Green Generation Sustainability Workforce Development Program Growing Future Leaders

“If we can leverage what we bring to the table with our experiences and our backgrounds and connections, we have the opportunities to change these young people’s lives, that also changes these young people’s communities and becomes a roadmap for transformation.”                               -Paul Francisco


The Green Generation – or G2 – Project is an “initiative to inspire youth to strengthen their creative talent, explore their professional future and mobilize positive social impact through sustainability.”[1]

Just South of Chicago, in Thornton Township, two cohorts of students spanning three high schools have been learning about the green economy, building science and themselves. Students in this high school district are frequently viewed as disadvantaged or at risk – the rate of poverty for children in this district is more than twice the Illinois state average at 37%[2] and the job outlook for youth can be bleak. With less than 22% of residents holding a bachelors or higher degree it’s hard to know what career options exist. It’s the perfect place for an opportunity building initiative around green economy and sustainability jobs – The Green Generation Project.

Darnell Johnson of the Urban Efficiency Group drafted the first version of the Green Generation Project and presented it to a local utility, but the time wasn’t right. Undeterred, Darnell held on to his proposal and eventually found the right partners to work with – Paul Francisco of the University of Illinois’ Indoor Climate Research & Training group and John Pady of the Community Economic Development Association (CEDA) of Cook County.

Paul, Darnell, and John met through their work on energy efficiency and gelled around a shared vision of equity and passion for change. Within two months of coming together they had built upon Darnell’s original proposal and presented it to the Thornton Township High School District 205 where it went from proposal to reality.

The Green Generation Program targets vulnerable and at-risk students, as defined by the three A’s – Awareness of opportunity, Access to opportunity, and Affordability of opportunities. To participate in The Green Generation (G2) Project, each student is required to write a 500-word essay that is not judged on spelling or grammar, only passion; once accepted they take assessments to identify abilities, interests, values and more. Assessments are designed to surface student’s values and vision statements; they are anchored in bringing forth complementary strengths and acknowledge the importance of empowering students beyond technical skills.

The G2 Project spans a student’s high school career; summers are marked by seven weeks of learning and touchpoints occur throughout the school year. Students work on developing leadership and advocacy skills and, importantly, are paid for their time, teaching them that they and their time are valuable. At the end of summer programming students leave as the youngest recipients of Building Performance Institute (BPI) certifications – each summer of a cohort gives different certifications, ranging from Infiltration Duct Leakage to Building Analyst Technician, see table below.

Summer 1 Summer 2

Summer 3

-Infiltration Duct Leakage

-Air Leakage Control Installer

-Building Science Principles

-Healthy Housing Principles

– Building Analyst Technician



As the program unfolds over the years, students are intentionally exposed to different teachers and trades driving home a variety of career paths and outcomes otherwise outside their awareness. By connecting students to mentors, new opportunities become accessible; by enabling them to complete multiple BPI certifications before graduating high school and without fees the G2 Program makes training affordable.

John, Paul, and Darnell are all deeply committed to the comprehensive growth of the students participating in the program and built in numerous ways to center their experiences and potential. They lit up as they talked about the students in the program, Darnell drove it home when he said, “anytime you can inspire a student to believe and to dream beyond the boundaries of what they have traditionally thought was possible, it’s victory.” The founders are not the only ones invested in the program. The school district, students, and parents all contribute of their time and resources, ensuring transportation and meals, and celebrating the many milestones and successes.

Since the program began, other communities have taken interest, and Darnell, John and Paul are working on creating processes to enable communities to develop their own G2 Program while adapting to different communities and still maintaining fidelity to the original program. Darnell noted that “there is no success without successors,” and between creating means to expansion and the participants themselves the G2 program is ensuring that success.

The conclusion of the first cohort is just around the corner, and we will see what paths graduates create for themselves. Perhaps they’ll jump right into a weatherization or green energy career or perhaps they’ll choose another path. As John said, “this is a transformative, not a transactional process,” success is rooted in being able to dream beyond old boundaries. It’s moving to see weatherization be the vehicle for that transformation.