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Embedding Sustainability into the DNA of Food Processing and other Businesses.

Competing and winning in today’s competitive marketplace requires a strategy that includes sustainability. Business leaders who embrace it and convey a strong sense of purpose behind their strategy are propelling their organizations into revenue-increasing, cost-reducing outcomes.

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Based on the fundamental concept of continuously improving and balancing social, environmental and economic performance across the value chain, Sustainability is simply, a better way to make a bigger profit.

While organizations have attended to Social, Environmental and Economic performance for decades, it is traditionally economic performance that receives attention.  Sustainability is a revolutionary business model in that it elevates social and environmental performance to the same level of economic performance, unlocking a vault of hidden opportunities.

In other words, instead of simply focusing on a single bottom line of economic performance, with token social and environmental initiatives, the sustainable business model focuses on the triple bottom line to enhance overall performance.

 

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Arguably the greatest movement in the history of human-kind, Sustainability incorporates traditional tools, techniques, thinking and strategies with new and innovative ones such as biomimicry, cradle-to-cradle, value based Philanthropy and more to develop innovative solutions for today’s business challenges.

The result is reduced costs, increased revenue, talent retention, increased shareholder value and enhanced risk mitigation. GEM is here to assist and accelerate your organization on the journey towards becoming an increasingly sustainability organization. Have a look around our site and feel free to contact us to learn more.

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How to advance equity in energy solutions in the COVID-19 era Daphany Rose Sanchez Mon, 07/06/2020 - 02:01

During the day I work in the energy sector supporting government and utilities design programs to perform outreach to and educate low-income and diverse communities. At night, I go back into my neighborhood, one thriving with diverse residents. Sitting on both sides of the table, I’d like to share what you need to pay attention to in order to be part of the solution on the interconnected fronts of energy efficiency and social justice.

If 2020 has shown residents in the United States something, it's the dire need to understand historical barriers, immediately stop our current way of working and deliver energy solutions.

As a New York City resident, director of an energy consulting organization, an advocate of energy equity and a third-generation resident of public housing, I have a unique view of the structural barriers we must break down to solve the global climate crisis. As energy consultants developing energy solutions, it may feel difficult to look away from the bombardment of messaging about death and economic downfall, and videos of divisiveness and hatred.

More than 122,000 U.S. residents — our neighbors, friends and family members — have died from COVID-19. Witnessing a family member or a friend die so suddenly is new to most of us.

It may feel difficult to look away from the bombardment of messaging about death and economic downfall, and videos of divisiveness and hatred.

But the worst part is that our country has had not one pandemic, but two rising. We are seeing on social media people of color — specifically, Black people — murdered time and time again. As with COVID-19, families are worried about how many times they have to see a son, daughter, nephew or friend die so suddenly. They’re also the target of hatred from people they've never met, feeling the pain, worry and stress of being judged by their skin color.

Communities in the crosshairs

Meanwhile, COVID-19, just like other structural inequalities, has had the most profound impact on communities of color. Low-income Black and Latinx folks already quarantined within disinvested neighborhoods are seeing rampant infection and death.

They’re vexed with the choice of working as essential workers, risking getting sick or dying, versus losing income and risking eviction from an already overpriced apartment. But this isn't new. Black, Latinx, Indigenous and other marginalized communities have long been resilient against natural disasters, racism, environmental toxicities and gentrification.

What should energy professionals who care about these interconnected crises and operate in historically underserved communities do? What’s the best way to look at COVID and racial injustice, and focus the negative emotions and stress onto positive, equitable energy solutions towards climate change?

You can start with the following steps:

Understand the connections and empathize

I have had conversations with many among the majority of people who live outside of yet sympathize with marginalized communities, and with others who demand justice but have a hard time understanding the relationship between equity and race. I've heard and seen the juxtaposition, and the idea that climate and racial justice are two separate issues. Others are aware of what actions are required but fearful of losing power obtained through an "injustice" system.

Americans are divided on how antiracist measures are critical to dismantling structural barriers, just as they are divided on the urgency to fix our planet in a way that minimizes the collateral damage of leaving the few behind for the greater good.

The worst part is that our country has had not one pandemic, but two rising.

To those of you who have a hard time understanding what we fight for or why we are so loud about climate justice and racial equity, think about how you feel during the rise of COVID: trapped at home, worried about your future. You're frustrated, angry, depressed, stressed out. You want life to return to normal.

That's how many of us feel who were raised as "different" races, ethnicities, cultures and identities. If we're born in subsidized housing, others see us as less than human. It is a quarantined site whose children go to schools that receive less funding. We're worried we won't be able to make rent because we earn less. We're afraid we can't exercise outside for being mislabeled as a criminal and even killed. We're worried our parents and grandparents will fall sick without a place for us to take care of them. We're concerned about our future.

