On July 12th our latest speaker meeting sparked a lively discussion on green jobs in the West Midlands- Where will they come from? Who will they employ? And how they will shape the future economy?

Keith Budden, manager of Be Birmingham’s Environmental Partnership, kicked the evening off with a short presentation, outlining the potential to create 1.5 million jobs in the UK by de-carbonising the grid, developing the use of green technologies and encouraging green skills. Such advances have the potential to build upon the manufacturing expertise specific to Birmingham, with city- wide initiatives like the Green New Deal facilitating investment into local businesses and training schemes.

However, the expansion of small scale, sustainable employment opportunities is equally important: jobs which we don’t think of as ‘green’ such as driving a milk float are equally part of the green economy in terms of their contributin to a local food supply. Such activities create the diversity that encourages local resourcefulness, a thriving local economy and conserves our ‘city of 1000 trades’. It is therefore important to facilitate the conditions in which there is sufficient funding, coordination and commitment to allow this diversity to thrive.

At present many small businesses do exist but largely in isolation and are made financially viable only by those taking a moral standpoint. Jon Morris expressed that the Government’s Green Investment Bank model would do little to strengthen local linkages, effectively putting our green future into the hands of the UK’s major banks who traditionally have found it much easier to channel investment to larger companies rather than getting involved in small-scale enterprise.

Peak oil will have a major role in the shift towards a more localised approach, as a decline in cheap foreign imports will encourage the re-emergence of local repair industries (with Birmingham City Council currently mapping reuse and repair businesses in the area) and make the innovation, manufacture and marketing of products and services more economic at a local level.

Discussion followed on what needs to be done to catalyse the green economy in order to create green jobs. A need for networking between organisations, businesses and individuals it was felt has great potential. A free networking forum would provide the opportunity to match innovative grassroots ideas with those who could make it happen, whilst raising awareness of possible allies,  funding opportunities and support systems to assist in extending influence and creating employment.

This could spark the creation of a local green directory, much like finditinbirmigham.com but for all things green. The possibility of a ‘Green Dragons Den’ could also be a great way to share advice and empower people’s ideas, perhaps providing the break they need to catalyse local innovation and job creation.

Right now what is needed are enabling activities and structures, coupled with leadership from local institutions, in order to begin a transition to a diverse, sustainable local economy.

Anna Watson