Empowering students for a lifetime of success, leadership, and sustainability


As our industry faces a need to recruit millions of workers over the next few years, it’s time to develop new ways of growing the workforce. A collaboration of 3 Chicago-area organizations have piloted a new program that can offer valuable lessons.

The Green Generation (G2) Workforce Development & Sustainability Program helps high school students prepare for quality careers in the green buildings sector and other emerging industries. It was developed by Urban Efficiency Group and launched in the summer of 2021 as a partnership between UEG, , Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County (CEDA), and the University of Illinois’ Indoor Climate Research and Training Group.

With a strong lens on equity, G2 dovetails with the values that are consistently expressed by Generation Z. The program delivers training in three areas:

Technical – All ten students of the first cohort obtained BPI's Infiltration & Duct Leakage (IDL) and Air Leakage Control Installer (ALCI). They are the youngest people in the country to have earned this distinction. By remaining in the program through their senior year, they can earn a total of six BPI credentials. The 3-year program will equip participants with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to make informed decisions about their future career path. Upon graduation will be able to show employers a track record of knowledge, commitment, and experience in the fields of home performance and urban sustainability.

Leadership – G2 prepares young adults to navigate and overcome personal and professional obstacles in today’s challenging society. The first cohort conducted strategic planning activities and developed their own cohort’s mission and vision statement. Instruction includes an emphasis on career progression and paths to achieving social change.

Sustainability & Advocacy –  G2 empowers students to solve a wide range of urban sustainability problems.  Darnell Johnson of Urban Efficiency Group says G2 was designed to expose students from disinvested communities to college and career choices in which Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) are typically underrepresented. This includes, but is not limited to, home energy performance, environmental and civil engineering, political science, and sustainability.

G2 is built on the Positive Youth Development framework, which focuses on the inherent strengths and gifts of young people, empowers them with community involvement and ongoing supportive relationships, and invites them to solve problems that are relevant to their communities. Participants have an obligation to service learning and civic engagement, which allows them to apply their new skills in a practical setting while helping their communities.

Parental support is critical to Green Generation's success. Many families are anxious about deciding between college or going straight to work after high school. Young people want both stability and meaning from their work, and families may wonder what path holds the best potential for economic opportunity and an emotionally and intellectually rewarding career.

John Pady of CEDA says that parent sessions using the Green Buildings Career Map helped families understand the breadth of opportunities in the green building space, no matter what path students choose. "You don’t have to just be an energy auditor or a QCI [quality control inspector], you can be an engineer, an architect, a director, office support. There are so many different verticals within the green space; we wanted to ensure that they understood that.”

The student cohort was introduced to the “System of Sustainability” that encourages diversity of thought on Urban Sustainability, Just Sustainability, and the Sciences of Sustainability. Early exposure to this model prepares participants to engage in advocacy and activism that advances equitable sustainability in BIPOC communities.

As a result of their commitment to sustainability, they were commissioned by the Cook County Board President, Toni Preckwinkle, as the Youth Sustainability Council for Cook County. This appointment has afforded them the opportunity to have listening sessions with the Cook County Department of Environment and Sustainability to present two of their projects, Breathe Easy (Healthy Homes/Indoor Air Quality Initiative) and Bleu Map (EV Charging Station Initiative) for resource support.

G2 will continue to add cohorts each academic year. An affiliate program is under development to help communities across the country implement the program using a common curriculum and quality assurance mechanisms. To learn more or launch an affiliate in your community, please contact Darnell Johnson of the Urban Efficiency Group.