We walk a thin line — between being the person our employer wants (providing ideas only when asked) and being the person our parents raised us to be (outspoken, providing perspective based on our diverse understanding and experiences).

Listening and empathizing will bring you closer to understanding a community’s needs.

Assess the situation

Next, assess how you have engaged in the community. Assess who you are in relation to it. What has been done to support the local economy? 

Have you or your company accelerated injustice? If so, how do you stop and promote equity within your organization? How do you resist selfishness and step down when someone else with a necessary perspective can be elevated? How do you release your power to support a cause? Self-change and organizational change is the first step to address inequity within the workplace.

Let communities lead

To assess low-income communities, examine what organizations already exist there. What type of outreach have they done, and how can you provide fiscal resources and collaborate with them on programming? Nonprofits, unions and coalitions within those communities have decades of experience engaging and communicating successfully with their neighbors. They have built trust and know what works and what does not. They are familiar with how to tailor government programming specifically for groups with different cultural backgrounds and energy-use needs.

Nonprofits, unions and coalitions within those communities have decades of experience engaging and communicating successfully with their neighbors.

To all energy firms: Actively investigate how you are supporting these organizations. Consider mandating a percentage of community representatives on all committee programming boards, regardless of technical expertise, developing materials that are culturally and linguistically representative of the community.

Eliminate the transactional relationship with the community. Develop a communal process where you are supporting participants with their mission, helping them build wealth and create a sustainable future for their neighborhoods. Developing long-term community relationships can help us collectively tackle climate change.

Evaluate information access

Energy consulting firms are also evaluating methods of operation and delivery of energy outreach programming and design. The first thing that comes to everyone's mind in light of COVID-19 work-from-home quarantine is virtual access as in-person meetings, audits and processes move online.

Just as equitable engagement begins with collaborating across sectors to achieve an overarching goal, the clean energy sector must think about collaborating with internet providers while developing outreach and incentive programs that advocate for equipment that requires WiFi. If your energy program incorporates such incentives, think about the additional burden to low-income customers. How can your funding expand to provide an internet connection to residents?

At Kinetic Communities Consulting, our projects have shown that if you provide a separate incentive that improves qualify of life, people are more inclined to pursue energy efficiency. Providing internet at a low or no cost with a solar or air source heat pump project provides a quality-of-life improvement.

How can your funding expand to provide an internet connection to residents?

Roughly three in 10 adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year (29 percent) don't own a smartphone, and more than four in 10 don't have home broadband services (44 percent) or a traditional computer (46 percent). And a majority of lower-income Americans are not tablet owners. Collaboration with local internet providers, nonprofits supporting low-income Americans and local government can help close the communication gap. Partnerships with internet providers removes one barrier to energy efficiency programs invested in installing new climate-friendly technologies.

Using community aggregation engagement also provides customers the opportunity to obtain a lower internet bill cost and entice customers to complete projects. It gives residents a platform to learn more about their utility usage and lifts a concern of access and awareness.

Consider equitable hiring and training

COVID has exposed how people of the global majority — that is, people of color — are the first to be laid off, as the latest U.S. employment numbers bear out. Black and Latinx workers are hit the hardest in clean energy, with Latinx workers comprising 14 percent of the industry but 25 percent of its job losses.

For energy consultants, the automation of audits and processes can further exacerbate layoffs. When energy consulting firms develop automated methods to accelerate energy outreach and program development; they must consider equitable hiring and training practices. Think about what you have learned in your own position — the relationship of your skillsets and a job's requirements — to be mindful of whom you are rehiring and who your job postings reach. Consider developing gender-neutral job postings and removing a candidate's education to avoid unconscious bias. Not only is hiring and training critical, but understanding the work culture you have created can nudge diverse candidates either to grow within or leave your organization.

An equitable path forward allows the energy industry community to become more robust and unified.

These types of efforts pay off.  Companies with the most diverse executive teams were 21 percent more likely than others to enjoy above-average profitability, according to a 2018 study by McKinsey & Company. For executive teams with ethnic and cultural diversity, this likelihood rose to 33 percent. A study by the Boston Consulting Group found that revenue tied to innovation, in terms of products and services launched in the past three years, was 19 percent higher for companies with above-average diversity in management.

Spend time creating and maintaining professional development opportunities for staff to learn and grow within the industry. Be mindful of who you believe should be in the position and be open to the skillsets people have, regardless of the industry standards.

Educate yourself

Below are some amazing people of color/people of the global majority articles you can read to understand the importance of the intersection in energy and social justice: 
•    Black environmentalists talk about climate and antiracism
•    Climate activists: Here's why your work depends on ending police violence
•    Why every environmentalist should be antiracist
•    How racism manifests in clean energy
•    The climate movement's silence
•    How to help Black employees
•    Felecia Hatcher: Tech community must do more than tweet support. It needs to invest
•    I'm a black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet
•    Hold my earrings: Black women lead on systemic solutions in the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond

People are dying, and some may not psychically see it, unlike hurricanes or wildfires. U.S. society is in a state of shock and feels a sensation of dystopian reality. An equitable path forward allows the energy industry community to become more robust and unified, giving people who are hit the hardest the opportunity to engage, participate and create a unified solution for a climate-resilient future. The first step is to become aware, and the next step is action.

