It seems like the word “transition” has become the default word for describing yet another year under a global pandemic and developing new ways of working together. ECOSS is no exception as the organization has encountered all kinds of transitions during 2021. The biggest transition for ECOSS has been in its amazing staff — almost an entirely new team from 2020. Only one third of current staff have been with ECOSS for over a year and considered “older staff”!
Although we are excited to see ECOSS alumni move on to pursue their passion for the environment and community engagement somewhere else, nostalgia can still creep in as the team changes so much in such a short period of time. However, ECOSS is incredibly proud that so many staff alumni continue to work for established partners and keep in touch long after they have left the organization.
ECOSS values community building not just in the field as we bring diverse communities together to take climate action, but also internally to build community as a multicultural organization. That is why ECOSS also embraces transitions, and are thrilled of the new cohort of staff hired in 2021. So far, five outreach coordinators, an office manager, an administrative assistant, an interim Program Director, an interim Executive Director, and three project managers have joined the ECOSS family in 2021, on top of internal staff promotions. New skills, community connections and shifts in ECOSS’ culture have been some of the many highlights of onboarding new staff.
As the year comes to an end and ECOSS makes space to celebrate all these new transitions, we are also looking towards the future as we embark on new projects and strengthen our impact through existing projects. ECOSS is invested not only in the sustainability of local natural resources, but also the sustainability of our communities and team members.
ECOSS has a new face, yet the passion for environmental justice and serving marginalized communities remains the same.
ECOSS has seen many transitions in recent months, with many new energized voices joining and others moving onto new roles. One beloved ECOSS voice recently departed, but not before sharing some reflections on his time with ECOSS.
Ruben Chi Bertoni was ECOSS’ lead on multicultural outreach around residential stormwater solutions, working with King County and Seattle Public Utilities to make the region’s RainWise program more equitable. Not only was he an agent for change with project partners, he also was an advocate for more equitable practices internally at ECOSS.
Though we will miss seeing Ruben more regularly, we’ll still be connected as he moves into a similar role on the other side of the table at Seattle Public Utilities, working with environmental organizations like ECOSS around the RainWise program.
His is the story of ECOSS. Of being an immigrant looking to make a difference for BIPOC communities and being empowered around environmental sustainability. Here are some of his reflections below:
As I begin writing, I think about where I was in life back when I began working at ECOSS.
I was 23 back then. Working two jobs and going to school full-time. As a dreamer, I lived with many uncertainties, and particularly my professional future in this country. This took a toll on my self-confidence and feelings of security. But I always thought to myself that a college degree would be something I could take anywhere with me, so I kept on pushing, hoping things would turn out for the best.
My senior year at University of Washington, I found ECOSS while networking to find different organizations that did environmental justice work in the Duwamish Valley. After I graduated, things came together. ECOSS was looking for a new employee and President Obama at the time passed the DACA program. To me, ECOSS was the light at the end of the tunnel of living with fear, anxiety and uncertainty. And although this hasn’t gone away completely, ECOSS has supported me and my situation in an unconditional way where I felt heard and seen. Because of this, ECOSS is and will always be like a family to me.
When I started at ECOSS in September 2013, I worked with the Powerful Neighborhoods program. The program was very straightforward; change incandescent lightbulbs for LED ones and reduce energy usage. However, ECOSS managers decided that I could help with other programs. This was a great growth opportunity, but in my young mind I didn’t view it as such. It started with working on ECOSS’ outreach with the region’s RainWise program. Over time, I received more responsibilities and eventually became the manager for our RainWise work. I was supported and encouraged at every step of the way. Looking back, I didn’t realize that ECOSS was building me professionally as I learned how the program operated and where ECOSS stood in the bigger world of community outreach.
Through this story I learned very valuable lessons:
Self-confidence At ECOSS, I was able to safely build my self-confidence. My team and colleagues believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Seeing others encourage me and say “you can do it” really made the difference for me to feel comfortable with growth.
Finding my voice Many ECOSS colleagues will find this surprising, but I used to be a very shy kid. I think at ECOSS, I was able to get comfortable enough to share my ideas. Then I realized we live in a world where the voices of BIPOC communities are not often at the seat of the table in decision-making for programs that will affect them directly. Seeing this, I realized how much more important it is to speak up. We cannot speak for all communities, but adding a different perspective other than what is the status quo is a good start. Also, as ECOSS staff have more conversations with community members on our programs, we can take this feedback and incorporate them into our programming.
