Equity in stormwater management must start from the Summit

Centering Equity at the Annual Green Stormwater Infrastructure Summit 

The Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map, a recently-published tool, revealed plainly what many already knew from their lived experiences: communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately subjected to environmental health risks. Yet, these same communities receive disproportionately fewer resources and their voices are disproportionately left out of the conversations around environmental solutions. ECOSS pioneers education and outreach programs with these communities to help right these environmental injustices, but we can’t do it alone.

ECOSS recently attended the 4th Annual GSI Summit, a City Habitats event led by Stewardship Partners. The summit focused on green infrastructure – emerging research, applied solutions, community stories and more. This year, ECOSS joined the hosting committee, a central role that allowed ECOSS to advocate for a larger focus on equity in the summit.

Challenge tables centered solutions-driven conversations around a plethora of green infrastructure challenges. ECOSS led a discussion around equity. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

Taking the role to heart, ECOSS led a session on community engagement and captained a discussion table to discuss equity in green stormwater infrastructure. ECOSS brought its experience working with Vietnamese and Chinese communities and businesses. Conversation blossomed around how all sectors can make green stormwater infrastructure more equitable.

Surveying the rest of the summit, numerous presentations concluded with the revelation that organizations should work with communities rather than for communities. It was encouraging to see more people adopt this approach, but it also came with a sense of disappointment that was perfectly captured by the summit’s Youth Voices Panel.

The Youth Voices Panel, from left to right: Risa Suho, Hannah Price, Shelina Lal. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

“We need you to need us.” – Shelina Lal

A simple statement, but one that spoke volumes. Lal went on to lament that youth shouldn’t even be speaking at the summit – that if green infrastructure leaders were actively working with communities to advance solutions, the summit wouldn’t need youth to make impassioned speeches about the suffering of low-income communities and communities of color. The entire Youth Voices panel echoed similar sentiments throughout their hour on stage.

ECOSS works with RainWise to provide green infrastructure rebates and career pathways within communities disproportionately impacted by climate change and environmental injustices. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

This is the pulse that organizations must track to advance the equity of green infrastructure. ECOSS has been a trusted partner of businesses, diverse communities and government to provide co-created, practical solutions for 25 years. ECOSS works with communities; the majority of staff are from those communities. Yet, these and other connections are underutilized by environmental organizations wanting to reach historically underserved communities. The best time to work with low-income communities and communities of color on environmentally just programs was at the programs’ inceptions. The next best time is now.

An undercurrent of urgency pervaded the summit. We must mobilize. We must go beyond naming problems and act. There is still much room for progress in equitable green stormwater infrastructure. However, that the words from the youth of our most-impacted communities were met with standing ovation rather than only uncomfortable stares raises hope for the future of equitable environmental solutions.

Read other green stormwater infrastructure stories

Thank you to RainWise partners for promoting ECOSS as a leader in equitable green stormwater solutions!

Promoting accessible clean energy with community solar

Transitioning to clean energy – for example, owning an electric car or installing solar panels – is commonly touted as a proactive measure for helping the environment.

Last year, ECOSS conducted outreach on electrical vehicles to understand communities’ concerns about buying and owning electrical vehicles. Communities of color are overwhelmingly interested in clean technology, but they do not always have the information or resources to invest judiciously. ECOSS subsequently helped raise awareness of financial incentives and assuage concerns around vehicle maintenance.

There are many models for community solar. A couple examples are (a) solar farms that people can buy into and (b) solar panels installed onto the roof of a public building for the benefit of those who use it.

Now, ECOSS is expanding its clean energy program into solar. Similar to electrical vehicles, there are financial incentives for owning solar panels – namely the money saved from generating solar energy. But those benefits only materialize after purchase, thus creating a financial barrier.

Community solar is one approach to lowering the financial barrier to owning solar energy technology. Rather than foist the upfront cost of solar panels on a single individual or household, community solar distributes that burden among a collective of stakeholders. Some projects involve residents buying shares of solar energy from a solar farm that reduce their utility bills. Others are centered on public spaces like schools. There are many models for community solar, but they all share a goal of democratizing solar technology.

Outreach and engagement promotes community buy-in and more sustainable solutions. Photo Credit: Sam Le.

ECOSS is teaming up with Spark Northwest and Emerald Cities to bring community solar to affordable housing — a first in Washington State. Spark Northwest is a leader in clean energy solutions, and Emerald Cities has extensive experience in working with low-income housing. These two organizations complement ECOSS’ expertise in community outreach and connections within communities of color.