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It may feel difficult to look away from the bombardment of messaging about death and economic downfall, and videos of divisiveness and hatred.
The worst part is that our country has had not one pandemic, but two rising.
Nonprofits, unions and coalitions within those communities have decades of experience engaging and communicating successfully with their neighbors.
How can your funding expand to provide an internet connection to residents?
An equitable path forward allows the energy industry community to become more robust and unified.
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Author: Daphany Rose Sanchez
Posted: July 6, 2020, 9:01 am
Labels: Disdain them — except one Bob Langert Mon, 07/06/2020 - 01:45

A longtime friend told me he was Christian and couldn’t support Democrats because it violated his principles. Then I heard a news update that Republicans were trying to ax Obamacare. I think I’m an Independent. 

I’ve been spending more time contemplating the racial problems our country faces. I admire the friends and family that have posted Black Lives Matter signs. I just read "White Fragility," and it infused me with thoughts that challenged my privileged white life. I hadn’t thought I was a racist, but I now realize I am because I’m part of a systemic white-dominant society by default. Truly. And it’s got to change, including me.

I’ve thought of myself as young. But now I get up in the morning and hobble about until I’ve warmed up my body to stand straight.

Labels. Can’t stand them. Listening to the radio the other day I heard an ad that said, "All of us use social media way too much." How do they know that about me? I’m not too married to Twitter.

I self-label myself as "athletic." Yet I played a bocce match the other day against an 80-year-old woman who’d recently had surgery on her arm and had to toss the bocce ball with her odd hand. I lost. By a lot.

There is one label I genuinely like and admire: 'I’m a seasoned corporate sustainability leader.'

Another good friend of mine told me on the phone that he never thought I was a radical, "so liberal," after reading my book about corporate sustainability ("The Battle to Do Good"). I don’t think of myself as liberal, but I’m finding in my daily conversations with friends that maybe I really am. Just yesterday, a good friend of mine said he doesn’t like the politics of Starbucks. And I’m thinking, "This is a company that is really trying to do good."

I passed on a very interesting New York Times article about health care to a buddy. He told me the article was narrow-minded and wrong because — well, it’s from the New York Times. He gets his news from Fox. We’re still buddies, although sometimes I wonder where to draw the line on sharing similar values. He said I’m a CNN person. I do watch/listen to it the most.

I find myself labeling others and am ashamed that I do. He is a bully. She is slovenly. And I thought I was a good Catholic.

There is one label I genuinely like and admire: "I’m a seasoned corporate sustainability leader."

I started this work by addressing the Big Mac polystyrene clamshell some 32 years ago. Finding the good intersection of business and society has grabbed my heart and mind ever since.

But now I am mostly retired. It’s yet another label I disdain. If anything, I feel like I’m accelerating, not stepping back. Even though I made the choice to wind down my sustainability career, I have lots yet to give to my family, friends, neighbors and community.

The couple of Myers-Briggs tests I’ve taken have labeled me an introvert working in an extroverted field. My safe haven is to be alone. But what I find I miss the most about working in the day-to-day of corporate sustainability is the gobs of good people I got to know, share, laugh, commiserate with and share a passion to change the world for the better.

You are my good friends. I like being with you.

Which brings me to my very least favorite label: "Retired from GreenBiz." My regular writing for GreenBiz has seen its better days. I love writing about sustainability, but now that I’m not in the frontlines, I find I have little to write about. So this is my final column.

I love the GreenBiz community, starting with Joel Makower, who I met 30 years ago when I bought a bunch of his books for McDonald's people. His integrity and caring attitude permeate the whole organization. John Davies is full of bright insight and even better wit. Twenty-four hours at a GreenBiz Executive Network meeting was like filling up the tank with high-octane gas. I was ready to rock and roll after every meeting I attended.

Everyone I meet at GreenBiz is an awesome person. How do you do it, GreenBiz?

Thank you for the opportunity to write a column with my thoughts for the past five years.

As you can tell, I’m not one for being labeled. It irks me. But you can label me a "big sap" for how much I care about the entire sustainability movement — and the special people that make it happen.

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There is one label I genuinely like and admire: 'I’m a seasoned corporate sustainability leader.'
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Author: Bob Langert
Posted: July 6, 2020, 8:45 am
What role does ESG play in the 'new normal'? Janine Guillot Mon, 07/06/2020 - 01:25

Facing existential crisis, it’s only natural that our perspective will change — for better and for worse. In recent weeks and months, as many of us have "sheltered in place" in the face of a global pandemic, each of us has come to grips with a valuable reminder of what’s truly important: family, friends and colleagues; security and safety; food and water; healthcare. By comparison, everything else seems small and suddenly insignificant. For some of us, that includes our work.

