How do we achieve zero food waste?

There’s a Chinese saying, 治標不治本 ; simply treating the symptoms to a problem does not solve the root cause. And right now, businesses are stuck addressing food waste symptoms.

Seattle is no stranger to environmentally sustainable policies. The city enacted a plastic bag ban in 2012. And in 2018, Seattle was the first major U.S. city to ban plastic straws and utensils in food service businesses. These policies are steps forward to a cleaner, healthier environment. But how effective are they in practice? And how equitable is the burden to comply?

ECOSS partners with Seattle Public Utilities to conduct outreach with small, minority-owned food service businesses about recycling and composting. Over the course of several visits, ECOSS works with each business in their native language to understand Seattle’s recycling and composting policies, implement operations that meet the city’s regulations and adapt to new initiatives.

Signage in multiple languages guide customers in sorting recyclables, compostables and durables away from the waste bin.

By visiting businesses repeatedly, ECOSS builds relationships with the owners. These relationships in turn build trust as owners become familiar with ECOSS staff. Businesses become more eager to work with ECOSS and change behavior.

Repeat visits also enable business owners to discuss the challenges they face with ECOSS. Large businesses more often have the capacity to anticipate and adapt to changing policies and trends. But small businesses face numerous barriers to advancing recycling and composting capacity. Crucially, food service businesses are constrained by distributors’ supplies. Not all businesses are located near a distributor that supply compostable utensils or reusable straws. The compostable options can be two to three times more expensive than their plastic counterparts even when the distributor does supply. And yes, the city can do little to stop distributors from carrying plastic straws and utensils. Ultimately, small businesses feel like they are simply being punished for their good environmental deeds.

ECOSS promotes waste reduction by providing compostable utensils for multicultural events. Photo Credit: Sam Le.

These barriers create a gap between understanding zero food waste versus implementing and operating the processes necessary to realize zero food waste. Since 2014, ECOSS has helped businesses establish and increase their recycling and composting capacity. Businesses fully understand the importance of zero food waste and how to comply with regulations, but there’s a limit to their recycling and composting capacity. In addition to the above challenges, recycling and composting pickup is not continuous and businesses only have so much space to store their waste. ECOSS has shifted to education around waste reduction, compostable, recyclable or otherwise, rather than simply sorting waste properly.

Education is now more important than ever. ECOSS is a leader in bridging the gaps among government, industry, and small and minority-owned businesses to reduce waste. We as a society must take responsibility for the waste we create, especially as countries such as China no longer wish to be the world’s dump sites. That means first reducing how much we consume, secondly reusing what we can, before finally recycling products. ECOSS is working with businesses and communities to spread this “Reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra.

Without systemic changes in the policies that govern waste creation and management – such as incentivizing compostable utensils throughout the entire supply chain – Seattle’s growth as an environmentally sustainable hub will be stunted. Until local, regional and state policies engender more accessible and equitable waste management solutions, ECOSS is helping relieve symptoms of urban waste management.

Check out other waste management stories

Mindful of waste, mindful of self

What does meditation and recycling have in common? Perhaps surprisingly, quite a lot.

ECOSS recently partnered with community leaders Stephanie Ung and Venerable Sok Theavy to host an environmental health workshop at a local Cambodian Temple for community members and temple monks.

The workshop began by asking attendees to envision a healthy neighborhood and illustrate their visions through drawing and talking to each other. This exercise formed the foundation for discussing waste streams. Where does our trash go? How do we minimize the impact of our waste on the healthy neighborhoods we envision?

Community members gather round at the Cambodian temple to discuss recycling and composting. Photo Credit: Venerable Sok Theavy.

Although Seattle has developed a culture of recycling and composting, residents still have difficulty in navigating the processes. For example, as much as 20% of what residents throw in recycling bins is actually trash. Soiled pizza boxes, uncleaned bottles, loose plastic bags and more all disrupt recycling. And recycling has gotten much more complicated in the last year, with large processing entities like China heavily restricting to outright banning recycling imports due to contamination. While big businesses can have a large impact on waste streams through their decisions, individuals can play a role in reducing waste too.

