noun: exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability

noun: the ability to do something that frightens one

During the initial planning stages of the International Living Future Institute’s 11th annual unConference, the theme was dedicated to Genius and Courage. The search then began for keynote speakers who are devoted to bringing these nouns to life in their daily actions. Our opening night keynote, Van Jones, does just that. The Yale-educated lawyer and social rights activist is a clear representation of genius and courage. In 2009, we introduced Jones in Trim Tab v01, highlighting his optimism and commitment to communities suffering from disinvestment and neglect. In the years that have followed, Trim Tab has continued to share compelling stories about regenerative communities and the people who inhabit them. And Van Jones has continued to further the movement of social inclusion and environmental justice for those who need it most.

In the last eight years, Jones has accomplished monumental endeavors. As the Green Jobs Advisor to the White House during President Barack Obama’s first term, he led the national investment in job development within the environmental and green energy sectors. As one of CNN’s political commentators, he appears across the network’s programming and as an analyst for special political coverage. In 2014, he began cultivating the social justice accelerator, DreamCorps, to support economic, environmental, and criminal justice. Three initiatives, #YesWeCode, #cut50, and #GreenForAll, fall within DreamCorps and strive to transform the criminal justice system, increase opportunity in the technology sector, and build an inclusive green economy, respectively.

While the world continues to witness injustices, Jones remains a beacon of hope in our narrative. He has refused to waver in his commitment to underrepresented and underserved communities. To this day, the organizations he leads provide a platform for those whose voices are often not heard. Most recently Jones, alongside DreamCorps, has led the initiative to build a #LoveArmy in an effort to fight for an inclusive country where everyone has a seat at the table. They’re asking those who join to “stand with the most vulnerable, listen with empathy, and act out of love, not fear or hate.” This is the action we must implement moving forward. This is the action behind genius and courage. We closed our 2009 Trim Tab article with the thought that Van Jones looks to be the right man with the right message at the right time. In 2017, it seem that this notion still rings true.

The following was published in Trim Tab v1:

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 led 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.”

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.”

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.” 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.

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

Don’t miss your opportunity to see Van Jones’ keynote address at Living Future unConference 2017, May 17-19, in Seattle, Washington.

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