Back in July, I traveled to Los Angeles on a quest to find out how green the second largest city in America is. I sat down with several leaders in different sectors within the green movement. I had the opportunity to speak with Jeff Hayes, principal of The Vector Group , about the current eco-activity within "The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of the Little Portion" - the official name of Los Angeles . Here's what he had to say:
TH - Tell us about your background and what you do.
Hayes — I'm involved with accelerating the growth of small green businesses that are family-owned. I've been starting businesses since I was 13 years old — my first venture was a local surf contest called The California Japanese Surf Classic. I surfed my brains out through high school, then studied film-scoring at Berklee in Boston during the 80s. I moved to LA 1986, became an animator 1989, then became an animation director in 1993. I burned out around 1996, at which time my father encouraged me to join The Vector Group. I loved it right away. In 2003, I opened the LA office. In 2005, I committed to solely serving green businesses. In 2006, I co-founded Green Business Networking (GBN) with Greg Wendt in April 2006. GBN has 700+ members with monthly meetings that host more than 50 attendees.TH - How do you feel LA ranks with other large urban areas in the US for green activity and innovation?
Hayes - NYC, Chicago, Portland, Seattle, SF all seem to have us beat — for the moment. We're working hard on improving our green and local economy. Villaraigosa, the current mayor of Los Angeles, ran on a green platform. He made several critical mis-steps during his first years in office but lately seems to be getting on track. Not much innovation here, I think that will come after the reality of a green economy is proven. I think our fair weather and focus on entertainment both contribute to lack of green progress.
TH - California has a long history of being progressive with environmental issues, does that help or hamper new ideas within the green arena to grow?
Hayes - It helps because a progressive stance drives competition/innovation and attracts capital. But it hinders because so many people assume that "someone else" is taking the challenge on. I agree with Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus when they say, basically - The activists had their shot and didn't get traction. In most ways we're worse off than we were 30 years ago. Time for radical, high-leverage action. — I see business as a radical, high-leverage fulcrum. Schwarzenegger is surprising a lot of us who thought a green economy would have to wait for a democratic leader. He's done pretty well, but the jury is still out. In general I'm pleased with his performance, but we're still in deep trouble.
TH - When we first talked, you mentioned that green issues and grassroots are difficult to build momentum citywide in LA...can you explain why?
Hayes - LA is one of the most diverse cities in the US. Demographically, green/environmental/social issues are mostly a white movement - unfortunately. Part of our effort is to reach out to the latino (46%) and black (11%) communities and bring them into the movement. But this is challenging because of the distrust across races. "Fixing" that distrust is the focus of lots of activist energy and funding, so there isn't much left over for greens. Also, LA comprises 496 square miles. Almost everyone spends too much time in their car so the last thing they want to do when they get home is get back in their car to drive to a meeting!
TH - What role do you see LA playing in the future with green issues and green business?
Hayes - We'll be a follower for quite a few more years. That's ok, because we're making progress and we're able to learn from other cities as we go.