Founded in November 2008 to help promote the incoming Obama Administration’s plan to establish a “green,” “clean-energy” economy across the United States, the Emerald Cities Collaborative (ECC) describes itself as “a national nonprofit network of organizations working together to advance a sustainable environment while creating high-road — sustainable, just and inclusive — economies with opportunities for all.” Special emphasis is given to the development of a “green infrastructure” and other “sustainable development projects” that “not only contribute to the resilience of our metropolitan regions but also ensure an equity stake for low-income communities of color in the green economy.”
ECC’s goal is “to achieve significant reductions in the carbon footprint and energy consumption” of towns and cities nationwide, as a means of creating “a healthful, resilient, sustainable environment whose benefits are shared equitably by communities of color and low-income communities.” To this end, the organization aims to conduct “a comprehensive [energy] retrofit” of “the poorly maintained, oldest, and least efficient building stock” – most notably, “multi-family affordable housing” – that is “concentrated in poor communities.” Such retrofits consist of upgrades like the installation of skylights; higher-quality doors and windows; LED lighting; insulation, weather stripping, and caulking; and energy-efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
By ECC’s calculus, these urban retrofits should not be carried out in accordance with “market-driven models” that typically “pass over low-income neighborhoods.” Rather, the “green jobs” generated by this initiative should pay all their workers a government-mandated “living wage,” and hiring practices should give a significant degree of preference to poor nonwhites (particularly women) who live in the areas where the retrofits are taking place. As ECC puts it, training and job opportunities must “engage historically excluded and hard-to-reach populations, including low-income workers, immigrants and communities of color.” This will ensure, the Collaborative says, that such people will “directly benefit from the energy efficiency work being done in their communities,” and will be “included in the development of their region’s new green economy.”
ECC’s emphasis on giving preference to nonwhites and the poor helps advance the organization’s desire to redistribute wealth – not only by improving the homes of such people via energy retrofits, but also by ensuring that a majority of new “green jobs” will be reserved for those same individuals. In partnership with LCPtracker Inc., a company specializing in construction site compliance-related software, ECC has launched a “Skills Build Us!” campaign to “help disadvantaged workers, women and veterans begin high-wage careers in construction by covering the cost of initiation fees, tools, boots or other expenses.”
ECC’s retrofits do not only target homes and apartments in low-income, nonwhite neighborhoods, but are also aimed at large institutions, or “community anchors,” in those same locales – e.g., hospitals, universities, community colleges, and local government buildings.
ECC was co-founded by the outspoken anti-capitalist Joel Rogers, MIT professor J. Phillip Thompson, and SEIU executive vice president Gerry Hudson. The constituency of the organization’s Board of Directors reflects Rogers’ longtime effort to unite leaders in the new labor movement with those in environmental activism, business, and progressive philanthropy. Joining Rogers on ECC’s Board, for instance, are individuals with past and present ties to such entities as the AFL-CIO, the SEIU, the Apollo Alliance, Green For All, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. the Ford Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, Working Partnerships USA, the National Association of Minority Contractors, the National Urban League, and the Laborers’ International Union of North America.
The Chairman of ECC’s Board of Directors is Gerry Hudson, who has also served variously as Political Director of the New York State Democratic Party (1990s), an Advisory Board member with the Apollo Alliance and Redefining Progress, and Executive Vice President of the SEIU (2004-16).
ECC’s Vice President for Policy and Government Affairs is Felipe M. Floresca, who, over the years, served in a number of policy and legislative capacities for U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, New York City Mayor Ed Koch, and New York State Governor Mario Cuomo. During the Bill Clinton Administration, Floresca worked for the Department of Labor and the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). And under President Obama, he was the Director of Public Engagement at HUD.
Over the years, ECC has received considerable financial support from a number of philanthropic organizations, including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, Living Cities, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Surdna Foundation.