When people are sick, suffering and dying — with little certainty about when or how it will end — how can we be expected to focus on a project deadline, a business meeting or a PowerPoint presentation? Recently, I was asked to participate in a webinar discussion about environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing in the wake of COVID-19, and I had to ask myself, "Is the work we’re doing at SASB completely irrelevant or more relevant than ever?" 

The most urgent and important work being done today is that of our healthcare workers, grocery employees, delivery people and others on the front lines of meeting society’s most basic and most critical needs. We shouldn’t let a day pass without thanking them for their service, nor without asking ourselves how we can better support them as they rise to meet the scale of challenge before us.

And soon, we must start giving serious thought to what we can do to ensure they’re never put in such a desperate position again.

Respond now, adapt as soon as possible

While today’s triage efforts are paramount, society is clearly starting to think about what’s next. This is an opportunity for all of us — companies, investors, government, civil society — to think critically about what our role might be in creating a more resilient future. 

Although the global COVID-19 outbreak is first and foremost an existential public health threat, it also likely represents the dawn of an economic "new world order" and a reshaping of the global economy. Without question, it’s too soon to draw any conclusions about the lessons we’ve learned from this experience, but it’s nevertheless clear that businesses, investors and our entire system of free enterprise will need to adapt to a new normal in the coming post-coronavirus era. 

Transparency leads to accountability, accountability drives innovation and innovation is key to resilience.

In recent years, the rise of ESG, responsible investing, corporate sustainability — different people use different terms — has focused on evolving "business as usual" by recognizing that effectively managing environmental and social issues is key to the long-term sustainability of both business and society. The COVID-19 crisis is likely to accelerate this trend. The key questions that have arisen from the crisis are essentially ESG questions, such as:

  • Will rising biodiversity loss and the changing climate influence the frequency and intensity of pandemics? How can companies adapt to ensure business continuity in such an uncertain environment?
  • How can we ensure more resilient supply chains for essential goods, such as food and medicine?
  • What can businesses in B2C industries do to ensure the health and safety of their employees and customers?
  • How can healthcare providers better ensure access to critical tests and treatments at an affordable price?
  • How might a long-term period of "social distancing" influence the adoption of artificial intelligence and robotics, and how will that affect workers whose jobs can’t be done remotely — such as manufacturing, waste management and deliveries?
  • How can traditional and ecommerce retailers ensure fair pricing and reduce the risk of supply hoarding or price gouging?
  • How can a wide range of industries — across the transportation, technology, hospitality and infrastructure sectors and beyond — effectively adapt in the wake of an anticipated rise in telecommuting and teleconferencing?
  • Will the COVID-19 crisis permanently change consumer behavior regarding shopping, travel and entertainment, with significant implications for the retail and hospitality sectors? 

Once the worst of the current crisis is behind us, it’s crucial that we don’t weaken our resolve to ensure that individuals, businesses, investors, economies — and thus society at large — can become more resilient in the face of 21st-century challenges.

An opportunity to adapt

In the coming months, as the forces unleashed by the COVID-19 crisis continue to reshape the economic landscape, they will bring long-held assumptions under scrutiny and potentially render entire business models irrelevant. They will bring more questions, but also — if we’re receptive to them — more answers.

At SASB, we encourage long-term thinking in capital markets, and while that may not help solve today’s crisis, we believe it can contribute to preventing — or at least tempering — tomorrow’s. 

We believe transparency and disclosure on business-critical ESG issues will improve how companies and investors measure and manage so-called non-financial — but nevertheless critical — resources such as natural, social and human capital. Further, it will help corporate directors and managers, along with investors, understand how effective management of those resources is critical to the long-term sustainability of a business.

Emerging from this crisis, we can shape a future in which the interests of business, investors and society are in closer alignment.
 

The best answer to my question about the relevance of our work came during a recent "industry deep dive" webinar. Our restaurant industry analyst was discussing the connection between worker health and foodborne illnesses — a business-critical issue in the restaurant industry — and the metrics that can help drive effective management of such risks, including worker training and food-handling protocols. 

I immediately thought about the increasingly clear connection between lack of paid sick leave and the spread of illness, and it became clear: This crisis will provide important new insights into non-traditional performance metrics that will help drive a structural shift in how both companies and investors think about delivering long-term value to both shareholders and society.

To return to my original question — is ESG disclosure irrelevant or more relevant than ever — I believe the communication piece is key. Transparency leads to accountability, accountability drives innovation and innovation is key to resilience. When investors readily can identify and direct financial capital to the forward-looking companies that are evolving their business models to thrive in the face of future risks, markets will be more stable, more efficient and better prepared to absorb unexpected shocks.