Community solar projects present unique challenges in comparison to private solar installations. ECOSS’ project is centered on a multi-family housing complex, whose tenants will be the beneficiaries, which raises difficult questions such as:

  • Who owns the project? The developer installing the solar panels? The housing authority? The residents?
  • How will financial kickbacks be distributed? Should they be disbursed to individuals or collected into a community pool?
  • When does ownership of the solar panels transfer to the community?

As negotiations progress, ECOSS will engage housing residents to ensure that their thoughts and feedback are heard. If successful, this pioneering project can form the basis for community solar at other multi-family properties. Look forward to more news about community solar in the coming months!

Learn more about clean energy outreach

This is but a brief look into community solar. Learn more about community solar models through our partner, Spark Northwest.

Welcoming a New Board President

Board Update 2019 Blog

ECOSS welcomed four new members to the Board in 2018!

  • Hazel Roos
  • Bruce Jones
  • Tiffany Volosin
  • Kim Brackett

ECOSS staff and board members celebrating the holidays. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

They bring an extensive array of expertise to the Board and are already helping to grow and strengthen the organization. For example, Hazel and Tiffany have revamped our accounting system, which is advancing the organization’s efficiency while saving time and money. Bruce brings a wealth of business and nonprofit experience to the Board. He previously served as a Lead Partner and liaison between ECOSS and Social Venture Partners. Kim is a health care consultant who works with nonprofit organizations and a former City of Bainbridge Island council member.

Additionally, ECOSS welcomes a new Board President, Katie Moxley! She succeeds Matt Woltman, who has been on the Board since 2010 and served as board president for the last five years. As he steps aside for Katie’s leadership, he turns his attention to donor engagement.

Thanks Matt for leading the ECOSS Board of Directors for the last five years! Photo Credit: Matt Woltman.

“Reflecting on the last 10 years as an ECOSS Board member and past five years as Board President, I continue to be impressed by the diversity of work and programs this nonprofit organization provides. From their ability to communicate with multicultural communities about environmental topics at home and around their neighborhoods to their key role in spreading environmental awareness within the industrial sector, I am incredibly proud of ECOSS and proud to serve on their Board. I look forward to many more great things to come!” — Matt Woltman

Katie joined the Board in 2016 and in her new role, is excited to engage around all of ECOSS’ programs, including New Arrivals, transportation outreach, and stormwater outreach and education, especially in light of upcoming permit changes.

Katie Moxley is the new President for ECOSS’ Board of Directors. Photo Credit: Katie Moxley.

“I’m excited for this next opportunity to support ECOSS and our Board!  As Board President and Chair, I’m most looking forward to continuing to develop and engage the Board, and together, supporting ECOSS’ strategic planning activities to ensure the organization is focused on the right things in support of delivering its important mission.  I’m also eager to help develop new and existing relationships between ECOSS, community partners and donors.” – Katie Moxley

The ECOSS Board is composed of dedicated professionals, who in many cases have given their time and financial support to ECOSS for many years. A Board of Directors is a delicate balance of people who bring vital resources to an organization – program expertise, professional services, financial support, access to wealth and networks, customer perspectives, credibility and hours of support, to name a few. But boards are not static, nor are they meant to be. As board members roll off, they are committed to making the future board a better reflection of those we serve. Our staff and our communities represent multitudes of ethnicities, countries of origin, ages, economics and skill sets. Board members are working to shape the board to reflect that.

Thank you Matt for your many years of service as Board President, thank you Katie for taking on the mantle, and thank you to the new board members for joining us. We look forward to everyone’s continual contributions to furthering ECOSS as an organization!

Learn more about ECOSS’ work

Celebrating Tết with stormwater outreach

By Kevin Duong, Multicultural Outreach Associate

Tết is the Vietnamese celebration of the Lunar New Year. This year, ECOSS and I celebrated Tết with the Hoi Thanh Tin Lanh Hy Vong church. Kids were up and singing and the Pastor and members provided words of wisdom. After the service celebration was Tết dinner, featuring traditional food like bitter melon soup, braised pork and Banh Trung (glutinous rice wrapped with mung beans and banana leaves). True to ECOSS’ spirit, dishes were served with compostable dinnerware, helping the church reduce garbage waste.

After dinner, we offered an education session with members and kids who came up to learn about stormwater pollution, the benefits of cisterns and rain gardens and the RainWise program.

For this event and others, I had the pleasure of working with Cindy Nguyen, who was an awesome intern with a bubbly personality. Cindy is a student at Colby College with an interest in environmental law.

