May 11, 2017

By Arturo Garcia-Costas and Michele Kumi Baer, New York Community Trust

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post

WE ACT for Environmental Justice marches at the 2017 People’s Climate March in Washington D.C.

Climate change and pollution affects us all, but some more than others. The poor, the infirm, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to temperature extremes and violent storms. Low-income communities of color often bear the brunt of our civilization’s legacy of pollution: from the noxious facilities in their neighborhoods to lead in their drinking water. They are on the “frontlines” of these growing environmental challenges.

A key strategy is to help communities already coping with climate change and other environmental burdens lead the way toward a more just, sustainable future. They have the drive, evidence, and moral authority to help steer us in the right direction. Now they just need the resources to do so.

The good news is that charitable giving can help create a cleaner, healthier environment. It has before.

In the years before and after the first Earth Day in 1970, average Americans opened their wallets and the United States saw a surge in charitable giving to new and old environmental organizations. Philanthropy soon followed suit, sparking an unprecedented shift in environmental activism and provoking policy change worldwide. But the scientists, lawyers, and others who launched the modern environmental movement in the 1970s failed to act upon the ideals of the overlapping Civil Rights era.

As a result, the newly minted environmental organizations of the time ushered in a modern environmental movement that was overwhelmingly white and male. This exclusionary dynamic helped set the stage for the emergence in the 1980s of a separate and distinct environmental justice movement led by people of color.

Twenty-five years later, these parallel but linked movements are facing an environmental crisis like no other: Climate change is already happening, but we face an unprecedented assault on federal funding and programs to address it.

To advance a more inclusive, and therefore effective movement, we must patiently build up the national and regional environmental justice networks that frontline communities have created over the past decade.

Over the past 20 years, The New York Community Trust’s environmental grantmaking has supported the emergence and strengthening of such networks. Separately, most community organizations might struggle to carry out large-scale advocacy campaigns at a citywide, statewide, or national level. When they come together, however, they have proven time and again that they can strategically pool their knowledge and resources to make things happen.

These emergent networks act as intermediaries between frontline communities and government, foundations, and mainstream environmental groups. Key examples include the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, which is made up of nine community organizations from Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx; the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum on Climate Change, which was established by the New York-based WE ACT for Environmental Justice and includes 42 grassroots organizations from 19 states; and the Midwest Environmental Justice Network, which is made up of 12 groups from 4 states.

Three years ago, these environmental justice networks helped mobilize the People’s Climate March, which brought more than 400,000 people onto the streets of New York to demand that heads of state take action to confront human-driven climate change. A year later, they did just that, signing a historic agreement in Paris. Now that agreement is in jeopardy. That is why over 200,000 Americans, once again led by people of color, marched through the streets of Washington, D.C. this past Saturday in a new People’s Climate March.

In the ’60s and ’70s, foundations provided steady, flexible support to new and old environmental organizations to great effect. Our air and water is cleaner, and many species were brought back from the brink of extinction, including the Florida manatee, the California condor, and the American alligator.

Today, by patiently supporting environmental justice networks, from the regional to the global, we can help create the broad, inclusive environmental movement we need for the 21st century.

Arturo Garcia-Costas is Program Officer for the Environment and Michele Kumi Baer is a Program Associate at The New York Community Trust.

Apr 24, 2017

By Rachel Leon, Executive Director, EGA

There is no better inspiration in the lead-up to Earth Day than listening to a wise woman. On Friday, I was blessed to start my day at an event organized by WE-ACT and co-sponsored by Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Jesse Smith Noyes Foundation.

Dr. Dorceta Taylor, Professor and Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment, was the special guest. As you may know, we have been proud to partner with Dr. Taylor on our Environmental Fellows Program – for which the second cohort of 21 fellows will start their summer fellowships in just a few weeks.

Dr. Taylor and I have been working closely together for nearly two years now, but what I experienced with my EGA team last week was an even deeper connection to the significance of Earth Day, to our shared values and work, and to opening our hearts and minds to an exploration of the conservation movement.

Maybe it is the moment we are in, or the recent and approaching national rallies. Maybe it's, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described it in a famous April 1967 speech at Manhattan's Riverside Church (next-door to EGA offices), the "fierce urgency of now". Maybe it was hearing the passion of Dr. Taylor, and further understanding the significant role she has played in enabling a new generation of changemakers. Maybe I just needed a dose of hope and truth to face what lies ahead. Whatever it was, we felt it in the room.

The audience was diverse in every way, including seasoned activists and millennials starting anew. Dr. Taylor shared incredible stories with us - both from her life and her book, The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection.

