From rising temperatures to unprecedented weather events, the increasingly apparent impacts of climate change have exposed longstanding infrastructure gaps and prompted new urgency to addressing them. Many of these gaps stem from a historical lack of infrastructure investments in Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, leading to devastatingly unequal impacts of progressing climate change. As the U.S. considers the implementation of the substantial infrastructure investments included in the Build Back Better Act, there is an opportunity to chart a different course, to address decades of environmental injustices, and to prepare all people for a brighter future. Doing so requires not only identifying the most needed physical infrastructure, but also creating quality jobs that provide an opportunity to all and engage workers in building a sustainable green economy. Although the challenge is great, the opportunities are greater; as the economy recovers from a tumultuous pandemic, millions of workers are looking for quality jobs and are increasingly aware of the need for climate action. In October 2021, the Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative partnered with the Siegel Family Endowment to host a roundtable discussion on how infrastructure investments can facilitate good jobs in an equitable green economy.

The roundtable brought together leaders and organizers from around the country who represented a diverse range of voices and communities with the goal of catalyzing engagement and action toward a more sustainable future. Participants came from community and advocacy groups, businesses, nonprofit organizations, research institutions, training providers, and government offices, and shared experience in and commitment to climate infrastructure and the green economy. Given the long history of racism shaping infrastructure investments in the U.S., the host organizations prioritized inviting participants who worked with Black, Brown, and Indigenous populations and others who have been historically excluded from federal policy decisions. Through the interactive virtual workshop, participants exchanged perspectives about promoting job quality and climate resiliency through infrastructure investments; developed ideas to implement in their work and communities; and fostered connections to continue to work toward change together.

Over the two-hour event, participants identified challenges, established a collective vision, and set forth ideas for the future. Through this conversation, several key themes emerged:

  • Providing resources and relief for communities facing environmental injustices is an essential precursor to building a green economy;
  • Accessible, quality jobs can help frame social and environmental needs as aligned, rather than opposed; and
  • Centering joy and humanity rather than work set us up for a more sustainable future.

Read the full article about greener, more equitable by Camryn Banks and Shelly Steward at The Aspen Institute.