2017 Top 25
Winners:
City of Seattle, WA
January 1, 2017
Jurisdiction:
Washington

The Equity & Environment Initiative (EEI) is transforming the environmental movement by putting communities of color at its center through robust, leadership-building engagement. Across the US, race is the most significant predictor of a person living near contaminated air, water, or soil. Research shows that people of color, immigrants, refugees, and low income individuals (EEI communities) experience greater health impacts from environmental hazards than white, upper income individuals (even within same geographies) due to the cumulative impacts of stress, racism, pollutant exposure, disparate health care access, and lack of affordable healthy food. Despite increasing racial diversity in the US, people of color make up only 12% to 16% of those working at organizations, foundations, and government agencies focused on environmental issues. By 2040, people of color will comprise 54% of the Seattle metro area. To maintain its renowned environmental progress, Seattle must embrace policies focused on mitigating burdens for those most-affected and support all residents having greater ownership of and direct benefits from these policies. Seattle’s innovation was a new approach to simultaneously address environmental and social justice while enhancing civic leadership. The Equity & Environment Initiative, conceived in the spring of 2014, builds off Seattle’s Climate Action Plan and the Race and Social Justice Initiative and resulted in the nation’s first Equity & Environment Agenda. The Agenda, co-owned by EEI communities and the City, is a blueprint for advancing race and social justice in the environmental movement. It broadens the analysis of environment beyond natural and built environments to incorporate a greater complexity of issues, ranging from youth pathways for environmental careers to addressing cumulative impacts of environmental hazards and socio-economic conditions to using art and cultural strategies to develop environmental leadership. Considering issues of economic growth, decision-making power, community capacity, cultural assets, and environmental narrative while planning for transit, food access, hazard mitigation, or open space, is a new approach to understanding problems and creating holistic, interdisciplinary solutions.