ECOSS intern Cindy Nguyen speaking to a church member about rain gardens and cisterns. Photo Credit: Sam Le.

And over the last month, she helped deliver ECOSS and RainWise messages and resources to the Vietnamese community. Despite the short time frame, her hard work to perfect her Vietnamese and her commitment to community outreach was outstanding. Thank you Cindy for working with us and being part of the ECOSS family.

Check out other multicultural outreach work here

We’re hiring! Join our multicultural outreach team

Are you passionate about environmental justice? Do you want to make a difference in your community? Join our multicultural outreach team!

ECOSS empowers diverse businesses and communities to become more environmentally resilient and sustainable. In 2018, we conducted outreach in a dozen languages covering topics ranging across clean energy, stormwater pollution, waste management and more.

The key to our approach is hiring from within the communities that we serve. Our outreach staff understand the communities’ cultures and needs because they are part of those communities. We are expanding this team so that all communities can thrive and be environmentally sustainable.

Are you a bilingual/multilingual individual who would be excited to promote environmental justice with our Chinese, Latinx, Khmer and/or East African communities? Apply to join our multicultural outreach team!

Go here to read the full job description and application instructions

 

Over 10,000 businesses and community members served in 2018

“My English is very limited. Not a single cleaning product available in the market is labeled in my primary language, but after this presentation I can at least recognize products labeled with Caution, Hazard, Poison, and Danger.”

The passing of a calendar year is often a time for reflection and celebration. With the recent transition into a Gregorian New Year along with Lunar New Years celebrations starting on February 5 (Chinese New Year, Tết, Seollal, Losar, Tsagaan Sar), now is the perfect time to reflect on ECOSS’ impacts for sustainable businesses and diverse communities in 2018:

But outreach and community engagement is not just about numbers. We empower sustainable businesses and communities of color to improve the lives of people. Feedback from businesses, communities and partners is critical for improving the education and services we provide.

We served over 10,000 businesses and community members in 2018. And 2019 looks to be even more impactful. New Arrivals is expanding to more communities. Waste management outreach is shifting from simply recycling and composting conversations to education around food waste reduction. And our RainWise outreach continues to grow in ambition. Look forward to the stories in 2019!

Learn more about our projects

Want to learn more about the individual successes that contributed to these impacts? Check out the links below:

Want to help us continue this impactful outreach and education? Give a gift for sustainable businesses and diverse communities.

Partnering with fishers to promote healthy fish consumption

“My vision for the Duwamish is a clean river, not just for my family but for all Cambodians, Vietnamese, Mexicans, and other communities that use the river.” – Soun-Hour Pov, Community Health Advocate 

Many immigrants and refugees were fishers before they came to the United States. Now living in Seattle, these fishers naturally turn to the Duwamish River – Seattle’s only river – to continue fishing. But not everything in the river is natural.

Going over safe and healthy seafood to catch along the Duwamish River.

The Duwamish River is contaminated by toxicants from a history of industrial use that made the river a hazardous waste disposal site. In early 2000s, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) named the river a Superfund site, signifying it as one of the most toxic sites in the country. They then began leading the cleanup process of chemical pollution (such as PCBs). All fish, crab and shellfish that spend their entire lives in the river, however, still remain toxic to consume. Migratory salmon are one of the few exceptions as they do not reside in the polluted river sediment.

Not everyone has easy access to that knowledge. ECOSS has been working with Public Health of Seattle & King County (PHSKC) to train community members to become community health advocates who then disseminate information on healthy fishing to their .

Hear from two of the community health advocates in interviews with Voices for Clean Water.

Fishers outreach at Spokane Bridge in Seattle.

Learn more about EPA’s Fun to Catch, Toxic to Eat program!

Under this Public Health program for EPA, ECOSS hires from within the communities we serve to promote environmental justice. Working within Vietnamese, Cambodian and Latinx communities for many years, we complement PHSKC with expertise in community engagement and culturally-appropriate outreach.

Through this program, community members learn from each other and dialogue with PHSKC and EPA to protect their health while continuing fishing traditions.

Thank you PHSKC and EPA for partnering with us to help protect the health of diverse communities!

Multicultural outreach extends green outdoor access to diverse communities

“ECOSS’ ambassador model and community-based work is invaluable and irreplaceable. Their successful outreach is a major achievement of the Trailhead Direct program.” — Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust

Bhutanese community used the Trailhead Direct service to travel to Mt. Si. Photo Credit: Allan Kafley, ECOSS.

