Majora Carter: 3 stories of local eco-entrepreneurship

Recorded atSeptember 10, 2010
Duration (min:sec)17:39
Video TypeTEDx Talk
Words per minute196.32 fast
Readability (FK)48.92 difficult
SpeakerMajora Carter
CountryUnited States of America
DescriptionAmerican businesswoman; urban revitalization strategist and public radio host

Official TED page for this talk


The future of green is local. Majora Carter tells three inspiring stories of people who are saving their own communities while saving the planet.

Text Highlight (experimental)
100:16 So today, I'm going to tell you about some people
200:19 who didn't move out of their neighborhoods.
300:22 The first one is happening right here in Chicago.
400:25 Brenda Palms-Farber was hired
500:27 to help ex-convicts reenter society
600:30 and keep them from going back into prison.
700:32 Currently, taxpayers spend
800:34 about 60,000 dollars per year
900:37 sending a person to jail.
1000:39 We know that two-thirds of them are going to go back.
1100:41 I find it interesting that, for every one dollar
1200:43 we spend, however, on early childhood education,
1300:45 like Head Start,
1400:47 we save 17 dollars
1500:49 on stuff like incarceration in the future.
1600:52 Or -- think about it -- that 60,000 dollars
1700:54 is more than what it costs
1800:56 to send one person to Harvard as well.
1900:58 But Brenda, not being phased by stuff like that,
2001:01 took a look at her challenge
2101:03 and came up
2201:05 with a not-so-obvious solution:
2301:07 create a business
2401:09 that produces skin care products from honey.
2501:12 Okay, it might be obvious to some of you; it wasn't to me.
2601:14 It's the basis of growing a form of social innovation
2701:17 that has real potential.
2801:19 She hired seemingly unemployable men and women
2901:22 to care for the bees, harvest the honey
3001:24 and make value-added products
3101:26 that they marketed themselves,
3201:28 and that were later sold at Whole Foods.
3301:30 She combined employment experience and training
3401:33 with life skills they needed,
3501:35 like anger-management and teamwork,
3601:37 and also how to talk to future employers
3701:40 about how their experiences
3801:42 actually demonstrated the lessons that they had learned
3901:44 and their eagerness to learn more.
4001:46 Less than four percent
4101:48 of the folks that went through her program
4201:50 actually go back to jail.
4301:52 So these young men and women learned job-readiness
4401:55 and life skills through bee keeping
4501:57 and became productive citizens in the process.
4602:00 Talk about a sweet beginning.
4702:03 Now, I'm going to take you to Los Angeles,
4802:05 and lots of people know
4902:07 that L.A. has its issues.
5002:09 But I'm going to talk about L.A.'s water issues right now.
5102:12 They have not enough water on most days
5202:14 and too much to handle when it rains.
5302:17 Currently, 20 percent
5402:19 of California's energy consumption
5502:21 is used to pump water
5602:23 into mostly Southern California.
5702:25 Their spending loads, loads,
5802:27 to channel that rainwater out into the ocean
5902:29 when it rains and floods as well.
6002:31 Now Andy Lipkis is working to help
6102:33 L.A. cut infrastructure costs
6202:35 associated with water management and urban heat island --
6302:38 linking trees, people and technology
6402:41 to create a more livable city.
6502:43 All that green stuff actually naturally absorbs storm water,
6602:46 also helps cool our cities.
6702:48 Because, come to think about it,
6802:50 do you really want air-conditioning,
6902:52 or is it a cooler room that you want?
7002:54 How you get it shouldn't make that much of a difference.
7102:57 So a few years ago,
7202:59 L.A. County
7303:01 decided that they needed to spend 2.5 billion dollars
7403:04 to repair the city schools.
7503:07 And Andy and his team discovered
7603:09 that they were going to spend 200 million of those dollars
7703:12 on asphalt to surround the schools themselves.
7803:15 And by presenting a really strong economic case,
7903:18 they convinced the L.A. government
8003:20 that replacing that asphalt
8103:22 with trees and other greenery,
8203:24 that the schools themselves would save the system more on energy
8303:27 than they spend on horticultural infrastructure.
