are women. And then with the construction and energy efficiency industries, we’re trying to gain women access to those higher paying jobs.”
She will describe how LAANE is currently working to help increase the number of women in the construction and energy efficiency fields, a challenge in a state with an anti-affirmative action law. The Los Angeles energy efficiency retrofit program is similar in intent, though much larger in scope and services, to the BetterBuildings for Michigan program managed by WMEAC and City of Grand Rapids.
“We’ve been really targeting women for our energy efficiency job training,” Tynan said. “The retrofit program offers high-paying green jobs; and since you’re working in homes and businesses, not a construction site, it’s less intimidating and easier for women to be successful.”
Last year’s keynote speaker was Susan Hedman, Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 5 Office. A full agenda and list of speakers is available at women.wmeac.org.