By building trust and relationships through shared language and cultural understanding, ECOSS empowers communities of color as environmental stewards, helps local businesses become more financially and environmentally sustainable, and advances the equity of environmental solutions.
“It sounded like the United Nations,” said one participant at a solar energy workshop, where ECOSS conveyed information in Chinese, Vietnamese and Amharic. Two participant homeowners ultimately applied for and received solar grants, and are now producing solar energy.
This success was possible thanks to Solarize the Land Trust, a project piloted by Spark Northwest and Homestead Community Land Trust in King County, Washington. In total, this program has helped 11 low- to moderate-income homeowners start making electricity from the sun.
For many families, solar can seem beyond reach—because of upfront costs, home prices or language barriers. To overcome these obstacles, Solarize the Land Trust brought together a unique team of solar experts, affordable homeownership providers, multicultural communicators and funders.
Over the summer of 2019, Spark Northwest, Homestead and ECOSS held workshops for Homestead’s homeowners to learn about solar, financing and the Solarize opportunity. Homeowners could then participate in a group purchase to receive a discount on installing solar and apply for a grant to help pay for it. Ultimately, 84 people attended workshops, 22 applied for grants, and 11 installed solar.
Under Homestead’s Community Land Trust model, an income-qualified buyer pays for and owns the home, while the land is owned collectively through Homestead. The home appreciates at a formula rate to keep it affordable to future low-income homeowners.
The homeowners led a competitive process to select a local solar installer for the group purchase. The selected installer, Puget Sound Solar, offered a discount to homeowners who participated in the program. Even with the group purchase savings, the upfront costs of installing solar still posed a major barrier for many of Homestead’s homeowners, so four foundations funded grants to help with the cost: All Points North Foundation, the Ren Che Foundation, Tudor Foundation and Union Bank. These grants helped ten homeowners, covering 65-100% of the system cost, depending on the homeowner’s site and preferences.
ECOSS’ Clean Energy program helps communities of color navigate language, cultural and knowledge barriers to access clean energy solutions. This perfectly complemented the Solarize the Land Trust program, where about 10% of Homestead homeowners have limited English proficiency.
“The Community Land Trust opportunity quickly gained steam because working directly with homeowners was simple and rewarding for our staff,” explained Jose Chi, one of ECOSS’ multicultural outreach managers.
ECOSS called each homeowner to explain the program in their preferred language and invited them to a workshop, where ECOSS offered simultaneous translation.
One multicultural homeowner is so excited about solar that “he asked for solar information in Vietnamese and Mandarin and he’s going to take it to work and give it to all of his neighbors,” said James Crawford, Residential Solar Adviser with Puget Sound Solar.
“Together we’ve made history,” said Kathleen Hosfeld, Homestead’s Executive Director at a gathering to celebrate the success of the program. “Going forward, housing must be both affordable and environmentally sustainable.”
Environmental Coalition of South Seattle (ECOSS) educates and empowers businesses and diverse communities to implement environmentally sustainable practices. ECOSS leads industry, small businesses, communities and government to practical and sustainable environmental solutions. Through deep relationships built on trust and a capacity of 15+ languages, they deliver equitable strategies and results in stormwater compliance, pollution prevention, electrical vehicles, solar energy and recycling. Contact: William Chen, firstname.lastname@example.org, (206) 767-0432 x1016; https://ecoss.org/
Spark Northwest accelerates the shift to clean energy one community at a time. Through its Solarize Northwest program, Spark Northwest has educated over 4,500 people in Washington and Oregon, resulting in over 1000 solar installations and over $21 million invested clean energy. Contact: Jill Eikenhorst, email@example.com, 206-457-5403; https://sparknorthwest.org/
Homestead Community Land Trust makes it possible for low- and moderate-income people of King County to own their own home. It was founded in 1992 to arrest the displacement of low- to moderate-income people from rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods. Homestead builds and rehabs homes; makes and keeps them affordable permanently through the community land trust (CLT) model; and supports homeowners in successful ownership. Homestead has 215 homes in trust, and is one of the largest community land trusts in Washington State. http://www.homesteadclt.org/
Puget Sound Solar Founded in 2001, by Pam Burton and Jeremy Smithson, Puget Sound Solar, (PSS) is the most experienced solar installation company in Washington. PSS installed the first permitted grid-tie solar PV system in Seattle. Puget Sound Solar is proud of their history of engaging in educational activities and environmental policy work to benefit future generations. They’re a socially responsible company and engaged in the community. Contact: Stu Frothingham, firstname.lastname@example.org, (206) 706-1931; https://www.pugetsoundsolar.com/
All Points North Foundation is dedicated to navigating communities upward. Established in 2011, its funding priorities include projects that promote solar energy awareness and implementation and evidence-based programs that measurably improve public middle school education. https://www.allpointsnorthfoundation.org/
“And I could see in their eyes, they were just taken aback. The kids were like: ‘What? In America, you can walk around in nature?’”
