Celebrating ECOSS’ Women

Before March comes to a close, we wanted to take a moment to highlight the amazing women at ECOSS in honor of Women’s History Month. Since the start of 2021, the number of women on staff has doubled from six to the 12 women you see here today! All of these lovely ladies have played a major role in helping ECOSS shine and their efforts will continue to be celebrated all year round.

Learn more about them and their work through the links below:

Meet Hawa: Budding environmental steward

Hawa (middle) getting her hands dirty with planting native shrubs. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

ECOSS has seen many new faces recently. It is always exciting to welcome more passionate voices to the ECOSS family. We were able to connect with one of our newest Multicultural Outreach Coordinators, Hawa Abdullahi, to see how things are going. Hawa is part of the East African community in the greater Seattle area and came to ECOSS after graduating from the University of Washington. She speaks four languages (Oromo, Amharic, Kiswahili, English) and does outreach with the East African and Muslim communities. Here’s some of her thoughts on starting at ECOSS:

How has your first several months at ECOSS been?

I started working at ECOSS September 1st of 2021. After going through the interview and doing research on the organization I felt that I would be able to have a meaningful contribution to my community through the organization. I was really scared when I started because of I came with little to no knowledge regarding environmental health topics. Topic such as food waste laws, rain wise (specifically rain gardens), and electrification of transportation started to intrigued me. They were topics in which the East African community of south Seattle barely had interacted with. The lack of connection in the past with the community, and my lack of background knowledge made it difficult to convey the message at times. It felt like I was reading a script rather than sharing a resource or a passion. As work started to feel heavy in the first two month, I got introduced to stewardship by one of the project manager who wanted to involve East African is restoration work and other opportunities.

How did you develop your interest in environmental stewardship?

The first time I did a stewardship activity was to introduce community members to the Green Job Coalition. A program in collaboration with The Port of Seattle and DIRT Corp. I invited about 5 community member, 2 of them loved restoration work and 3 that never tried it. We spent the day by the lower Duwamish river (by Boeing) learning about the native animals that have returned due to the ongoing efforts of the restoration workers and how our planting for that day was going to affect the land erosion amongst other things.  I knew at that moment that I fell in love with restoration work and work that involved environmental stewardship.

What is/was your role in the Green Jobs Coalition work?

In green Job coalition my main focus was learning. It was almost like a training for me because ECOSS wanted to lead similar programs in the future and unfortunately it was not something they were fully equipped in. I did the hands on training lead by George from The Port of Seattle and Andrew from DIRT Corp. I did have two extra things besides learning which was being the unofficial photographer/videographer of the group and writing a report at the end of every week explaining what we did for the day.

Hawa brought in East African community members to ECOSS’ stewardship event at Seward Park. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

What is your favorite part about working on environmental stewardship?

My favorite part of working on environmental stewardship is getting on my knees and using my hands. I guess that is specifically focusing on restoration work. There is something about a physical change you create that will have a bigger impact for the community you live in and the earth that supports your existence.

Favorite thing you’ve learned (e.g. about yourself, our work, the environment, etc.)?

A favorite thing I learned is that creating small changes will have widespread impact. And that it is important to care for and understand a message you are conveying.

Thanks Hawa for taking the time to share how you’ve been enjoying your work with ECOSS!

Targeted Universalism: How does it promote equitable outreach and solutions?

Compared to many American cities, Seattle has a fairly robust recycling and composting system. The City of Seattle also provides resources to educate residents and businesses. In addition to physical fliers, there is an online search tool.

ECOSS often visits Seattle’s Chinatown-International District to work with the restaurants there, many of which are owned by immigrants and refugees. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

However, with a robust system comes constantly changing rules, such as regulations around plastic bags, Styrofoam, takeout containers and more. For small businesses, especially when the owner or staff don’t speak English as a first language, it can be challenging to stay up to date with all the changes. ECOSS helps residents and small businesses adapt to these changes, and advocates for racial equity, such as language access and culturally-relevant education. Yet, it’s difficult for these suggestions to change government policies systemically.

Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) is ECOSS’ main client for solid waste management outreach, and they are stepping up when it comes to equitable engagement. By law, SPU can demand fines be paid for businesses that aren’t in compliance with recycling/composting regulations. However, this would inequitably harm business owners of color, many of whom face language and cultural barriers to adapting to Seattle’s regulations. Rather, SPU is spending resources internally to promote more equitable practices and externally for community-based organizations like ECOSS to ensure that commercial businesses have fair opportunities to recycling and composting education and resources before being hit with punitive fines. So what does that look like?

Enter “Targeted Universalism,” a framework created by UC Berkeley professor john a. powell as a model for promoting equity in policies and strategies. SPU has adopted this framework to guide their outreach efforts with businesses around recycling and composting compliance. The idea is that suppose there is a broad, universal goal to achieve – in SPU’s case, it’s 80% of all businesses complying with solid waste regulations. To reach this goal, there must be targeted solutions that recognize how different segments of the population are situated relative to that goal. For example, a takeout place will have different challenges from a sit-down restaurant. A Mexican-owned business will have different questions from a Vietnamese-owned one. Without a framework like Targeted Universalism, fining noncompliant businesses will unintentionally and unfairly target businesses of color due to inherent language and cultural barriers.