8403:31 So ultimately, 20 million square feet of asphalt
8503:33 was replaced or avoided,
8603:35 and electrical consumption for air-conditioning went down,
8703:38 while employment
8803:40 for people to maintain those grounds went up,
8903:43 resulting in a net-savings to the system,
9003:45 but also healthier students and schools system employees as well.
9103:49 Now Judy Bonds
9203:51 is a coal miner's daughter.
9303:53 Her family has eight generations
9403:55 in a town called Whitesville, West Virginia.
9503:58 And if anyone should be clinging
9604:00 to the former glory of the coal mining history,
9704:02 and of the town,
9804:04 it should be Judy.
9904:06 But the way coal is mined right now is different
10004:08 from the deep mines that her father
10104:10 and her father's father would go down into
10204:12 and that employed essentially thousands and thousands of people.
10304:15 Now, two dozen men
10404:17 can tear down a mountain in several months,
10504:19 and only for about a few years' worth of coal.
10604:22 That kind of technology is called "mountaintop removal."
10704:25 It can make a mountain go from this to this
10804:28 in a few short months.
10904:30 Just imagine that the air surrounding these places --
11004:32 it's filled with the residue of explosives and coal.
11104:35 When we visited, it gave some of the people we were with
11204:37 this strange little cough
11304:39 after being only there for just a few hours or so --
11404:41 not just miners, but everybody.
11504:43 And Judy saw her landscape being destroyed
11604:45 and her water poisoned.
11704:47 And the coal companies just move on
11804:49 after the mountain was emptied,
11904:51 leaving even more unemployment in their wake.
12004:53 But she also saw the difference in potential wind energy
12104:56 on an intact mountain,
12204:58 and one that was reduced in elevation
12305:00 by over 2,000 feet.
12405:02 Three years of dirty energy with not many jobs,
12505:05 or centuries of clean energy
12605:07 with the potential for developing expertise and improvements in efficiency
12705:10 based on technical skills,
12805:12 and developing local knowledge
12905:14 about how to get the most out of that region's wind.
13005:16 She calculated the up-front cost
13105:18 and the payback over time,
13205:20 and it's a net-plus on so many levels
13305:22 for the local, national and global economy.
13405:25 It's a longer payback than mountaintop removal,
13505:28 but the wind energy actually pays back forever.
13605:31 Now mountaintop removal pays very little money to the locals,
13705:34 and it gives them a lot of misery.
13805:36 The water is turned into goo.
13905:38 Most people are still unemployed,
14005:40 leading to most of the same kinds of social problems
14105:42 that unemployed people in inner cities also experience --
14205:45 drug and alcohol abuse,
14305:47 domestic abuse, teen pregnancy and poor heath, as well.
14405:50 Now Judy and I -- I have to say --
14505:52 totally related to each other.
14605:54 Not quite an obvious alliance.
14705:56 I mean, literally, her hometown is called Whitesville, West Virginia.
14805:58 I mean, they are not --
14906:00 they ain't competing for the birthplace of hip hop title
15006:03 or anything like that.
15106:05 But the back of my T-shirt, the one that she gave me,
15206:08 says, "Save the endangered hillbillies."
15306:13 So homegirls and hillbillies we got it together
15406:16 and totally understand that this is what it's all about.
15506:19 But just a few months ago,
15606:21 Judy was diagnosed
15706:23 with stage-three lung cancer.
15806:26 Yeah.
15906:28 And it has since moved to her bones and her brain.
16006:33 And I just find it so bizarre
16106:36 that she's suffering from the same thing
16206:38 that she tried so hard to protect people from.
16306:41 But her dream
16406:43 of Coal River Mountain Wind
16506:45 is her legacy.
16606:47 And she might not
16706:50 get to see that mountaintop.
16806:53 But rather than writing
16906:55 yet some kind of manifesto or something,
17006:57 she's leaving behind
17106:59 a business plan to make it happen.