Multicultural Outreach Coordinator, Jabes Otieno, spoke to Audubon Magazine about his experience bringing members of African immigrant communities to nearby hiking trails. For many, this was a new and positive experience!
This and other adventures were part of ECOSS’ multicultural outreach around the Trailhead Direct bus service. Working with The Wilderness Society, King County Parks and other partners, ECOSS is helping to lower the barrier to green spaces and the outdoors.
2019 saw substantial progress on environmental sustainability and equity for small businesses, immigrants, refugees and communities of color. ECOSS’ work was affirmed multiple times throughout the year, including recognition by the Port of Seattle, accolades from King County and a spotlight from Sustainable Seattle on one of our staff. Join us below in reliving the highlights of our year’s work!
Facilitating outdoor recreation firsts
Reports increasingly highlight the disparities in access to recreational opportunities across Seattle and King County. ECOSS works to address inequities in green space access through our New Arrivals program. By listening to immigrant and refugee communities in South Seattle and South King County, we tailored experiences and promoted inclusive outdoors access.
- Bhutanese refugees introduced to snowshoeing
- Connecting to home via foraging
- Lowering barriers and inspiring outdoors enthusiasts
- Promoting environmental stewardship
Promoting waste-free lifestyles
Small changes can make a significant difference if everyone is empowered to participate. The ECOSS resource conservation team engaged diverse communities at 72 tabling opportunities, presentations and community events, reaching thousands of Seattle residents. Through these events, we helped community members reduce food waste and improve awareness of recycling and composting guidelines.
We also worked closely with 28 businesses and multi-family complex managers from around King County to assist in installing energy-efficient lighting and setting up education programs around waste management. Having a staff who speak more than a dozen languages is especially helpful for business owners whose native language wasn’t English.
Managing Puget Sound’s #1 source of pollution
In the wake of Seattle’s gloomiest day on record, Puget Sound’s #1 source of pollution – stormwater – took center stage in multiple news headlines, including flooding and sewage spills. This is why addressing stormwater pollution is one of our largest outreach and education programs, featuring Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) such as rain gardens and cisterns. In 2019, we:
- Engaged over 400 residents on the RainWise rebate program to install cisterns and rain gardens; 100 of these residents signed up to learn more
- Completed eight new residential GSI installations
- Recruited five Spanish, six Chinese and 3 Vietnamese contractors to install GSI, promoting their businesses while expanding access to GSI within multicultural communities
- Provided over 500 free spill kits and training to small businesses, 25% of which were multicultural or multilingual
We also launched a new initiative to promote “industrial-strength” GSI – larger installations designed for business properties with limited space. Starting with a partnership with Equinox Studios, we are showcasing innovative solutions to manage stormwater, decrease flooding and protect water quality.
Transitioning to a clean energy future
Clean energy solutions can help cut climate-warming carbon emissions in some of society’s greatest polluters – transportation and buildings. And transitioning to clean energy in a way that includes everyone will better ensure its success.
This year, we established our Clean Energy program to provide education and bridge cultural, knowledge and financial gaps to access solar panels and electrical vehicles. We’re working particularly with low-income communities and communities of color – both demographics have historically been left out of conversations around clean energy technology.
Thanks to ECOSS outreach , we’ve already walked two households from disadvantaged communities through the process of obtaining solar panels!
- Feeling gratitude for Grattix boxes
- Patagonia honors ECOSS’ environmental equity work with a grant
- PINKAPALOOZA highlights
We couldn’t do this without you
One important role of nonprofits is in bridging the gaps between government services and community needs. For ECOSS, that means addressing the language, cultural and knowledge gaps that limit immigrants, refugees, communities of color and small businesses in engaging around environmental sustainability.
Your support advances our capacity to think big about small business and community benefit. Whether that be innovative community funding frameworks, new pathways to the outdoors and more, your donation will help us deliver authentic outreach and equitable environmental solutions for all.