In practice, the framework greatly aligns with the ECOSS approach of recognizing the diversity among and within underserved communities and promoting culturally-relevant engagement. Here’s an example within the Korean community. Multicultural Program Manager David Han, who manages this project from SPU, was tasked with learning about how to improve compliance among Korean food-service businesses. Through outreach to 20 Korean-owned restaurants, David learned their lack of compliance was a simple difference in how compost was defined in Seattle versus their home country.

Understanding how to dispose of waste can be a daunting task. Seattle Public Utilities provides illustrative fliers to help businesses and community members determine what goes where. Photo Credit: Seattle Public Utilities.

Food waste is handled in its own cycle in South Korea. Due to a language barrier, David’s sample of Korean restaurants conflated compost with food waste. It thus didn’t make sense for Korean business owners to go through the additional mental and logistic effort to implement composting. David quickly picked up on this cultural difference and helped these businesses learn how other waste such as wooden chopsticks, used napkins and more could be redirected to composting, saving businesses money in the process.

Insights like these will inform engagement with that segment of Korean businesses throughout Seattle. In total, there are dozens of these segments, divided by type of food-service, geography, language and more. Through targeted engagement like what ECOSS accomplished, each segment can reach 80% compliance with education and solutions that are relevant to each community. By the time each segment reaches 80% recycling and composting compliance, there will be universal compliance of 80% or more – a win for the city that doesn’t come at the expense of underserved communities.

Environmental equity is often much easier said than done. With a framework like Targeted Universalism, there is clarity on how well the goal of equity is being met. ECOSS will continue to push for mindsets like this one so that there can be sustainable solutions for all.

Co-creating habitat restoration opportunities with communities of color

Attendance at habitat restoration events is typically dominated by people who are white, affluent, and/or retired. Although these events provide opportunities to connect with nature, there are a number of barriers for low-income and/or people of color to get involved — knowledge gaps, the opportunity cost of working a weekend job, and safety concerns, to name a few.

Fundamental changes to how we approach habitat restoration events are needed to make these outdoors activities more equitable. Over the years, ECOSS has advocated for and implemented compensation models, training and community outreach to make environmental stewardship more inclusive.

This year, ECOSS began working with Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Green Seattle Partnership to further assess community needs and interests around urban environmental stewardship. ECOSS recruited eight community leaders from Vietnamese, Filipino, Bhutanese, Burmese and Latinx communities for focus groups to learn about Green Seattle Partnerships, gather input on how to make stewardship more equitable and help co-create stewardship events. Thus, community members could influence the conversations around environmental stewardship at a broader scale than simply individual events.

ECOSS welcoming participants to the day’s habitat restoration event. Photo credit: ECOSS.

The year’s work culminated at Seattle’s Seward Park. ECOSS brought together 17 community members across Vietnamese, East African and Bhutanese/Nepalese communities for a planting event. In addition to showing people how to plant and mulch for different native plants, ECOSS provided food, hot beverages, and giveaways including: indoor/outdoor plants, tote bags, beanies, and $30 gift cards as thanks for their time and participation.

The focus group greatly supported the event’s success. ECOSS learned which plants were culturally-relevant, what activities were of interest, and how ECOSS and the Green Seattle Partnership should recruit for the event. The preparation also affirmed that the volunteering mindset of the dominant stewardship model doesn’t resonate for people who don’t have the privileges of ample time and resources.

Habitat restoration can be an inclusive activity that resonates with different communities’ connections with nature and stewardship. The key is in meeting underserved communities where they are.

A Year of Transition for ECOSS Staff

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. 

Reflections of a Dreamer

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:

Ruben managed ECOSS’ multicultural outreach around residential stormwater solutions, like cisterns. Photo credit: Marcela Gara / Resource Media.

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.

ECOSS set up to talk stormwater pollution with their watershed model. Photo Credit: Sam Le.

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.

Help ECOSS win $50,000!

BECU selected ECOSS as a finalist for its People Helping People Awards. ECOSS has the chance to receive $50,000 to reinvest in the community. But we need your help. Your vote determines the winner.

Winning BECU’s award would mean more community listening sessions, more outdoor experiences and other programming that empowers immigrants and refugees to be environmentally sustainable.

Voting closes on November 14, so cast your vote and spread the word today!

Thank you for joining us for the Sustainable Futures Fest!

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.

Preview the Just and Sustainable Futures Fest

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.

Syris Valentine (he/him) is a Seattle-based writer, organizer, and advocate for climate justice. He currently works as a project manager for Africatown Community Land Trust working at the intersection of affordable housing, urban development, and community-based climate action. He also serves as a board member for the Reclaiming STEM Institute and the Seattle Green New Deal Oversight Board. You can read Syris’s writing on Medium and Substack.

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.

Your generosity will help the communities and businesses we serve promote cleaner water, broaden environmental stewardship, advance environmental equity and more.

Honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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.

There are many others ways to act in solidarity with Indigenous peoples as well:

Books to read:

Businesses to patron:

Local organizations to support:

To celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, try taking at least one action to connect with the original stewards of the land you reside on.