17207:01 That's what my homegirl is doing.
17307:03 So I'm so proud of that.
17407:05 (Applause)
17507:10 But these three people
17607:12 don't know each other,
17707:14 but they do have an awful lot in common.
17807:16 They're all problem solvers,
17907:18 and they're just some of the many examples
18007:20 that I really am privileged to see, meet and learn from
18107:22 in the examples of the work that I do now.
18207:24 I was really lucky to have them all featured
18307:26 on my Corporation for Public Radio radio show
18407:28 called
18507:30 Now they're all very practical visionaries.
18607:32 They take a look at the demands that are out there --
18707:35 beauty products, healthy schools, electricity --
18807:37 and how the money's flowing to meet those demands.
18907:39 And when the cheapest solutions
19007:41 involve reducing the number of jobs,
19107:43 you're left with unemployed people,
19207:45 and those people aren't cheap.
19307:47 In fact, they make up some of what I call the most expensive citizens,
19407:50 and they include generationally impoverished,
19507:52 traumatized vets returning from the Middle East,
19607:54 people coming out of jail.
19707:56 And for the veterans in particular,
19807:58 the V.A. said there's a six-fold increase
19908:01 in mental health pharmaceuticals by vets since 2003.
20008:04 I think that number's probably going to go up.
20108:06 They're not the largest number of people,
20208:08 but they are some of the most expensive --
20308:10 and in terms of the likelihood for domestic abuse, drug and alcohol abuse,
20408:13 poor performance by their kids in schools
20508:16 and also poor health as a result of stress.
20608:18 So these three guys all understand
20708:20 how to productively channel dollars
20808:22 through our local economies
20908:24 to meet existing market demands,
21008:26 reduce the social problems that we have now
21108:28 and prevent new problems in the future.
21208:31 And there are plenty of other examples like that.
21308:33 One problem: waste handling and unemployment.
21408:36 Even when we think or talk about recycling,
21508:38 lots of recyclable stuff ends up getting incinerated or in landfills
21608:41 and leaving many municipalities, diversion rates --
21708:44 they leave much to be recycled.
21808:46 And where is this waste handled? Usually in poor communities.
21908:49 And we know that eco-industrial business, these kinds of business models --
22008:52 there's a model in Europe called the eco-industrial park,
22108:55 where either the waste of one company is the raw material for another,
22208:58 or you use recycled materials
22309:00 to make goods that you can actually use and sell.
22409:02 We can create these local markets and incentives
22509:05 for recycled materials
22609:07 to be used as raw materials for manufacturing.
22709:09 And in my hometown, we actually tried to do one of these in the Bronx,
22809:12 but our mayor decided what he wanted to see
22909:15 was a jail on that same spot.
23009:17 Fortunately -- because we wanted to create hundreds of jobs --
23109:20 but after many years,
23209:22 the city wanted to build a jail.
23309:24 They've since abandoned that project, thank goodness.
23409:27 Another problem: unhealthy food systems and unemployment.
23509:30 Working-class and poor urban Americans
23609:32 are not benefiting economically
23709:34 from our current food system.
23809:36 It relies too much on transportation,
23909:38 chemical fertilization, big use of water
24009:40 and also refrigeration.
24109:42 Mega agricultural operations
24209:44 often are responsible for poisoning our waterways and our land,
24309:47 and it produces this incredibly unhealthy product
24409:50 that costs us billions in healthcare
24509:52 and lost productivity.
24609:54 And so we know "urban ag"
24709:56 is a big buzz topic this time of the year,
24809:58 but it's mostly gardening,
24910:00 which has some value in community building -- lots of it --
25010:03 but it's not in terms of creating jobs
25110:05 or for food production.
25210:07 The numbers just aren't there.
25310:09 Part of my work now is really laying the groundwork
25410:11 to integrate urban ag and rural food systems
25510:14 to hasten the demise of the 3,000-mile salad
25610:17 by creating a national brand of urban-grown produce
25710:20 in every city,
25810:22 that uses regional growing power
25910:24 and augments it with indoor growing facilities,
26010:26 owned and operated by small growers,
26110:28 where now there are only consumers.