Being outdoors and around green spaces has been repeatedly shown to be good for one’s health. But not everyone has equal access to outdoor recreation opportunities. Trailhead Direct – a bus service provided by King County – lowers one of the greatest barriers to outdoor recreation: transportation.
In 2018, ECOSS partnered with King County Parks and The Wilderness Society to amplify the impact of Trailhead Direct through outreach to multicultural communities. By organizing and leading hiking trips with diverse communities, ECOSS created culturally-centered opportunities for community members to enjoy the outdoors and opened an avenue for immigrants, refugees and other people of color to give direct feedback on the bus service. This feedback contributed greatly to the opening of a Tukwila/Renton to Cougar Mountain route to meet the needs of South Seattle residents.
For the 2019 season, ECOSS reached 621 community members of diverse communities to raise awareness of Trailhead Direct. From that outreach, 145 people participated in ECOSS-led hikes! Youth, adults and seniors alike enjoyed the mountains, from strolls through Cougar Mountain to summiting the locally-famous Mailbox Peak.
Despite King County’s increased effort to advertise Trailhead Direct on common public transit options, most community hikers had never heard of the service. 76% of community hikers did not know about Trailhead Direct before ECOSS’ outreach. Many that did know were through previous ECOSS outreach. This was also reflected in communities’ feedback to King County.
“Let more people know about the services because I didn’t know we have this service until I went on this trip.” – Vietnamese community hiker
“Get information to minority communities.” – East African community hiker
This represents yet untapped potential for public transit to connect people and nature. Many community hikers with ECOSS were not just using Trailhead Direct for the first time, but also hiking for the first time. Community members cited barriers to participation such as knowledge of trails and knowledge of transportation options (especially for those without cars). But after overcoming those barriers, the benefits are vast, not just to health, but also to perspective:
“I participated for the first time in a hiking activity organized by Trailhead Direct and ECOSS last summer. As a Latino immigrant man, I never had anyone to introduce me or invite me to explore this wonderful physical, social and emotional activity. Meeting new people in such a healthy outdoor environment and being able to reach extraordinary views and be in direct contact with the abundant nature of PNW was profound to me. I cannot wait to continue this activity with friends and other members of my community. Thank you so much to the organizers, sponsors and to the public transportation system for letting me have this positive experience free of cost.” – J. Fernando Luna, Latinx community hiker
Lack of knowledge should not be misinterpreted as lack of interest. When presented in a culturally-relevant manner and with thoughtful inclusion, immigrants, refugees and other people of color are eager to engage in nature. As Trailhead Direct evolves out of its pilot phase, ECOSS is ensuring community feedback on the diverse needs in outdoor recreation reaches government so they can adjust accordingly. This type of private-public partnerships is promoting the vision of outdoors access and sustainable living for all.
Thank you to The Wilderness Society and King County Parks for funding multicultural community engagement. Thank you Entre Hermanos and Bhutanese Community Resource Center for working with ECOSS to recruit hikers. Thank you REI, Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust and Washington Trails Association for your support.
Are you familiar with the Pacific Northwest’s variety of edible wild plants? The rainy climate that gives Seattle its gloomy reputation also feeds local mushrooms, ferns and other forage food. And this last autumn, ECOSS and Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust (MTS) opened up that world for one Bhutanese community.
For Bhutanese refugees living in the greater Seattle area, there are several similarities between the forests of the Pacific Northwest and the jungles of Bhutan. This includes some shared wild plants such as the fiddlehead fern. But whereas Bhutan has few regulations on outdoors recreation, federal, state and county regulations restrict how people in the Pacific Northwest can use public lands and harvest plants.
Seeing the knowledge gap that prevented Bhutanese refugees from connecting with nature in the same way they would have in their native country, ECOSS worked with the community and with MTS to design an immersive workshop on public lands regulations and local foraging.
The workshop included a guided walk/hike led by MTS and the US Forest Service, an introduction to the rules and regulations regarding public lands and a discussion of the different types of public lands. As a demonstration of the education, the workshop led into a conversation about foraging and local flora. After the formal workshop, the dozen Bhutanese community members were free to enjoy the surroundings and camp overnight.
“I am really thankful to this workshop. Foraging specially fiddlehead fern, watercress and mushroom was very common in our community back in Bhutan and in the refugee camp, but because of limited English and cultural differences, many of our community folks are not able to do what they loved doing.” — Bhutanese community member, workshop attendee
ECOSS’ New Arrivals program collaborates with communities of color to create access to environmental education and experiences that are directed by community needs. This community-centric approach ensures both program success and community benefit, like in this public lands workshop.