Today, we’re being asked to choose between lives and livelihoods. Emerging from this crisis, we can shape a future in which the interests of business, investors and society are in closer alignment. When economic and human prosperity are mutually supportive, we won’t have to sacrifice one for the other. 

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Transparency leads to accountability, accountability drives innovation and innovation is key to resilience.
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Author: Janine Guillot
Posted: July 6, 2020, 8:25 am
How 5 communities across the US are seeking environmental justice Kristoffer Tigue Mon, 07/06/2020 - 01:00

This story originally appeared in InsideClimate News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

In many ways, Maleta Kimmons defines her neighborhood by what it lacks.

Several houses near her home remain vacant. Last week, she had to drive seven miles just to buy groceries. And two weeks ago, at the height of the Minneapolis protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a police officer May 25, looters broke into the only pharmacy in the area, forcing the store to close and leaving many in the neighborhood without easy access to life-saving medication such as insulin or inhalers for asthma.

Kimmons, who prefers to go by the name Queen, said what her neighborhood doesn't lack is pollution. Near North, where Queen lives, is one of several neighborhoods that make up north Minneapolis, a  predominately Black area surrounded by a large number of polluting facilities and infrastructure, including roofing manufacturers, a trash incinerator, a metal recycling plant and several major interstate highways.

The ZIP code that covers much of north Minneapolis has the highest hospitalization rates for asthma in Minnesota, according to Minnesota Public Radio. It's also home to the highest rates of lead poisoning among children in the city.

Add the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on top of these factors, and her neighborhood is in a "horrific" situation, said Queen, who is Black.

"Where are you going to get an asthma pump when Walgreens is closed?" she said. "I know a lot of people that have asthma, particularly in North."

Queen moved to Minnesota from Chicago in 1974 at the age of 10, first living in what used to be St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood — a once-thriving African American hub before it was cut in half by the construction of Interstate 94 in the late '50s. Her family, she said, was "looking for a better life, where there would be more resources, education, housing."

You've got to have ownership. ... It's race, class, money and politics. That is the narrative. That is the story.

Eventually, Queen's family moved to south Minneapolis. But in the 1990s, she said, the area became gentrified and too expensive, so she left for the city's cheaper north side.

Queen attributes the issues that north Minneapolis faces today — the vacant homes, the poor access to medicine and food, the proximity to industrial pollution — to a lack of Black ownership and the political power that accompanies wealth. "Right now, over in North, you can't name 10 Black businesses — they ain't there," she said. "If you don't own anything, you're not changing nothing."

In 2018, the median household income in Queen's neighborhood was about $39,000, compared to the state average of more than $70,300.

As protests raged across much of south Minneapolis, destroying several blocks of Lake Street — another historic city business corridor — Queen helped rally residents on the north side to protect the few Black-owned stores that do exist along Broadway Avenue from more looting. (Much of the looting came from out-of-towners, Queen said.)

The destruction she witnessed reminded her of the stories she had heard of the 1967 riots, which also destroyed parts of north Minneapolis. And it reminded her of seeing her first limousine in 1974 outside of a black-owned pool hall in St. Paul.

She remembers her Black neighbors inside the stretched-out sedan, a symbol of wealth, celebrating in their "loud colors," their button-up shirts and their hard shoes. She remembers just years later, many of the Black-owned businesses shuttering their doors along Rondo's Selby Avenue — today, an upscale food co-op stands where the pool hall used to be.

"You've got to have ownership," Queen said. "It's race, class, money and politics. That is the narrative. That is the story."

St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana: 'We've already been written off'

Reserve, Louisiana, had an agrarian economy when Robert Taylor was born. His parents worked at a local sugar refinery. "I'm a lifelong resident," he said. "I was born here in 1940, so I've seen some changes." When he was a boy, he said, "I could just walk out my house and go out my backyard and I was in a sugar cane field."

By the time he was a young man, the petrochemical industry was moving in. He bought a plot of land on the edge of town and built a home, finished by the time his fourth child was born, he said. "I went and got my wife from the hospital and brought her with our child to our new home."

Around the same time, he said, DuPont began operating a new chemical plant less than a thousand yards from the home.

St. John the Baptist Parish, which includes Reserve, lies within Louisiana's "Cancer Alley," a stretch along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is cluttered with petrochemical development and the pollution it brings. The Environmental Protection Agency's National Air Toxics Assessment, which uses emissions estimates to model health risks, estimates that the risk of developing cancer in Reserve is 50 times the national average, and that the five census tracts with the highest risk are all in the area.

But as Taylor watched the development spring up around him, he didn't know any of that. All he knew was that a lot of people seemed to be getting sick. Several family members have died of cancer, he said, while his wife is a cancer survivor. It wasn't until four years ago that Taylor began to connect what he saw with the industry that had developed around him.