In doing so, she took us on a historical journey that looked back to earliest days of conservation, and then seamlessly made connections to challenges of today. She referenced similarities in the documented coarseness of Andrew Jackson and President Trump, and unpacked myths about many environmental heroes. Together, we explored how cycles of ugly language and mistreatment throughout American history - be it directed towards Native Americans, slaves, women, immigrants – continues to be repeated.

In closing, Dr. Taylor stressed the need to build bridges across race, class and gender - something we look forward to translating into action with our special community here at EGA. We can only move forward when we are able to take risks with new and different allies, and embrace feeling uncomfortable.

And with this understanding, I saw a glimpse of the future, and gained a better sense of our imperfect history. It left me inspired, and ready to forge ahead with a full heart.

Dec 1, 2016

Elena Huisman is a student at the University of Michigan, and was a EFP Fellow this Summer with the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF)

Identity. It’s personal, yet others use it to judge, create perceptions, and solidify stereotypes. I’ve struggled with my identity since leaving my hometown to attend college. 

I am a Texas-born Mexican-American, Tejana. The more time I’ve spend outside of Texas, away from my roots, my family, and the language I grew up around, the less I identify as a Chicana, Latina, or Hispanic. Growing up in a rural town outside of Austin, Texas I was one of the few students who was of Hispanic origin, and my mother was one of the only people in our town who was bilingual. It was easy to identify as Latina. Everyone knew my mom made the best rice, beans, and homemade tortillas this side of the Rio Grande, and I even spent summers in Mexico with family. There was no fooling anyone—I was a Tejana.

When I left Texas for college I quickly realized people didn’t assume I was Latina, like they had in grade school. Even my name, although difficult to pronounce, didn’t clue people into my heritage. It was then I found myself convincing people of my Mexican heritage. Often times they would attempt to pronounce my name, look up from the paper quizzically, and inquire, “Where is your name from?”, and I would politely respond, “It is of Spanish origin” and wait for shock to set it. I would then go on to explain that I am half Mexican, but favor my father’s genes, he is 3rd generation German-American from Iowa.



Elena’s childhood home in Driftwood, Texas

For every new place I’ve lived, people I’ve met, new jobs I’ve had, I always have to explain my heritage and why I had such an ‘ethnic’ first and middle name, but an Anglo last name. Or why I didn’t look Mexican. 

The more time I spend away from the borderland I call home, the less I identify as Chicana. I do not eat homemade tamales, celebrate Día de los Muertos, and rarely do I speak Spanish. Ever since I can remember I’ve feared losing my Mexican heritage. Whether it was through marrying someone with a different background or not celebrating the traditions I grew up with. 

I recently connected with a woman, at the EGA Retreat, whose son is in a similar boat as me, half Latino half ‘American’. And she put the onus on me to ensure I continue my cultural practices despite living 2,000 miles away from home. The conversations I had with her were so meaningful and eye opening. I can’t make any promises, but I’d like to start reintegrating my Mexican culture back into my life. 

When I first started brainstorming what I’d write for this blog, my first instinct was to turn to academic literature (graduate school’s lasting effects) to see if others have experience similar challenges, and surprisingly there is A LOT out there. I resonated most with Jessica Vasquez’s piece titled, “Blurred Boarders for Some but not ‘Others’: Racialization, ‘Flexible Ethnicity,’ Gender and Third-Generation Mexican American Identity”. Vasquez explores the social and cultural position of third-generation Mexican Americans, much like myself straddling cultures, boarders, and race. The phrase “Flexible ethnicity”, used by Vasquez, illustrates how I’ve, unknowingly, navigated life. “Flexible ethnicity refers to the ability to deftly and effectively navigate different racial terrains and be considered an ‘insider’ in more than one racial or ethnic group” (46). I struggle with when or if I should identify as Hispanic—especially during this years’ election—where racial tensions and hate towards immigrants is ingrained in the political rhetoric. But having that option to not identify as Hispanic is a privilege I don’t take lightly. In staying true to myself and the traditions my parents worked so hard to instill in me, I know now that I cannot shy away from who I am and what I stand for. 

The opportunity to participate in the Environmental Fellows Program alongside an incredibly strong and diverse group of people has been an honor and a huge growing experience for me. In addition to being part of a wonderful cohort of fellows I was also fortunate to have amazing mentors at the National Environmental Education Foundation. Through formal meetings, informal conversations, and daily walks I grew professionally and personally throughout the summer. Meeting other environmentalist from all walks of life and for the first time identify as a Latina Environmentalist has been the highlight of my fellowship.

