Seattle Foundation Blog

An Earth Day Conversation with Denis Hayes

President & CEO of the Bullitt Foundation shares what factors drive his giving strategy

April 18, 2019

Earth Day, which falls on April 22 each year, marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement. In honor of this important day, we asked Denis Hayes, CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, principal national organizer of the first Earth Day in 1970, and Chair of the international Earth Day 2020 campaign about what drives his giving strategy.

“First, I give on the basis of the individual who will be responsible for the work. Of course, many goals will require the involvement of motivated teams, coalitions or movements. But in the end, I want to know that there is an identifiable individual whom I’m confident will go over, under, around or through any obstacles to succeed,” said Hayes. “I’m pretty patient — I don’t demand victory in a month or a year or even a decade. But I want to see progress combined with a nimble, credible strategy for success.”

“While my giving tends to concentrate heavily on environmental issues, it is all made with sensitivity to social justice and digital privacy. The canyon that has grown between the very rich and the destitute — where six families control more wealth than the poorest half of humanity — is indefensible, immoral, and unsustainable” said Hayes.

Hayes’ words resonate strongly with Seattle Foundation, which is committed to a climate justice strategy that centers those hit first and worst in designing solutions to climate change.

“I favor outcomes that either rely directly upon natural ecosystems or that are grounded in ecological principles — whether industrial ecology, urban ecology, human ecology, biomimicry . . . . The earth has been beta testing solutions to myriad problems for 65 million years—ever since a giant asteroid slammed into the planet and destroyed almost all life. During that time, it has weeded out many failures. We humans would be stupid not to learn from that experience,” commented Hayes.

As part of our commitment to climate justice, Seattle Foundation is investing in community-based research, building strong, diverse coalitions and strengthening the capacity of nonprofits working to advance local solutions to climate change. Some of the ways we do this include:

  • Investing in and supporting coalitions like Front and Centered and the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, which are working to drive forward critical organizing and policy work.
  • Partnering with Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and Environment to ensure that infrastructure investments lead to a healthier, more just and stable future for the South Park community and the Duwamish River.
  • Sponsoring original community-driven research through the UW’s Climate Impacts Group and Front and Centered. The Unfair Share Report finds that people of color, indigenous peoples and those with lower incomes frequently face greater risks from climate change.
  • Endorsing Initiative I-1631, a ballot measure to reduce pollution and increase clean energy throughout the state.

As the federal government retreats from its position on climate action, city and state efforts are more important than ever. Greater Seattle can fill the leadership gap with grassroots solutions that target root causes and support the communities disproportionately experiencing the effects of a changing climate.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, the time is ripe for bold investment in community solutions to the climate crisis.

“I’m particularly interested in campaigns where failure would lead to significant, irreversible harm,” said Hayes. “Those are the battles that we absolutely have to win.”

Looking for something to do to celebrate Earth Day? King County has volunteer opportunities and events planned.

To get involved with regional preparations for the giant 50th anniversary of Earth Day next year, contact Earth Day 2020 Northwest.

To learn more about our climate justice impact strategy or our Climate Justice Fund, contact Sally Gillis.



For Philanthropists


Climate justiceClimate changeCommunities of colorEnvironmentRacial equitysocial equalitySustainable developmentSystems and policy change

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