26210:30 This can support seasonal farmers around metro areas
26310:33 who are losing out because they really can't meet
26410:35 the year-round demand for produce.
26510:38 It's not a competition with rural farm;
26610:40 it's actually reinforcements.
26710:42 It allies in a really positive
26810:44 and economically viable food system.
26910:46 The goal is to meet the cities' institutional demands
27010:48 for hospitals,
27110:50 senior centers, schools, daycare centers,
27210:53 and produce a network of regional jobs, as well.
27310:56 This is smart infrastructure.
27410:58 And how we manage our built environment
27511:00 affects the health and well-being of people every single day.
27611:03 Our municipalities, rural and urban,
27711:05 play the operational course of infrastructure --
27811:08 things like waste disposal, energy demand,
27911:11 as well as social costs of unemployment, drop-out rates, incarceration rates
28011:14 and the impacts of various public health costs.
28111:17 Smart infrastructure can provide cost-saving ways
28211:20 for municipalities to handle
28311:22 both infrastructure and social needs.
28411:24 And we want to shift the systems
28511:26 that open the doors for people who were formerly tax burdens
28611:29 to become part of the tax base.
28711:31 And imagine a national business model
28811:33 that creates local jobs and smart infrastructure
28911:36 to improve local economic stability.
29011:39 So I'm hoping you can see a little theme here.
29111:42 These examples indicate a trend.
29211:44 I haven't created it, and it's not happening by accident.
29311:47 I'm noticing that it's happening all over the country,
29411:49 and the good news is that it's growing.
29511:51 And we all need to be invested in it.
29611:53 It is an essential pillar to this country's recovery.
29711:56 And I call it "hometown security."
29811:59 The recession has us reeling and fearful,
29912:02 and there's something in the air these days
30012:04 that is also very empowering.
30112:06 It's a realization
30212:08 that we are the key
30312:10 to our own recovery.
30412:12 Now is the time for us to act in our own communities
30512:15 where we think local and we act local.
30612:18 And when we do that, our neighbors --
30712:20 be they next-door, or in the next state,
30812:22 or in the next country --
30912:24 will be just fine.
31012:27 The sum of the local is the global.
31112:30 Hometown security means rebuilding our natural defenses,
31212:33 putting people to work,
31312:35 restoring our natural systems.
31412:37 Hometown security means creating wealth here at home,
31512:40 instead of destroying it overseas.
31612:42 Tackling social and environmental problems
31712:44 at the same time with the same solution
31812:47 yields great cost savings,
31912:49 wealth generation and national security.
32012:52 Many great and inspiring solutions
32112:54 have been generated across America.
32212:56 The challenge for us now
32312:58 is to identify and support countless more.
32413:01 Now, hometown security is about taking care of your own,
32513:04 but it's not like the old saying,
32613:06 "charity begins at home."
32713:09 I recently read a book called "Love Leadership" by John Hope Bryant.
32813:12 And it's about leading in a world
32913:14 that really does seem to be operating on the basis of fear.
33013:17 And reading that book made me reexamine that theory
33113:20 because I need to explain what I mean by that.
33213:23 See, my dad
33313:25 was a great, great man in many ways.
33413:27 He grew up in the segregated South,
33513:29 escaped lynching and all that
33613:31 during some really hard times,
33713:33 and he provided a really stable home for me and my siblings
33813:36 and a whole bunch of other people that fell on hard times.
33913:40 But, like all of us, he had some problems.
34013:43 (Laughter)
34113:45 And his was gambling,
34213:47 compulsively.
34313:49 To him that phrase, "Charity begins at home,"
34413:52 meant that my payday -- or someone else's --
34513:55 would just happen to coincide with his lucky day.
34613:57 So you need to help him out.
34713:59 And sometimes I would loan him money
34814:01 from my after-school or summer jobs,
34914:04 and he always had the great intention
35014:06 of paying me back with interest,
35114:08 of course, after he hit it big.
