The NationSwell Council is made up of social impact-oriented leaders and changemakers who are committed to pioneering solutions in order to better their communities — and the world around them. In NationSwell’s latest series, “5 Minutes With…,” we sit down with members of our community whose exemplary leadership deserves a deeper dive. Here’s what Taj Eldridge, Managing Director of Climate Innovation at Jobs for the Future, had to share with us on green jobs, meeting the demand for a skilled workforce, and the power of dissenting thought:

NationSwell: What does the future of nature-inspired innovation look like, and what can we do to ensure that that future is as equitable and inclusive as possible?

Taj Eldridge, JFF: The future of climate tech looks like America. Here’s what I mean by that: Historically, we’ve thought of the idea of tech as something affiliated with Silicon Valley—Sand Hill Road and the Bay Area. Climate tech will be more about the entire country, with a local-to-global approach of providing tailored solutions to help our planet and, more importantly, every person living on it. This very idea of geographic diversity, along with programs like ‘Climate Resilient Employees for a Sustainable Tomorrow’(CREST) that we at JFF are managing, will ensure that this re-imagination of climate tech is both inclusive and equitable. 

NationSwell: How does the work you’re driving today help to build that future?

Taj Eldridge, JFF: CREST is a 5-year, $25 million project of the Ares Charitable Foundation led in partnership with JFFLabs at Jobs for the Future and the World Resources Institute. This work aims to close the gap between the demand for a skilled workforce for green jobs and the number of people prepared for these opportunities. It focuses on ensuring that people without traditional credentials and varied geographical representation are a priority in green job creation and training for this generation and the next. We recently released Growing Quality Green Jobs as part of CREST, which shares why a just transition requires removing limitations around how we define jobs and skills needed to build a climate-resilient workforce.

NationSwell: What inspires or motivates you — personally and professionally — to do this work?

Taj Eldridge, JFF: My motivation around this work comes from this idea I always mention on how climate change impacts us in three ways: the call for justice, personal wealth, and public health. 

The call for justice, for me, calls attention to the fact that communities that public and private institutions have underserved bear the brunt of the climate impact. But these communities are rarely involved in creating the solutions.   

The personal wealth aspect means that a large amount of funding is going towards this issue via climate tech and other career pathways; thus, green wealth is being accumulated. This capital accumulation has the opportunity to be more just and equitable. 

Lastly, what motivates me is how my own health was impacted by environmental factors growing up caused by climate change. While I was lucky to have a kidney transplant, there are still many others suffering from diseases and ailments caused by climate change. These three lenses motivate me to fulfill this purposeful work around climate change. 

NationSwell: What are some promising signs from the impact you’re driving?

Taj Eldridge, JFF: Through our work with CREST, we see technologies and solutions for the green economy developing outside the Bay Area, and growing in middle America, the South, and other regions directly affected by climate change. We are also expanding the definition of a green job, and developing research that indicates we can make every job of the future a green job in response to social and market opportunities.  

More generally, some of the promising signs include the excitement and willingness of others who want to partner to battle this disease our planet faces. I often mention the phrase “many hands make light work, ” a proverb about collaboration. I am hopeful about the collaborative possibilities raised by new technologies, new partners, and the younger generation’s moving forward regardless of the political and corporate winds. 

NationSwell: Finally, what are some of the challenges you’re facing? How can NationSwell’s social impact community of practice help you with those challenges?

Taj Eldridge, JFF: Some of the challenges for me are that, at times, the language used doesn’t match the intended actions. For example, I often hear the phrase “BIPOC,” but it seems the Indigenous community is left out of the national conversation about how we might utilize some of the solutions they have used for centuries. Similarly, we use this language to describe the “climate-friendly just transition” of going towards a climate-friendly future in the United States and Europe, but we fail to think about other nations, like the Congolese, who toil in mines to collect the very minerals needed to power our batteries. This presents a huge challenge for people to not only trust this transition but also actively participate in it.  

I think the NationSwell community can provide the resource that is just as needed and important as capital—human ingenuity and dissenting thought. We need the ingenuity to constantly think of solutions, as we are in the adolescence phase of our pathways towards a climate-friendly future. We also need the dissenters—to test our assumptions and challenge us to use that same ingenuity to find alternative pathways where ALL will have a just transition.  

Taj Eldridge is the Managing Director of Climate Innovation at Jobs for the Future, a national nonprofit that drives transformation of the U.S. education and workforce systems to achieve equitable economic advancement for all. If you’re interested in learning more, please get in touch.