Green Jobs – Apollo Alliance

Welcome to the first instalment of my green jobs mailing list from San Francisco! I have already walked past Jack Kerouac Alley and had pancakes for breakfast, which to me are the markers of a good day. On top of that, we had some excellent meetings. First up, the Apollo Alliance…

The Apollo Alliance, founded in 2003, is a coalition of business, labor, environmental and community leaders that has really been driving the green jobs agenda over here in the US, focusing on policy work. The Alliance convenes a national coalition, and also supports eighteen state and city-based “franchises” that are staffed and coordinated by a locally-based organization. We met with Cathy Colfo, the Executive Director, who shared some real insights with us. Here are some of the main points I took away:


  • The task of each locally-based alliance in building a successful coalition depends very much on what the energy mix in that state or city is. The alliance in the mid-west, where they rely heavily on coal and gas, has a very different job from the one in California, and will have to target industry in a much bigger way.
  • Similarly, each local alliance needs to do an analysis of what the opportunities are that are specific to their area – for example Pennsylvania had a declining steel industry, but turned that into an opportunity by attracting the Mesa Steel company to use their old factories to produce wind turbines and employ local people.
  • Having the local franchises keep the Apollo Alliance low cost, as each local coalition mainly finds their own funding. For each alliance, it is very important to put together a steering committee made up of the highest-level people that you can get to come to the table.
  • Practicalities – the national alliance, made up of the eighteen local reps, has monthly conference calls and twice-yearly meetings in person.
  • It’s important to make compromises / word things in an inclusive way – whilst looking at a national transportation bill that is about to come under review, it was important for the unions that the alliance didn’t ask for a decrease in funding for road-building, but instead for an increase in spending overall towards public transportation. Cathy called it “asking for the pie to get bigger, rather than a bigger share”.
  • Having business fully involved in the coalition helps – it perks up the ears of legislators, gives legitimacy, and gives voice to progressive businesses.

Being ambitious

  • It’s in the name – “Apollo” was chosen after the Apollo space mission, and to conjure the idea that we can harness hi-tech, workforce and innovation to “race” towards a common goal.
  • Apollo has been very successful in laying out comprehensive recommendations and investment strategies. Dismissed as too unrealistic by others within the environmental movement, many of their recommendations were taken on by Obama’s team when putting together the Recovery Act. Cathy even called the Stimulus Bill a “downpayment on Apollo”, and it certainly seems that way when you consider the amount of funding now available for green jobs programmes in the US.
  • They are putting together a new report that is considered to be equally ambitious – looking at what would happen if homes were required to meet energy efficiency requirements at the point of sale. Before making their final recommendations, they are going to meet with realtors in the area to work through the potential tensions, and work together. I think this approach to working – consulting at every step – is a real key to their success.

Make It In America

  • In the 70s, manufacturing made up 40% of the US economy, now it’s less than 10%. Rebuilding manufacturing is Apollo’s focus at the moment, under the banner “Make It In America”. This was partly in response to the stimulus package – it’s all very well for the stimulus money to create demand for renewable industries, but if they don’t scale up homegrown manufacturing at the same time, the US will end up depending on imports for hardware such as solar panels etc. At the moment, it could be said that the stimulus money is helping to create manufacturing jobs overseas.
  • In light of this, an Impact Bill has been pushed through in Ohio, creating a loan fund for small to mid-size manufacturers (who don’t have the capital to retool) to incentivize them to make clean tech, or to make their operations more energy efficient. It is hoped that this will be a blueprint for federal policy.

The alliance is also about to release a very exciting report, by Chris Bush, looking at the competitive advantages for inner cities in green job creation. They have studied Flint, Michigan, in particular, and apparently found that no matter which definition of a “green job” they used (and there are many), they found that “green jobs” have grown by around 12%, compared to around 1% for a regular job. I will be very interested to read it. In the meantime, do take a look at the California Apollo Program report.

Till next time!


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