35214:10 And he did sometimes, believe it or not,
35314:12 at a racetrack in Los Angeles --
35414:14 one reason to love L.A. -- back in the 1940s.
35514:17 He made 15,000 dollars cash
35614:19 and bought the house that I grew up in.
35714:21 So I'm not that unhappy about that.
35814:23 But listen, I did feel obligated to him,
35914:26 and I grew up -- then I grew up.
36014:29 And I'm a grown woman now,
36114:31 and I have learned a few things along the way.
36214:33 To me, charity
36314:35 often is just about giving,
36414:37 because you're supposed to,
36514:39 or because it's what you've always done,
36614:41 or it's about giving until it hurts.
36714:44 I'm about providing the means
36814:46 to build something that will grow
36914:48 and intensify its original investment
37014:51 and not just require greater giving next year --
37114:53 I'm not trying to feed the habit.
37214:55 I spent some years
37314:57 watching how good intentions for community empowerment,
37415:00 that were supposed to be there
37515:02 to support the community and empower it,
37615:05 actually left people
37715:07 in the same, if not worse, position that they were in before.
37815:10 And over the past 20 years,
37915:12 we've spent record amounts of philanthropic dollars
38015:14 on social problems,
38115:16 yet educational outcomes,
38215:18 malnutrition, incarceration,
38315:20 obesity, diabetes, income disparity,
38415:22 they've all gone up with some exceptions --
38515:25 in particular, infant mortality
38615:28 among people in poverty --
38715:30 but it's a great world that we're bringing them into as well.
38815:34 And I know a little bit about these issues,
38915:36 because, for many years, I spent a long time
39015:39 in the non-profit industrial complex,
39115:41 and I'm a recovering executive director,
39215:43 two years clean.
39315:45 (Laughter)
39415:47 But during that time, I realized that it was about projects
39515:50 and developing them on the local level
39615:52 that really was going to do the right thing for our communities.
39715:55 But I really did struggle for financial support.
39815:58 The greater our success,
39916:00 the less money came in from foundations.
40016:02 And I tell you, being on the TED stage
40116:04 and winning a MacArthur in the same exact year
40216:06 gave everyone the impression that I had arrived.
40316:09 And by the time I'd moved on,
40416:11 I was actually covering a third
40516:13 of my agency's budget deficit with speaking fees.
40616:16 And I think because early on, frankly,
40716:18 my programs were just a little bit ahead of their time.
40816:20 But since then,
40916:22 the park that was just a dump and was featured at a TED2006 Talk
41016:25 became this little thing.
41116:28 But I did in fact get married in it.
41216:30 Over here.
41316:32 There goes my dog who led me to the park in my wedding.
41416:38 The South Bronx Greenway
41516:40 was also just a drawing on the stage back in 2006.
41616:43 Since then, we got
41716:45 about 50 million dollars in stimulus package money
41816:47 to come and get here.
41916:49 And we love this, because I love construction now,
42016:51 because we're watching these things actually happen.
42116:53 So I want everyone to understand
42216:55 the critical importance
42316:57 of shifting charity into enterprise.
42417:00 I started my firm to help communities across the country
42517:03 realize their own potential
42617:05 to improve everything about the quality of life for their people.
42717:08 Hometown security
42817:10 is next on my to-do list.
42917:12 What we need are people who see the value
43017:14 in investing in these types of local enterprises,
43117:17 who will partner with folks like me
43217:19 to identify the growth trends and climate adaptation
43317:22 as well as understand the growing social costs
43417:25 of business as usual.
43517:27 We need to work together
43617:29 to embrace and repair our land,
43717:31 repair our power systems
43817:33 and repair ourselves.
43917:35 It's time to stop building
44017:37 the shopping malls, the prisons,
44117:39 the stadiums
44217:41 and other tributes to all of our collective failures.
44317:45 It is time that we start building
44417:47 living monuments to hope and possibility.
44517:50 Thank you very much.
44617:52 (Applause)