The risk of developing cancer in Reserve is 50 times the national average, and the five census tracts with the highest risk are all in the area.

"I came home one night and my wife was so sick, and the odor was so horrible coming from the plant, that I called 911," he said. "And the emergency personnel, they were taken aback by the odor. Of course, all of them was white, none of them lived in the community I lived in," he said. Almost two-thirds of Reserve's residents are Black.

It never occurred to him that other parts of the parish didn't have it as bad. And soon after that incident, the EPA arrived and began monitoring for a chemical, chloroprene, that is used in the nearby plant and is considered by the agency to be a "likely carcinogen."

"I got the first results of the monitoring; it scared the heck out of me," he said. When the EPA found high levels of the chemical in the air near a school, "that's really what sparked the people to join me and we formed this Concerned Citizens of St. John."

His group has been trying ever since to get Denka Corporation, which bought the plant from DuPont in 2015, to limit emissions. Denka did not reply to requests for comment from InsideClimate News, but a company website says it has voluntarily reduced emissions and that "there is no evidence to suggest Denka's operations are harmful to local residents."

Taylor's wife now lives in California, to be away from the pollution. Some of his children have moved out of the parish, too. His great-granddaughter was born recently nearby, "and she has no future here," he said. 

But he feels trapped with his home. Beyond the low value of the property, Taylor said, he wouldn't feel right selling to another family, only to have them live with the same burden.

"We've already been written off. We're walking dead people," he said. "We've been sacrificed."

Bears Ears National Monument, Utah: Trump ended tribal governance

Alfred Lomahquahu helped build the five-tribe coalition that proposed the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah.

The land might seem remote, but the struggle against racial and environmental injustice has been no different for the indigenous people of the Southwest than for those protesting on the streets of the world's cities.

"People are actually getting united," said Lomahquahu, a Hopi. "That's the main thing that the government is afraid of, that's why they don't want these protests going on."

The coalition's work focused on protecting red rock canyons and pinion-dotted desert containing hundreds of thousands of archaeological sites and areas of deep cultural significance to the Hopi Nation, Zuni Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Utes.

"We started speaking with [President Barack] Obama on a one-to-one, government-to-government basis," said Lomahquahu, now community administrator in the Hopi village of Baqavi in northern Arizona. "Part of our strategy was that we were going to work side by side with [the U.S. Bureau of Land Management] and all these other government entities as part of the planning for the whole monument."

The Obama administration embraced the idea, establishing and empowering a Bears Ears Commission when it created the monument. Lomahquahu was the commission's co-chair until it was abolished when the Trump administration downsized the monument by 85 percent not quite a year later.

Some people are privileged more than others and willing to use that privilege to help everyone get back on their feet.

Trump administration officials rebuffed commissioners and other monument supporters, he said. "But we already knew at that point that everything that we achieved was going to go down the drain — and for every other minority, too."

Yet, the experience also showed the tribes, historically at odds with one another, the power of working together, he added. Later, conservation groups, professional societies, recreation groups and even large companies such as Patagonia joined the tribes' campaign to protect the land from mining and pollution.

"Some people are going to use their privilege in order to help others that aren't privileged," Lomahquhu said. "I think that's something that you really need to look at now. ... Some people are privileged more than others and willing to use that privilege to help everyone get back on their feet."

New uranium mining, coal-fired power and oil and gas development in the region are other threats that the Four Corners region has faced. More recently, Indian Country communities have united against COVID-19.

"We're just waiting for Trump to leave office," Lomahquhu said, "so we can get back in there and regroup again and bring all entities back together."

The Rockaways, Queens, N.Y.: Young leaders of color building resilient communities

Milan Taylor was 21 when he founded the Rockaway Youth Task Force in 2011, to sponsor community clean-ups and encourage voter registration in this outlying neighborhood on a barrier island in Queens.

A year later, after Hurricane Sandy left homes four to 10 feet underwater and knocked out power for days, Taylor found himself helping to lead rescue and relief efforts in a neighborhood that was 60 percent African American and Hispanic and the poverty line was 20 percent higher than the state average.

He mobilized hundreds of volunteers in a widespread effort to assess the needs and deliver food and medications to hundreds of home-bound community members, including elderly and disabled residents. As they meticulously canvassed high-rise apartment buildings, the major relief organizations and the NYPD seemed strangely missing in action.

"Sandy gave us the exposure that [the Rockaway Youth Task Force] needed to grow," said Taylor, now 31 and the group's executive director. 

And a good thing that is, with climate scientists predicting sea level rise of at least a foot by 2050, which will make the Rockaways more prone to climate change-fueled flooding and storm surges than they already are.  

"What we're trying to accomplish as an organization is to build more resilient communities," Taylor said, "We want to be there, whether it's a disaster brought about by climate change or even human disasters" — a reference to the ongoing protests for racial justice and an end to police violence. 

