photo credit: Susan Melkisethian

Our Year in Climate Justice

A look at our work to advance solutions and engage philanthropists in 2019

By Sally Gillis, Managing Director of Strategic Impact & Partnerships, and Elizabeth List, Senior Philanthropic Advisor

Climate change has a disproportionate impact on communities of color and low-income communities. These populations are hit first and worst, but we all have a stake in climate justice and the long-term systems changes that will ensure everyone can thrive. To make progress, we must simultaneously slow carbon pollution, adjust to changes caused by existing pollution, build strong networks to strengthen community resilience, and support the leadership of people who are most affected by changes in our environment.

This focus on the intersection of social justice and environmental concerns was the driving force behind the formation of Seattle Foundation’s Climate Justice Impact Strategyi in late 2018. Since then, staff across departments have worked together to amply the foundation’s voice, invest in community-driven projects and engage philanthropists in the work. As 2019 draws to a close, we offer a look back at what we’ve accomplished together.

Our Community Programs staff began the year by interviewing a range of deeply knowledgeable nonprofit and community partners about their work and views on Climate Justice. Those conversations informed the creation of our Climate Justice Framework, completed last spring, which then guided our funding priorities as well as our engagement and leadership activities in this arena.

This month we’re investing $500,000 in 10 organizations pursuing Climate Justice in our region. Ranging from $25,000 to $75,000, these grants support mitigation, adaptation, resilience and leadership efforts that are both community-based and community-defined. In particular, this round of funding focused on supporting and strengthening organizational capacity to advance advocacy, storytelling, coalition-building and organizing activities. We’re excited to support organizations serving different geographies, from neighborhood approaches to statewide actions. We believe there is added power in taking multiple approaches toward ensuring a climate resiliency.

This month’s grants complement a trio of previous grants, which backed efforts that bring communities together to seek solutions. Earlier this year, we invested over $200,000 in three projects that center voices of people most impacted by climate change. Those grants supported collectives that convene key individual organizations working together to organize and speak with a united voice: Front and Centered and the Climate Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy. Grants also supported the Seattle-based environmental news outlet Grist, which is convening storytellers of color from around the country to cover climate justice. Nationally only 9% of environmental coverage is created by people of color, so this kind of power-building is critical for media to begin leading with voices from communities that are most impacted.

Philanthropist Engagement
In February we publicly launched our Climate Justice Impact Strategy with an event featuring a conversation with national climate justice leader Michelle J. DePass and statewide leader Aiko Schaefer. DePass, the president and CEO of the Meyer Memorial Trust, and Schaefer, then director of Front and Centered, discussed the need to help communities of color and low-income people cope with climate change, sharing their insights on the fight for a cleaner, more just future. The event was produced in partnership with Grist.

“Not only do people [of color] care deeply about climate, they are pivotal to winning on any policy, they have great ideas and they know how to solve this problem as well as others,” Schaefer said of those leading on environmental justice work. DePass added that people in these communities know just as much as those at traditional environmental organizations that are being funded 50 times more.

Schaefer also encouraged organizations and leaders to come together across sectors. “There is no one person or organization that can do this by themselves,” she said. “No one’s coming to save us. We are our own saviors. This is a time when we need everybody leaning in, when we need every idea coming forward, everyone figuring out how we can address climate change and ensure a just future.”

In August we hosted a boat tour of the Duwamish River as a hands-on learning opportunity for 20 philanthropists who had yet to make significant investments in conservation and environmental justice. We were joined by experts and partners at Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition (DRCC) and Puget SoundKeeper who shared the history of the river as the group saw firsthand the way pollution and climate changes have affected the waterway. Philanthropists greatly enjoyed the excursion and many of them subsequently made meaningful gifts to the Impact Strategy and our partner organizations.

To further propel donor engagement, this fall an anonymous donor awarded Seattle Foundation a 1:1 matching grant of $250,000 toward our Climate Justice Impact Strategy. All Climate Justice contributions received now and through 2020 will be matched dollar for dollar up to this goal. Through this matching opportunity, we hope to expand the base of folks who are taking action in this space.

Civic Voice
In the fall of 2018, Seattle Foundation was proud to support Initiative 1631 and the considerable coordination and commitment of social justice and environmental leaders to bring it to ballot. When Initiative I-976 came up in 2019, it was clear that it would decimate public investment in transit and transit infrastructure, two critical resources for combating climate change. Building on our support of I-1631, SeaFdn endorsed the No on I-976 campaign in fall 2019, committing resources, as well as our voice, to that effort.

Our work to advance Climate Justice will continue in 2020. Along with our grantmaking and leadership efforts, we’ll continue to offer opportunities for philanthropists to connect and contribute. On Thursday, Feb. 13, we’re hosting a very special evening with the honorable Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The event will elevate Pacific Northwest leadership on Climate Justice and President Robinson will discuss her own commitment to tackling the climate crisis as well as insights from her latest book, Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future. Please save the date!

Thank you to our community of philanthropists, nonprofits and other partners for your leadership on climate change. We look forward to our continued collaboration with you in 2020.