Thank you Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust for partnering with us, Washington Trails Association for providing gear, US Forest Service for providing public lands education and Bhutanese Community Resource Center for bringing community members!
By Cari Simson, Stormwater Programs Director
Through the Equinox demonstration site, ECOSS is raising awareness of innovative business solutions that mitigate flooding and stormwater pollution.
On a cold, overcast November morning, staff from the Port of Seattle, King County, ECOSS and local RainWise contractor Stone Soup Gardens met at Equinox Studios to learn how to install cisterns with oyster shells inside as downspout filters. The Port of Seattle has been using oyster shells on their properties for about seven years to improve water quality. Now, they’re sharing their technical expertise with others. The event included all the steps to site, install and maintain cisterns with oyster shells.
Areas with a lot of vehicle traffic can produce elevated levels of copper in stormwater, which is harmful to fish and other aquatic species. One way that copper is introduced to stormwater is from vehicle brake pads, which produce brake dust. Oyster shells have shown promising results for removing dissolved copper from water by adsorption inside the barrel — as water flows through the barrel, copper adheres to the oyster shells, which is filtered out of the water.
In the summer of 2019, ECOSS tested for baseline levels of zinc, copper and other contaminants in roof downspouts prior to Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) installations, and will test again in 2020. ECOSS seeks additional businesses to adopt these solutions and can provide technical support. For more information, or to schedule a site visit or tour, contact email@example.com.
Come check out the Equinox “industrial-strength” GSI demonstration site in person on December 14th at the Equinox Very Open House! 6pm-late!
Stormwater runoff is the #1 source of Puget Sound pollution. There are multiple contributing factors and chief among them are the toxicants that are ubiquitous in urban environments, such as metals deposited on roads by vehicles, air pollution deposited on roofs and more. Such toxicants are picked up by the rain on the way to storm drains that flow untreated into our water bodies. And during large storms, the rains can overwhelm sewer systems. Consequently, the polluted stormwater doesn’t reach treatment plants and flow untreated into local water bodies.
Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) is an effective solution to mitigating stormwater pollution. Cisterns lower the volume of water entering stormwater systems during storms and lower the risk of overflowing combined sewer systems. Rain gardens slow the flow of rainwater while naturally filtering toxins. Programs such as the RainWise rebate program have increased access to stormwater solutions for residents throughout Seattle.
ECOSS seeks to broaden the acceptance of GSI in our region by providing technical services for businesses to help reduce their stormwater pollution. The Duwamish River manufacturing and industrial area has many businesses that rely on their location to do their work. During large storms, these businesses are not only dealing with operational costs in the case of flooding problems, but also potentially responsible for pollution that their properties contribute to the Duwamish River.
Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) for industrial businesses can help with both flooding concerns and reduce pollution from contaminants that land on rooftops and wash into storm drains. But most businesses have space limitations and operational needs, and the solutions need to be affordable and scalable. Businesses may not know about the breadth of GSI solutions that are possible on their properties, which is where ECOSS can be of service!
In 2018, ECOSS partnered with Equinox Studios to develop a first of-its-kind, large-scale GSI demonstration site in an industrial area. Equinox Studios, located in the industrial heart of Georgetown, attracts over 18,000 visitors per year and is ideally situated to promote GSI to local industrial businesses and communities. The site showcases emerging and cost-effective GSI solutions that can be easily adopted by property owners seeking to control polluted runoff. When finished in 2020, the Equinox installation will collect stormwater from 62,000 square feet of roof space and passively filter 1.3 million gallons of water annually. ECOSS Equinox Studios represents an immense potential to reduce toxicants from polluting local waters.
One of the innovative GSI solutions that are being featured at Equinox is the Grattix box. Essentially a rain garden in a box, the Grattix allows businesses to benefit from the filtration capabilities of rain gardens without having to dig up their property. These nature-based roof downspout filters remove zinc, copper and other pollutants from roof runoff, and can work in small spaces.
And what better way to learn about Grattix boxes than to go through the process of building one! Using Port of Vancouver’s design as a guide, ECOSS staff, multicultural contractors and members of the public convened at Equinox to learn by doing. From constructing PVC-pipe draining systems to planting native shrubs, just one afternoon of teamwork led to the completion of four complete Grattix boxes.