Collaboration ECOSS has always promoted the spirit of collaboration. At ECOSS, all staff participate in giving their perspectives on how to implement programs. To me, it has been extremely enriching to learn about other cultures and understating how programs need to flexible so that ECOSS can adjust its messaging or methods to better serve diverse audiences. It has also been extremely helpful to partner with other organizations and collaborate to expand our reach to immigrant communities.
Ruben also shared some of his favorite and funny moments while at ECOSS:
All the potlucks
All the happy hours
Doing outreach with the team
Telephone – one time for RainWise outreach, we were helping a Chinese homeowner who didn’t speak English. The only available contractor was Vietnamese and didn’t speak English. I remember sitting in the office hearing my Chinese and Vietnamese colleagues talking to each other to be the bridge to make the RainWise installation happen. It was like a game of telephone, and the message got from one end to the other end successfully
Eating a whole mooncake – for Chinese New Year, a colleague brought mooncakes. Apparently, you were supposed to cut them up and share them but I didn’t know this so I ate an entire mooncake (probably about 1,000 calories) on my own
Thank you Ruben for being with ECOSS for eight years! We look forward to seeing how you grow and continue to empower businesses and communities of color to be environmentally sustainable.
Thank you to everyone that participated in last week’s Sustainable Futures Fest virtual fundraiser. We appreciate the support of everyone who tuned in and donated! In case you couldn’t catch the fundraiser live, the videos of each day are available now.
From conversations around environmental justice to innovations in environmental outreach, ECOSS is leading the region on empowering immigrants and refugees to promote community health while protecting the environment. It’s not too late to support ECOSS to go even further. Help us reach our goal of $40,000 and invest in underserved communities and small businesses.
ECOSS’ Sustainable Futures Fest premieres next Wednesday at 12 noon! We’re excited to share how ECOSS and other environmental leaders are working to advance racial equity and justice.
The first day features the Just and Sustainable Futures Panel with environmental leaders from across sectors. Read about them below:
Lylianna Allala (she/her/ella) is the Climate Justice Director at the City of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability & Environment. She joined the City of Seattle in 2019 after serving as lead staff on environment/climate policy and outreach for U.S Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. Prior to transitioning to public service in government, Lylianna spent time as a restoration ecologist, building backcountry trails, and traveling the country facilitating leadership development workshops for environmental & social change leaders. Lylianna is a co-creator of the Growing Old Project, a podcast that explores what Seattle could look like in the next 50 years to be a place where both humans and trees grow old together.
Joycelyn Chui (she/her) is a transplant from Hong Kong. She is a graduate student at University of Washington’s School of Public Health, Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences. She also works as a consultant with BEA Environmental, and recently started her own consulting business (Upstream Environmental Consulting) that aims to intervene in climate issues with an upstream approach. Previously, Joycelyn was a Multicultural Outreach Manager with ECOSS, working extensively with local small businesses on topics like solid waste, food waste, and stormwater pollution prevention & management.
We hope you will tune in on Oct 27 at 12 noon to hear their insights and discussion around environmental justice.
Your attendance also supports local BIPOC-owned restaurants. Register for the daily giveaway and tune in each day to be entered into a drawing for a $50 gift card to a local BIPOC-owned restaurant.
In Washington State, October 11 is recognized as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This day honors Native American peoples and celebrates their cultures and histories.
Both ECOSS and many of the people who ECOSS serve reside on the traditional lands of the Coast Salish people, including the Duwamish people. The city of Seattle is named after Chief Sealth, a chief of the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes. ECOSS centers the voices of immigrants and refugees to create sustainable solutions for all. Though these are historically marginalized communities, it is important to recognize the original stewards of this land and their descendants who continue to care for this land.
ECOSS stands in solidarity with the First Peoples of this region. One way ECOSS puts this into action is by paying rent to the Duwamish Tribe. You too can show your support for the people who were and are critical for the thriving of Seattle.
We at ECOSS loved sharing community and business success stories with you at 2020’s Sustainable Futures Fest. In case you missed it, you can check it out here. ECOSS’ Sustainable Futures Fest returns with more exciting activities in October that highlight how communities and businesses are empowered to be environmentally sustainable.