The conversation of Black lives mattering isn't just limited to police violence ... It also extends to climate justice.

Taylor said that it is important for the task force, made up largely of young people of color, to be "led by our own constituency, meaning that those who are directly impacted decide which direction and which campaigns we take on as an organization." 

Despite being told after Sandy that his organization couldn't grow, he said, "We're still here ... still doing work, still helping our communities and still training the next generation of leaders."

He noted that one former RYTF organizer, Khaleel Anderson, is running for the New York State Assembly. 

In the future, Taylor said, he hopes the broader climate movement embraces his work with the task force, which recognizes how race, gender and socioeconomic factors contribute to environmental injustice. "The conversation of Black lives mattering isn't just limited to police violence," Taylor said. "It also extends to climate justice."

Los Angeles: Latino children in Boyle Heights play in lead-contaminated soil

Idalmis Vaquero sees such joy in the exuberance of a neighborhood boy named R.J.

The 6-year-old runs to her to show off his newest feat — a backflip — on the dusty patch of grass outside of their aging apartment complex owned by the Los Angeles Housing Authority.

Yet there is a dark contradiction between the glee of this boy and the reality of life in the shadow of a lead recycling plant that has poisoned the ground that dirties R.J.'s bare feet.

The boy, like so many other children and families living in this neighborhood, is exposed every day to the high concentrations of lead that have contaminated this mostly Latino community just southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

The Exide Technologies recycling plant and its predecessors emitted lead, arsenic and other dangerous pollutants, leaving homes, apartments, schools, parks and day care centers with dangerously high levels of lead-contaminated soil.

Vaquero, 26, a third-year student at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, grew up in public housing in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, where she still lives and where her parents settled after emigrating from Mexico nearly 30 years ago.

There has been little change in her neighborhood since she was a child. Factories, smoke stacks and exhaust-belching diesel trucks define the community more than grassy parks and welcoming recreation centers.

So she worries about the future of R.J. and other children.

"Living here will have an impact on the quality of life for the rest of their lives," she said. "It makes me mad that our lives are not considered equal when it comes to addressing environmental hardships."

As many as 250,000 residents, mostly working-class Latinos, face a chronic health hazard from exposure to airborne lead and arsenic that subsequently settled into the soil from the recycling plant, according to a 2013 health risk assessment by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

The health of these communities need to be prioritized and protected from any more pollution from Exide and other environmental injustices.

Lead contamination has been found in children growing up in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered Exide battery plant, a University of Southern California study found. Lead is a neurotoxin, and there is no level that is considered safe in humans.

The 15-acre recycling facility operated in the industrial city of Vernon for decades with minimal regulatory oversight. It churned out poisonous pollution around the clock seven days a week as the lead from 25,000 old car batteries was melted down every day for use in producing new batteries.

The facility received more than 100 environmental violations for such things as lead and acid leaks and maintaining an overflowing pond of toxic sludge.

The Exide plant was shut down in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Justice, which also ordered the company to pay $50 million to clean up the site and nearby neighborhoods. The state later pledged $75 million for the ongoing cleanup, overseen by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.

The cleanup has been painfully slow, which Vaquero takes as yet another signal that her neighborhood and neighbors are just a forgotten footnote in a city defined by the glitz of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. 

Vaquero majored in environmental studies at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she made the decision to stand up for her community and others like hers.

She described the environmental injustices in her community in a 2016 thesis:

"The health of these communities need to be prioritized and protected from any more pollution from Exide and other environmental injustices," she wrote. "The community's power and resilience will prevail and environmental justice will be served to Southeast Los Angeles."

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You've got to have ownership. ... It's race, class, money and politics. That is the narrative. That is the story.
The risk of developing cancer in Reserve is 50 times the national average, and the five census tracts with the highest risk are all in the area.
Some people are privileged more than others and willing to use that privilege to help everyone get back on their feet.
The conversation of Black lives mattering isn't just limited to police violence ... It also extends to climate justice.
The health of these communities need to be prioritized and protected from any more pollution from Exide and other environmental injustices.
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People march for environmental justice in St James, Louisiana

People march in St. James, Louisiana, a small Black community at the end of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, to demand a safe and open evacuation route. Given the level of toxicity in this parish, it has earn the name of Cancer Alley. Credit: Fernando Lopez for Survival Media Agency

Author: Kristoffer Tigue
Posted: July 6, 2020, 8:00 am
A truly clean energy system runs on a clean conscience Alec Appelbaum Thu, 07/02/2020 - 01:15

What would you do if the cause that lights your day turned out to be trapping fellow citizens in the dark? 

For Shalanda Baker, a professor of law and public policy at Northeastern University, thinking about a clean energy future means thinking about the daily, weekly and sometimes invisible ways that people in deprived communities can control their power supply. Her work — in blogs, scholarship, professional services and a forthcoming book — reminds professionals that deals made on the backs of oppressed people are no deals at all. 

