June 2, 2023

This is one of a three-part series highlighting environmental justice work cities across the nation are tackling in collaboration with FUSE. View the full series >>

In 2019, the City of Los Angeles unveiled its Green New Deal, a comprehensive plan that outlined commitments to reduce emissions, improve access to clean air, renewable energy, healthy food, open public spaces, and clean water, and promote environmental justice and equity, all with the active involvement of community members. These commitments presented a golden opportunity to strengthen community resilience while simultaneously creating future job opportunities. However, achieving these goals requires identifying and preparing a skilled workforce within the next few years.

Robert Zardeneta currently serves as a green workforce analyst in the Mayor’s Office of Energy and Sustainability. His work builds upon his previous role as a FUSE Executive Fellow, during which he played a pivotal part in launching the LA County-City Just Transition Task Force. This collaboration led to the release of the Los Angeles Just Transition Strategy in December 2022. The strategy lays out 19 specific recommendations to support workers and communities affected by the city and county’s planned phasing-out of oil drilling.

The Task Force comprised 27 individuals deliberately chosen from various backgrounds, including affected industries, labor unions, frontline communities, environmental and environmental justice organizations, tribal representatives, workforce development, academics, local and state governments, and youth. This diverse composition ensured a wide range of perspectives were represented. Although it may have lengthened the decision-making process, Robert asserts that the effort was well worth it, stating, “All sides felt included in the decision-making and had a say in the process.”

While the report has garnered positive feedback since its release, translating ideas into action is the real challenge. Robert explains, “It’s one thing to make commitments; it’s another to follow through. It is time to hold individuals accountable for their commitments by fostering truly inclusive community engagement. When people feel heard, skepticism and mistrust fade away, making them more willing to participate when their needs are being addressed and they feel connected.”

The City is actively seeking funding to ensure meaningful engagement with oil workers throughout the transition period. Recognizing that the shift toward a green workforce may take several years, securing sufficient funding presents its own set of challenges. However, Robert notes that funders are generally excited about the City’s initiatives due to their inclusive nature.

A key focus for the City is the creation of inclusive engagement strategies for communities most affected by the transition from fossil fuels to a green economy. The goal is to develop a blueprint that other jurisdictions can follow. Robert highlights, “When people envision careers in sustainability or green jobs, they often fail to imagine the diversity of opportunities available. Unfortunately, in some communities, this is still the reality. But in Los Angeles, we are showing that the green economy is truly for everyone—for all Angelenos.”

In Los Angeles, approximately 60% of the green workforce consists of people of color. As a Latinx individual who grew up in East Los Angeles, Robert has a strong personal connection to the work he is doing in his community. During his time as a FUSE Executive Fellow, he actively engaged community members, facilitated events, and helped them understand how the transition benefits them, their livelihoods, and their families. Robert acknowledges the skepticism and intimidation many people feel about participating in the green workforce but reassures them that it is an inclusive economy. He often tells people in his community, “Look in the mirror because we represent this workforce.” This message holds significant power.

Robert remains optimistic and enthusiastic about the future of the green economy in Los Angeles. Reflecting on his journey as an Executive Fellow, he emphasizes how it continues to drive his commitment to fostering greater equity in his community. “The strategies and the Just Transition Task Force would look vastly different without the involvement of a FUSE Executive Fellow,” Robert emphasizes. “Inclusivity lies at the core of FUSE’s values. They seek leadership and expertise in their Executive Fellows and a genuine passion for the work, rooted in love and compassion.”

The beauty of FUSE Executive Fellows is that we inject a fresh perspective and ignite a sense of possibility. We bring the energy of positive change to the table, reminding everyone that we have the opportunity to make a profound impact on Los Angeles and our communities. As a facilitator, I’ve witnessed the power of connecting individuals who may not be currently linked but desperately need to collaborate. FUSE encourages this bridging of gaps and actively supports and enables it.

Robert Zardeneta