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A Conversation with Environmental Activist Van Jones

By Talia Whyte
 
Environmental activist Van Jones visited students at Babson College Feb. 23 to discuss Dr. King’s legacy of social justice and how it relates to today’s sustainable business practices. Jones served as a Special Advisor for the White House Council on Environmental Quality in 2009. He is a proponent of a “sustainable, environmentally beneficial economy,” and author ofThe Green-Collar Economy; How One Solution Can Solve Our Two Biggest Problems.”

I first read his book two years ago when I was selected to be an Urban Environmental Justice Fellow at the Institute for Justice and Journalism.  My project on food as an environmental justice issue in communities of color was partially inspired by his book.  It wasn’t until recently people started to make the connection between the food system and the health of humanity and the planet.  Thanks to Michelle Obama’s garden and healthy eating initiatives, as well as a plethora of books and films on the topic, food security in vulnerable communities has become a regular topic of discussion throughout the country.

However, I was most impressed with Jones’ thoughts on green business and specifically the rise in social entrepreneurship.  President Obama has continued on with Jones’ green jobs vision in the last few weeks, meeting with small business owners about innovation and sustainability in the changing global economy.  As a small business owner myself, I also believe the future of American enterprise will depend on fairer trade relations and green solutions.  

In recent years I have worked with many tech activists in Africa and the Caribbean on the pressing issue of technology waste or “e-waste,” which is unwanted electronic products. Disposing of e-waste in landfills can cause severe human and environmental health problems.  Furthermore, a large number of used electronics find their way into landfills in Asia and Africa.  In many instances, we have figured out ways to recycle used mobile phones, cameras and computers and donate or resell them to those without access to technology throughout the developing world.  Tech recycling is beneficial in many ways: it conserves energy, creates jobs, provides much needed raw supplies to other industries and reduces the need for landfills and incinerators.  
 
By the way, all of my online videos are done with recycled cameras.  There are great benefits to practicing what you preach!