Aug 16, 2016

Sarah DeNicola, Membership Program Manager, Confluence Philanthropy. This blog first appeared on Confluence Philanthropy's website
“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” - Jacques Cousteau.
Whether our world is prepared or not – climate change has come to remind us. Drought or flooding, rising sea levels or crumbling infrastructure, shifting migration patterns and socio-political unrest, the impacts of climate change are plainly visible in our most important natural resource: water. The importance of water management and scarcity will only become clearer as the effects of climate change become increasingly visible and disruptive in our everyday lives. Businesses have already been forced to respond, as witnessed by the massive protests against Nestlé’s water bottling plants, and the complete departure of Intel’s semiconductor fabrication plants from California. With the state’s agricultural sector now using over 80% of California’s water, its clear that our strategies for managing these limited water resources must adapt – and quickly.
If there’s a sliver lining, it’s that persistent drought conditions across the Western United States have drawn new attention to how we manage and allocate our water resources. That more than 1 million Californians lack reliable access to clean and safe drinking water is unacceptable, and has been a longstanding reality for many communities. While drought conditions may be the new normal, these social injustices are not – along with the ineffective policies, overuse and misallocation of natural resources, and inefficient infrastructure that compound the impacts of a changing climate.
Confluence Philanthropy partnered with the Environmental Grantmakers Association, the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity, and The Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities to organize the first-ever Western Water Briefing: Strategies for Resilience on August 2-3, 2016 at the San Diego Foundation. Considering these momentous water challenges, the Briefing explored how philanthropic and impact investment capital could play a role in shaping our water future.
This 1.5-day event engaged over 50 funder, advisor, government, and nonprofit participants to discuss how all stakeholders can take effective action to address water issues in the region.

  • "It was both invigorating and informative to have so many investors, investment advisors, and water experts together in one room. While this is still an emerging investment market, the growth trajectory is encouraging." – Margaret Bowman, Consultant, Walton Family Foundation
  • “The CGBD was very glad to be part of this important briefing. The urgency of the subject cannot be overstated.” – Lynn Lohr, Executive Director, CGBD
  • “The Western Water Briefing was a valuable and unique blending of wide range of philanthropic and impact investing perspectives. Information and interests ranged from effective markets and environmental justice concerns to leveraging private sector investment.” - Lester Snow, Executive Director, The Water Foundation

Over the course of the conference, speakers and attendees addressed a variety of perspectives for how strategic investment can play a role in water resilience. Participants examined historical trends in foundation grantmaking for water-related issues, as well as innovative practices and new technologies to manage resources efficiently. Public servants shared their experience and visions for updating their cities’ infrastructure to improve water supply for everyone, while regionally-based foundations offered stories of their localized efforts to combat scarcity in particularly vulnerable communities. At the same time, investment advisors considered ways to impact water sustainability through environmentally responsible investment. With such a variety of expertise present together, participants found points of connection across the public, private, and philanthropic sectors. And those connections – new, old, or rediscovered – presented opportunities for the kind of strategic collaboration that we need to mitigate and adapt to environmental changes.
“There’s been real momentum around the intersection of water scarcity and impact investing in the funder community, so it was great to get grantmakers that are already engaged on one or both issues in the same room and see them come away with actionable next steps, and to take part in a growing conversation we can build upon in the coming months.” – Adam Harms, Environmental Grantmakers Association
Confluence members will continue discussions about how to address water scarcity through impact investment via an upcoming fall webinar and the publication of a report summarizing the outcomes from the Briefing. Please contact Sarah DeNicola, Membership Program Manager, for more information:

Jun 30, 2016

Annie Taylor, Program Coordinator, EGA

Last week, President Obama signed a bill updating the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a forty-year-old law originally intended to regulate the introduction of new chemicals that posed a threat to public health and the environment. At the passage of TSCA, over 62,000 chemicals already existed on the market, making many of them exempt from toxicity testing. Fundamentally, these recent reforms now ensure that all chemicals – both those currently manufactured or used in the U.S. and those being introduced – are safe for people and the environment. In an effort spanning multiple years, Congress drafted and passed The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2576) on June 7th. 

In bringing chemical regulations into the present, the law now requires the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate the toxicity of existing chemicals, prioritized by their potential risk. If a substance or chemical is designated as a high priority, the EPA will face a hard deadline by which to complete a risk evaluation, which will now explicitly consider any risks to susceptible or highly-exposed populations. These enforceable deadlines represent a huge improvement on the past system, which was so slow and burdensome that the EPA could not effectively ban asbestos, a carcinogen that kills as many as 10,000 Americans every year. The law also establishes greater transparency of chemical information, both with regards to the public as well as to health and environmental professionals, and provisions funding to the EPA for implementation.