Over the summer and autumn of 2018, ECOSS led 65 hikers from diverse communities on hikes throughout Washington! For numerous hikers, these trips were only possible thanks to Trailhead Direct, a service launched by King County Parks and King County Metro.

Many immigrant and refugee communities around Puget Sound yearn for opportunities to connect with nature, but face language, cultural and lifestyle barriers to accessing the outdoors. Transportation access is one of the greatest of these barriers.

“Trailhead Direct is a great way to protect our environment by not driving personal cars.” — Bhutanese community member.

King County’s Trailhead Direct service seeks to lower the transportation barrier by providing an affordable alternative to driving to faraway hiking destinations. At the same price point as any other bus ride in the city, a Trailhead Direct bus will drop you off and pick you up at trailheads at Issaquah Alps, Mt. Si and Mailbox Peak. And by partnering with ECOSS, Trailhead Direct reached communities in 2018 that would otherwise have never heard of this transportation option.

Trailhead Direct enabled the Cambodian community to bring all family members hiking, from youth to seniors. Photo Credit: Sophorn Sim / ECOSS.

To help King County learn about the accessibility of Trailhead Direct and improve the service, ECOSS led hiking trips via Trailhead Direct with members of the Bhutanese, Cambodian, Korean and Latinx communities. In partnership with King County Parks and The Wilderness Society, we also developed surveys that gauged participants’ outdoors experience and solicited feedback on the Trailhead Direct trips.

During our outreach, 53% of hikers were new to the activity and 42% were youth or seniors. And regardless of age or experience, all hikers enjoyed Trailhead Direct and would recommend it to others. Check out our infographic summarizing the season’s outreach for other statistics and feedback from communities!

ECOSS’ New Arrivals program connects immigrants and refugees with environmental education and outdoor experiences that align with their interests. We look forward to continuing partnerships to ensure diverse communities can take advantage of Trailhead Direct service.

Check out other New Arrivals activities

Thank you to King County Parks and The Wilderness Society for your generous funding and support. And thank you to Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust for connecting us to the opportunity to conduct this outreach. We’re proud to lower the transportation barrier to the outdoors and enable connections to nature for all.

Green business education achieves new milestones in 2018

Polluted stormwater runoff is the #1 pollution source around Puget Sound. Businesses are helping mitigate that pollution.

Spill kit demonstration. Photo Credit: Enviroissues.

During heavy rainfall, water picks up pollutants from impervious surfaces like roads and parking lots. This water flows directly from storm drains to our waterways, harming the health of communities and aquatic life. Industries and municipalities are major originators of the oils, fuels, metals and other pollutants that ultimately contaminate Puget Sound waters. But some businesses want to change that and ECOSS provides the tools to do so.

In 2018, we visited over 1,400 businesses, delivered nearly 650 spill kits and provided spill training and prevention plans in more than 30 Puget Sound cities and counties. Spill kits help businesses keep spilled materials from reaching storm drains in streets, alleys and parking lots.

Outreach is personalized to each business. Photo Credit: Kelvin Kong / ECOSS.

And our offerings for stormwater management workshops and trainings nearly doubled in 2018. Seven industry-focused workshops reached almost 100 individuals and over 80 companies. And 18 municipal-focused workshops trained 625 municipal staff across 37 jurisdictions, agencies and businesses. These workshops help attendees understand permitting requirements, improve stormwater management practices and protect local waters and watersheds.

Donate to empower more green businesses

Help us expand our business outreach for greener businesses, cleaner waters and healthier communities!

Kent recycling makes tons of difference

Blue bins are now practically synonymous with recycling. Many know that soda cans and old newspapers go into recycling bins, destined to become other useful products.

But what about old electronics? Emptied propane tanks? Scrap metal leftover from a home project? These and many other materials can be recycled too, though often not as easily. Since 2016, ECOSS has worked with the City of Kent to help King County residents recycle less-common items such as refrigerators, concrete, tires and mattresses.

Learn more about Kent recycling events

In 2018, we helped with three free community recycling events, which collectively welcomed over 4,000 vehicles full of recyclables. The events altogether collected over 3,000 toilets, mattresses and other individual items plus over 300 tons of material like scrap metal, bulky wood debris and concrete!

ECOSS strives to make environmentally sustainable practices accessible to all. Many people are interested in reducing their environmental impact. We empower people to act on those interests and to let others know how they can make a difference, too.

Check out our other waste reduction projects