2020 was a unique year that laid bare the inequities that BIPOC communities face in not only environmental disparities, but also health disparities, access to information and more. The strengths that enable ECOSS to be a leader in environmental equity played a central role in response the COVID-19 pandemic: trusted relationships with frontline communities; shared culture and language; and bridges with industry, community and government.
ECOSS has served 170 businesses and 100 community members through its COVID outreach projects that address financial, technology and information gaps. Additionally, ECOSS continued to strive for its vision of thriving healthy communities despite the new challenges to outreach work. ECOSS’ environmental outreach served over 2,500 community members and business owners in 2020.
Constant construction noise. Flooding damage. Blocked sewage pipes. And a business that is suffering due to hardships that were forced upon it with few ways to resolve them. This is the reality for Ai, the owner of Pearls Tea & Coffee. And many immigrant- and refugee-owned businesses in the greater Seattle area face similar struggles.
What does it mean for a business to be environmentally sustainable? For Multicultural Outreach Manager Daniel Doan, it’s not limited to the environment. Daniel is leading ECOSS’ Sustainable Businesses program, which aims to meet the needs of small businesses around the Puget Sound region.
Inspired by ECOSS’ previous work promoting healthy nail salons as well as his personal experiences with his mom’s hair salon, Daniel hopes the Sustainable Businesses program will address not just environmental concerns, but other business needs as well. His ideas include questionnaires to gauge needs and certification programs that promote the business to customers. Daniel envisions conversations and check-ins over time that will build close relationships while addressing needs such as overcoming language and technological barriers, access to financial resources and more. And when future concerns come up, business owners will trust in ECOSS to help.
As ECOSS saw during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is difficult to prioritize the environment when survival has to come first. However, ECOSS’ approach to community and business engagement is critical for bridging the disparity in access that immigrants, refugees and other people of color commonly experience. ECOSS recognizes that for business owners, environmental sustainability, financial security and community safety are all be part of the same conversation. The Sustainable Business program aims to advance that reality. Stay tuned for the
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage (AAPI) Month. May 1843 is when the first known Japanese immigrants arrived in Hawaii, and the first Transcontinental Railroad was completed in May 1869 thanks to a labor force mostly made up of Chinese laborers
But as May approached in the year 2021, we were reminded again that despite the essential contributions of these immigrant and refugee communities, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders continued to live in the shadow of racism. Increasing anti-Asian hate crimes and the recent mass shooting of spa workers in Atlanta are weighing heavily on people’s minds.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the transition to remote work life, ECOSS staff held virtual weekly meetings. These check-ins not only helped with communicating important business, but also served a crucial role of continuing to share support and build community.
In recognition of AAPI Heritage Month, ECOSS Multicultural Outreach Coordinator Liza Boardman led a discussion around AAPI history, personal identities and how our privileges show up in the way we interact with the world. Our supportive culture provided a safe space for staff to engage in these challenging conversations. Below are some thoughts from Liza on this experience:
What does AAPI month mean to you?
To me, AAPI month is a time to not only honor and celebrate our Asian and Pacific Islander communities’ successes, but to also educate ourselves on the struggles we continue to face. With recent events leading up to this year’s AAPI month, it feels less like a cause for celebration and more of a call to action for solidarity and support. It’s also a friendly reminder to check in on your Asian American and Pacific Islander loved ones because the AAPI community is all about family 🙂
Why did you feel it was important to have this discussion within ECOSS?
As an organization that centers BIPOC voices, I felt that having a discussion on AAPI issues would provide us with useful knowledge in the work we do with these communities. Especially with the recent attacks on the Asian community, I felt that it was necessary to interrogate the root causes and history of othering of AAPI people in America. Although conversations on these topics can get uncomfortable, it gives us the opportunity to learn each other’s stories and brings us one step closer to the DEI work we do together as well.
Any takeaways from the discussion?
Intersectionality as a tool in this conversation really helped us to connect on a more personal level when engaging this topic. By interrogating our own identities and recognizing places we hold or lack power, I feel that it began to introduce us to a new lens through which we can view our work holistically and inclusively.
These conversations are important for grounding work in anti-racist practices. This wasn’t the first time ECOSS has had similar discussions, nor will it be the last.
You can be part of the change as well. Here are some actions you can take:
Recognize the differences between Asian American and Pacific Islander communities
Learn and be aware of issues impacting the community and the history of the neighborhoods we occupy
Lift up AAPI voices and promote media representation