By Janelle Wetzstein
UW News Lab
Sustainability is no longer just about the environment, according to White House Cabinet Secretary Chris Lu, who spoke in Seattle last weekend.
“This is not just an environmental issue. It’s a job issue as well,” said Lu. “Sustainability is important for our energy security, it’s important for safeguarding our environment, and it’s important for creating good-paying jobs in the United States that we need for the 21st century.”
Lu was the keynote speaker at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Sustainable Growth Summit, held July 8 and July 9 at North Seattle Community College.
The summit is the result of a 2009 executive order from President Obama, reconstituting the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). The purpose of the initiative is to connect federal services and programs with under-served portions of the AAPI community.
Regional summits are being held across the country, focusing on issues relevant to local AAPI communities. Seattle was chosen as a summit location thanks to its massive AAPI growth over the last few decades and its constant pioneering in the field of sustainable technology.
During his speech, Lu focused on the efforts of the Obama administration in sustainability and tied many of them to local projects in Seattle. He stressed the need for continued efforts by local and federal governmental agencies to increase congregated communities and decrease suburban sprawl.
“It’s about putting those job opportunities, putting those schools, putting the shopping closer to where you are,” said Lu. “There is an important movement of trying to co-locate a lot of these resources, infrastructure, and services in the same place, so that even if you don’t benefit from clean energy from sustainability as a vendor or a small business owner, it’s going to affect your life on a daily basis.”
Hyeok Kim, member of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs and executive director of the Interim Community Development Association in Seattle, agreed with Lu. She added that sustainability as a holistic idea is vital to the survival of the growing local AAPI population.
“The AAPI population increased by 43 percent during this decade alone,” she said. “This population growth creates an urgent need to get AAPIs to the table and engage in the national dialogue about what it takes to promote economic opportunities, what it takes to address health disparities in our communities, what it takes to provide decent and affordable housing, and more — in short, what it takes to make all of our communities sustainable.”
North Seattle Community College President Mark Mitsui said that sustainability has short and long-term benefits that are not exclusively tied to the environment, but that reach all areas of economic growth.
“Sustainability is part of our future and an area that we need to continue to work on,” he said. “Employers are looking for employees that have background in sustainability in pre-existing professions. That is why we are trying to create a breadth of opportunities for students to have a background in sustainability.”
Toby Chaudhuri, strategic communications consultant to the White House Initiative, added that sustainability is about infrastructure, health care, and making communities livable.
“We are hoping to address and understand the needs of AAPIs in the Pacific Northwest, and trying to figure out if there are pockets of these communities who are not getting access to these programs,” said Chaudhuri.
The summit also featured workshops conducted by AAPI experts in sustainability on a wide range of topics, including government programs that offer support to businesses, community health issues, and the sustainable food movement.
After his speech, Lu and Kim joined other members of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs at a roundtable session with local press, to further discuss the complex nature of sustainability.
During this discussion, Lu added that sustainability offers a wealth of employment opportunities, and that community colleges are providing training for sustainable jobs of the future.
“This is not only where you train kids coming out of high school,” he said. “But it’s where you retrain the 40 and 50-year-old worker, who used to work in the auto factory, and give them skills.”
He said that while the current economy has led to a shortage of jobs, sustainability could create a much-needed influx in the employment realm.
“It’s not so much about how many jobs exist right now, but more about how many jobs can exist in the future,” he said. “It’s not only the jobs on sites, it’s the whole supply chain of people that lead into it.” ♦
Janelle Wetzstein is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.