Many foundations and NGOs began advocating for this type of reform over a decade ago. The bill’s passage marks a landmark achievement, and represents the first major update to an environmental statute in 20 years. Now that the bill has been signed into law, the focus will shift to the EPA’s implementation of these new regulations. In a conversation sponsored by the Health and Environmental Funders Network, the Environmental Grantmakers Association, and Rachel's Network, chemical safety advocates and regulatory implementation experts discussed possible opportunities to ensure effective implementation of the reforms, as well as strong protections for the environment and consumers.

These experts emphasized that the speed and efficacy of priority designation and chemical risk evaluation will matter most to public health. Experts also highlighted the EPA’s new ability to require an affirmative finding of safety before a new chemical hits the market, which now guarantees a common-sense protection against untested chemicals. These advocates will help to hold the EPA accountable to future deadlines, and watchdog any possible exploitation of ambiguous language within the law. In particular, chemicals assigned a low-priority designation will not be immediately subject for review – it is still unclear which substances will qualify, and whether or not this result could be problematic for people or the environment.

Moving forward, funders and advocacy groups will play an essential role in fighting the regulatory battles that undoubtedly exist ahead. Ultimately, the Chemical Safety Act brings the U.S. one step closer to reducing chemicals that pose a significant threat to public health and the environment.

For more information, you can read highlights of the Chemical Safety Act’s key provisions or read the President's remarks at the signing.

May 13, 2016

By Mariella Puerto Senior Program Officer, Climate, Barr Foundation. This blog first appeared on the Barr Foundation Website. 
How a small incentive showed it can pay big to invest in renewable energy.
In the summer of 2014, I read that George Washington University, American University, and The George Washington University Hospital were going to buy 52 megawatts of power every year from a North Carolina solar farm. At the time, it was the largest non-utility solar power purchase in the U.S. and the largest solar project east of the Mississippi River. The icing on the cake was that they were getting fixed pricing for solar energy for 20 years at a lower price point than the current market.
In Boston, since we have so many colleges, hospitals, and large institutions—all major energy users—I thought, “Could we do something similar here?” The Boston Green Ribbon Commission (GRC) also considered this question and last year organized an informal network of Boston institutions to talk about how they could do large-scale renewables procurement. There was a lot of interest in joint purchasing to reduce costs and make it easier, but uncertainty about how it might work. To continue the momentum and to inspire action, the GRC issued a prize and Barr partnered with the GRC to fund it.
The $100,000 Renewable Energy Leadership Prize launched last summer. Its goal was to spur local leaders who were contemplating big renewable energy purchases to move ahead with their projects.
On February 25, the GRC announced the winner: PowerOptions, in partnership with Tufts University and Endicott College. The largest energy-buying consortium in Massachusetts, PowerOptions procures electricity and natural gas supply for 500 nonprofit and public members. The nonprofit organization teamed up with two of its members, Tufts University and Endicott College, to purchase up to 12 megawatts of power from a wind project in New England.
Other applications came from Boston University and by A Better City (ABC), a consortium of Boston institutions and civic leaders. All three applicants went through twists and turns to pursue a deal and, as of this writing, their pursuits are still ongoing. Some customers participating in the deals withdrew because developers changed their terms. Some deals fell apart or were delayed as market and policy conditions changed. Most notably, Endicott College is no longer part of the PowerOptions deal because the developer wanted them to purchase a larger amount of power. They were replaced by Partners HealthCare, the parent organization of Massachusetts General Hospital and other major healthcare facilities.
At this point, it appears that the Prize is yielding two sets of results. First, it spurred the three applicants to devote considerable time and effort to solving the puzzle of buying offsite renewable electricity. Our initial hope and hypothesis was that a prize would catalyze action, and that turned out to be right. There was a risk that there would be no takers and we were pleasantly surprised to see such significant interest. The applicants were in different stages of readiness and had different factors motivating their actions. The Prize helped push them to their finish lines by creating deadlines for accomplishing what some had been planning to do for some time. If all three deals go ahead as currently planned, it could result in as much as 63 megawatts of new renewable energy capacity.
The Prize helped push them to their finish lines by creating deadlines for accomplishing what some had been planning to do for some time.
The second result is learning: by the applicants and their developers, consultants, and brokers; by the GRC and their stakeholders; and by the Barr Foundation. To share the lessons learned from the Prize, the GRC recently released a case study, called Solving the Puzzle.
Here are four of the key takeaways:
1. Collaboration takes time, but multiplies returns.
The Prize placed a high premium on collaborative proposals, with the theory that joint procurement would be better. While this created a barrier to wider participation, it also tested the theory that institutions could collaborate to negotiate stronger green power purchases. While results suggest that more time is needed to structure such deals, it also showed that collaboration did in fact create better deals. I hope the participants’ experiences of crafting and negotiating these deals provides them with jumping-off points to continue their efforts and to inspire others.
2. Unexpected terms may make the deal work for you.
All three applicants considered or deployed some complicated features in their deals, including forms of arbitrage for both electricity and renewable energy credits, as well as inter-regional power deals. The complexity was worthwhile because of the significant financial benefits it captured. There were huge price variations between technologies and regions that enabled significant cost savings.
3. Policies can move or delay an energy deal.
State, regional, and federal policies had major implications for the nature of the deals. Strong energy policies drive progress in clean energy, but they are difficult to navigate and can be slowed down by legislative inaction. State solar regulations and federal tax credits were both up in the air at the time of the contest, causing a number of delays and potential dead-ends. The applications, and the response from potential suppliers, were affected by this uncertainty.
4. A commitment to sustainability really matters.
While all applicants were looking for the most cost competitive deals, their degrees of commitment to sustainability and clean energy played decisive roles in motivating their actions. Those with long-term carbon-reduction goals embedded across their organizational decision-making processes looked at their options in a different light than institutions without such goals.
I would strongly encourage other funders to consider launching a similar initiative. The Prize was particularly useful here in Boston, where higher education, healthcare, and private companies have the potential to directly purchase renewable energy. The Prize motivated them to commit to such purchases. I expect many other places are in similar situations.
There is still work to be done to expand interest in renewable energy purchases and to make it easier for institutions to participate. But, the Prize offered a major learning opportunity for the Barr Foundation and for the GRC in what it takes for institutions and companies to engage in renewable energy purchases.

