Nathan Cummings Backing a Surprising Climate Solution

Climate change is a not just an environmental problem; nor is it a problem for either government regulators or private-sector innovators to solve. Instead, solutions require orchestration across interest groups and public and private institutions.

That's the approach the Nathan Cummings Foundation (NCF) has pursued, and why the Center for Labor and Community Research (CLCR) has received significant support from the funder since 2006. (See Nathan Cummings Foundation: Grants for Climate Change.)

The CLCR aims to bolster advanced manufacturing — the building of high-tech products — to strengthen the middle class, promote sustainable practices, and spur innovation and jobs in green building and renewable energy. Its signature project is the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council, a partnership of labor, businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, and community leaders that focuses on improving high-tech education and jobs, starting locally and then designed to replicate to other cities.

"An economy based on advanced manufacturing holds the greatest potential to create sustainable, long-term economic growth; rebuild the American middle class; and solve the global environmental crisis," its mission states.

The NCF has championed CLCR's work to approach environmental problems within the reality of America's economy, by improving opportunities for the middle class while simultaneously improving the country's ability to create green technology, a major priority for the foundation's climate change strategy. The NCF has granted the nonprofit nearly $1.4 million since 2006, including $300,000 in 2012.

Their model, started by CLCR Executive Director Dan Swinney, is to partner across sectors to open doors for advanced manufacturing to flourish in a community. This work includes supporting secondary and postsecondary education and creating local tech campuses for businesses.

In Chicago, for example, the organization has focused on the low-income Austin neighborhood on the far west side. It has launched the Austin Polytechnical Academy, a high school that focuses on advanced manufacturing, and an adult education center for similar skills. It's also planning an Austin Manufacturing Innovation Park, a businesses campus in the same part of the city.

The organization made news in 2012 when the City of Chicago awarded $1.25 million to the Academy.

The NCF has supported the organization from a combination of program areas, but mostly the Ecological Innovation Program. While it may seem an unlikely fit for an environmental program, the integration of social and economic justice appeals to NCF, as the center hopes to uplift the community and pave the way for the future of clean energy science.

"The environmental, economic, and social components are like three legs on a stool. Each is essential. Only with all three legs of sustainability can our society support the weight of necessary change," the NCF states on its site, describing the program.