Baker recently spoke with the Clean Energy Finance Forum about how her scholarship and an institute she co-runs aim to forge connections from investment committee members to utility executives to neighborhood volunteers. Read on to reckon with how a truly clean energy system runs on a clean conscience. 

Alec Appelbaum: How did you start working on empowerment in an energy context?

Shalanda Baker: About a decade ago, I started writing about the structure of large clean energy projects and how they can lead to undesirable societal outcomes. I was looking at mega, mega, mega-scale wind developments. There is a lot of wind supply in very rich and diverse indigenous communities. The structure [of financing and ownership] creates undesirable outcomes. I've gone in different directions. Right now I have two strands of research. One is looking at Mexico, and the tension between climate change mitigation and justice for communities. The other big strand of my research is clean energy in states.

Appelbaum: When you're looking at clean energy and social justice, what drives what? 

Baker: In the international context, private multinational actors can operate in a vacuum, [incognito] with respect to human rights violations. It would be more helpful to have oversight. In the domestic context, the problem is more about access to finance. There should be a more level playing field with all sophisticated actors. I see this energy transition as an opportunity to get more community representation out there, more grassroots vision. 

Appelbaum: What are the kinds of areas best suited for grassroots empowerment? 

Baker: I see lots of opportunities for intervention. One is net energy metering, trying to use that policy mechanism to focus on low- and moderate-income communities. I see it as having a lot of potential in getting folks engaged. Community-owned energy is another pathway — obviously, there are private developers that are also targeting low-to-moderate-income communities. Figuring out mechanisms through policy to incentivize that targeting would be great. We need a little more data to know where the needle is moving. 

Utility reform is interesting — there's a big question as to what type of institutions are best suited to transition us away from fossil. The utility evolved with a motivation to maximize shareholder return. Now we have a good opportunity to question whether that's an optimal corporate structure. Green banks are interesting. It's still early to see how that's moving the needle. Of course, states are taking it on themselves to get clean energy. Making sure policies are embedded in them is really important.

The utility evolved with a motivation to maximize shareholder return. Now we have a good opportunity to question whether that's an optimal corporate structure.

We have to do more than lip service to procedural justice. The literature on energy just has a few components; the others are more substantive and distributive. I am excited about an initiative I've just launched, focused on making sure stakeholders have a role in the transition. The jury is still out on that — air quality is one way to measure impacts. Other aspects include recognizing that policy has operated to structurally harm communities, and another is restorative justice. I have also talked about ways to include centering low-income communities in policy. 

Appelbaum: Does that call for a set of skills that public officials don't necessarily have? Is it an education challenge to develop those skills? 

Baker: I love it. The Institute for Energy Justice is designed to fill that gap. I see two gaps. For well-intentioned people in utilities and statehouses who want to know-how, we want to support them with technical assistance and frameworks. On the other side, community folks don't always have technical chops — it's linguistic, translating a technical domain into social, understanding about these technical decisions.

For more of Baker's views on energy justice, watch this 2017 GreenBiz interview, recorded in Hawaii. 

Appelbaum: What about the current COVID-19 crisis worries you most, and where do you see opportunities? 

Baker: I see a great opportunity to advance clean energy. I was walking around today with my mask and lamenting the loss of the old world but at the same time not wanting to go back to that. That world was inherently unequal. We have a chance to infuse states with capital — if the federal government decides that that's worth it — and invest in green infrastructure, invest in communities that are most impacted by COVID which also happen to be most impacted by the fossil fuel system.

I'm working on a paper with my team, doing legwork to examine environmental justice communities and look at how much access to clean energy they have — and make the case that our first policy move should be that our communities have access to clean energy. These are communities that tend to pay 20-30-40 percent onwards for electricity.

Even in the social impact space, investors need income within the double or triple bottom line.

I'm also really concerned about what might happen post-COVID in terms of utilities and how they might do a power grab. The crisis can be used to increase rates on folks, to justify retrograde investments, any number of things. We don't have an analog to this scale of economic distress, so I have no idea what's going to happen, but I can almost guarantee that it's not going to help the poorest people. Mostly, I would like to invert that and see this as a public power grab — I'm working on a project on the landscape of utilities and seeing what their moves are right now. We need utilities, but not in the form they're in right now — public power is promising. 

Appelbaum: Are there particular kinds of investors or vehicles that seem promising for empowerment? 

Baker: I see state-funded green banks creating an opportunity to do wealth redistribution. Even in the social impact space, investors need income within the double or triple bottom line, and with the state you can advance more socially desirable goals without having to maximize returns. In order to create the world that we want, we may have to lean more into public funds. 

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Even in the social impact space, investors need income within the double or triple bottom line.
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Shalanda Baker, Northeastern University
Northeastern University
Author: Alec Appelbaum
Posted: July 2, 2020, 8:15 am
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