Apr 25, 2016

By Ana Marie Argilagos & Amy Kenyon, Ford Foundation
Habitat III is a major UN conference dealing with urbanization and human settlements that happens only once every 20 years (the last one was in Istanbul in 1996). H3 will happen in Quito, Ecuador this October. It will be UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s last conference before the end of his term and 30,000 people are expected to attend. The New Urban Agenda that will be adopted in Quito is significant because it will function as a global framework to deal with the realities of rapid global urbanization–we would argue one of the defining global megatrends of our time. The conference will be the first major UN conference to take place after the SDGs and COP21 Paris Climate agreement were ratified. It is significant because currently cities are developing in ways that lock in and reinforce inequality and poor environmental outcomes (in the US cities account for 70% of GHGs). The New Urban Agenda presents an opportunity seized (or missed) for the future of our planet.
We want to make sure you have the information you need to participate in the lead up to the conference (and beyond!). Our priorities are to make sure that YOU have input in the drafting process for the zero draft of the New Urban Agenda, which is scheduled to be released on May 6.
How you can get involved:

  • Participate in the monthly civil society working group hosted by the Huairou Commission - you can participate by phone. It serves as a good place to get live updates on the process. To subscribe, email:
  • Sign up for the Habitat III Secretariat newsletter here.
  • You can also join one of the General Assembly of Partners (GAP) constituent groups. The GAP supports stakeholder engagement to the conference via 15 Partner Constituent Groups (PCG) with United Nations' major groups and includes philanthropy. Go here for more information.
  • Apply for the Habitat Village and/or Side Events in Quito – the call is now open! Take a look at the websites linked above if you are interested in submitting an idea. Deadline is 30 May.
  • Open-ended informal consultative meetings are taking place April 25-29 in New York. These meetings are open to all ECOSOC accredited organizations, members of the GAP and Major Groups. These meetings will be webcast live AND there will be an online dialogue so you can participate! You can find the agenda, here, the online dialogue here,and the webcast here.
  • Civil Society Informal Hearings New York, June 6-7: Stakeholders are invited to participate and provide feedback during 2 days of informal hearings. Ford Foundation will host thematic breakfast discussions during that week. Stay tuned to learn about topics to be addressed. These events will be video-conferenced with opportunity for global participation.
  • July 25-27: Attend the Third Habitat III Preparatory Committee Meeting (PrepCom3) Surabaya, Indonesia. Apply for Special Accreditation so that you can attend here. Deadline is May 2nd.

For more information on the background of Habitat III, the New Urban Agenda, and the process, we encourage you to a look at Citiscope’s very extensive coverage of the process.
For the official Habitat III calendar see here.
We know this is A LOT of information to send all at once, but things are starting to happen at a rapid pace as we move closer to the conference, and we wanted to give you the full picture of where we are headed!