The event was a triple win for Equinox Studios, the contractors who have added Grattix systems to their repertoire, and the public who will be able to learn about new stormwater solutions.
These Grattix boxes are only the beginning of ECOSS’ vision for an industrial-scale demonstration site. Other cutting-edge solutions for stormwater management to look forward to are permeable pavement, vegetated walls, large cisterns and more. Stay tuned!
Come to the Equinox Very Open House on December 14th at 6 pm. ECOSS and others will be at the event and can provide tours and information.
Thank you Aspect Consulting, PureBlue and Equinox Studios for supporting this work.
Additional support for the Equinox GSI project was provided by the Boeing Company, King County Flood Control District, BNSF and the Puget Sound Stewardship and Mitigation fund, a grant making fund created by the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and administered by the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment. The Port of Seattle provided in-kind contributions of materials.
Rain has returned to Seattle. For some, that means curling up inside with a hot mug of coffee. For others, it’s an opportunity to be environmental stewards!
Recently, hundreds of volunteers gathered across 19 different sites to celebrate Orca Recovery Day with the Duwamish Alive Coalition. This is the ancestral land and waters of the Coast Salish peoples, including the Duwamish Tribe. They are the first stewards of the land and continue to care for this region.
ECOSS hosted one of the Duwamish Alive sites in partnership with Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, inviting communities of color to plant trees at a restoration site in the Rainier Valley. At this site alone, volunteers planted a total of 230 trees and shrubs! Check out some photos from the event below:
Located at the headwaters of the Duwamish River, transforming this site from a blackberry-dominated landscape to one with a diversity of native plants will promote water quality in the Duwamish River, leading to healthier salmon populations and subsequently healthier orca populations. And volunteers have the chance to see that transformation from beginning to end, as this space has had very little recent care. This humble space has the potential to be an inspiration for diverse communities to be lifelong environmental stewards!
Thank you to Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust and the Duwamish Alive Coalition for your partnership and the Rotary Club for your support!
ECOSS recently held its second PINKAPALOOZA Block Party, celebrating businesses and diverse communities that are being empowered to be more environmentally sustainable. At the celebration, ECOSS invited employees, former and current, as well as community members to tell their environmental stories. Here is one of the night’s stories:
“Hi, my name is Vicky Raya and I am a former ECOSS employee. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and both my parents are from Mexico. This means my first language is Spanish and I consider myself Chicana, or bicultural.
Prior to ECOSS, I worked as an informal science educator and then trained other educators who wanted to better engage and support girls and youth of color in STEM.
Ironically, although my work was meaningful, my work environments were rarely diverse. I was often the sole person of color among my peers, and although I was not consciously aware of it, I was working very hard to fit into a normative professional culture that did not reflect my own, and that in many ways, wasn’t fully prepared to recognize my isolation.
I always felt a little out of step with my peers and assumed I had to work harder than others to meet an imaginary standard. This dissonance and lack of connection eventually forced me to make a huge career shift which, not coincidentally, led to a lot of healing.
I could not have taken a better step toward healing than coming to ECOSS, where my role was to learn about the communities we wanted to serve and then apply strategies to make environmental education fun, relevant and purposeful.
The sense of ease and community I experienced at ECOSS was so welcome and needed, and it became the springboard to my current role as racial equity advisor at Seattle Public Utilities.
And that’s the ECOSS story I want to tell. How this organization hires from the communities it serves. It nurtures and develops confidence, language and professional skills, then prepares staff for future careers.
There’s a lot of talk about the need to diversify the environmental sector, which is true for government, private and nonprofit organizations. On the one hand, it’s expensive and difficult for ECOSS to develop and lose talent. On the other hand, ECOSS has many well-placed friends. I don’t know any other organization that has such loyal former staff.
Who here tonight is a former ECOSS employee?”
To which, dozens of hands sprang up around the venue, from recent alumni stretching all the way back to ECOSS’ first executive director 25+ years ago. Vicky went on to say:
“And while we’ve moved on to other organizations, we are ambassadors for equitable workplaces, and we demonstrate the strength of learning from differences. We are bicultural and often bilingual (and trilingual), we know the joy in embracing each other’s differences with appreciation, generosity and humor.
Thank you ECOSS for the opportunities you gave us. Although small, ECOSS punches above its weight in workforce development.”
Thank you Vicky for being part of the family and for continuing to blaze the environmental equity trail you started with ECOSS.