Sorting games show where different items should be disposed. Photo Credit: Joycelyn Chui / ECOSS.

But immigrants and refugees who did not grow up in a recycling and composting-centric culture face greater barriers in participating. ECOSS goes to where communities already congregate to engage them in their native languages around sustainability issues. Through sorting games, community members interactively learned about recycling and composting. The environmental health workshop posed the challenge of waste reduction as a community undertaking rather than an individual one. The environment impacts every aspect of our lives – it’s literally what society is built on and in. By connecting outreach to a community’s culture, ECOSS bridges the gap between environmental stewardship and people’s values and traditions.

A meditative walk through the Cambodian temple. Photo Credit: Venerable Sok Theavy.

During a meditative walk through the temple, Venerable Sok Theavy encouraged people to be mindful of every step, paying attention to when they lift the foot and when they place the foot back down on the earth. Analogously, the workshop asked attendees to be mindful of what they were consuming, what waste they were creating and how that waste impacts the environment.

Just as every step we take leaves a mark on the ground, every action we make leaves a mark on the environment.

Learn more about our waste reduction outreach

Thank you Seattle Public Utilities for helping ECOSS bridge the gap on recycling and composting.

Give to help advance environmental equity in Puget Sound

GiveBIG — a one-day online giving event to raise funds for nonprofit organizations in the Greater Seattle area — returns May 8!

The mission of ECOSS is to educate and empower businesses and diverse communities to implement environmentally sustainable practices. And a key part of our success is generous support from people like you.

Give BIG today!

Help us empower businesses to be more environmentally sustainable, amplify the voices of communities of color and advance the equity of public initiatives. Go here to donate now through May 8.

Learn more about what your contribution means to local businesses and communities:

Thank you so much for your support!

Trailhead Direct Expands to Tukwila

King County’s public transit to trail service returns with an added route!

Trailhead Direct, a King County Parks and King County Metro collaboration, provides a public transit solution to individuals that want to recreate outdoors, but are barred from doing so. Lowering the transportation barrier promotes access to potential hikers who do not own cars, cannot afford the trip or have restricted mobility for driving.

Last year, ECOSS raised awareness of Trailhead Direct within immigrant and refugee communities, leading 65 community members on hikes throughout Washington State.

Hikers all enjoyed their time outdoors and appreciated the convenience, affordability and environmental benefit of taking the bus over driving several cars. At the same time, communities provided valuable feedback to King County on the accessibility of Trailhead Direct. Community members cited challenges in parking at the bus station or pathfinding along the trails. But the most common feedback was the wish to expand the service throughout the county, especially in South Seattle and South King County.

Program Outreach Manager Jose Chi speaking at the launch of the Tukwila Trailhead Direct route. Photo Credit: Ned Ahrens, King County.

King County heard the communities’ voices. This year, Trailhead Direct expands to include a route that services Tukwila and Renton! The route heads to Cougar Mountain and transfers to other Trailhead Direct destinations, including Issaquah Alps, Mt. Si and Mailbox Peak.

Go to Trailhead Direct’s website to learn more about the service. ECOSS is excited to work again with communities to connect to nature!

Learn more about outreach with New Arrivals

Thank you to King County Parks and The Wilderness Society for supporting this work and Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust for connecting us with the opportunity to make transportation access more equitable.

Header photo by Eli Brownell, King County Parks.

Congratulations Green Globe Awardees!

Congratulations to Young’s Restaurant and The Wilderness Society for being two of 2019’s Green Globe Awardees!

Young’s Restaurant family with ECOSS partner.Photo Credit: ECOSS.

Presented by King County, the Green Globe Award recognizes outstanding leadership in environmental stewardship. It is the County’s highest honor for local environmental efforts.

Young’s Restaurant is the first Seattle business to utilize King County’s RainWise rebate program. ECOSS facilitated the installation process by recruiting multicultural contractors, guiding them through the RainWise certification training and helping the Vietnamese and Chinese contractors and restaurant owners through the English-dominated process.

The Wilderness Society and ECOSS partners. Photo Credit: Ned Ahrens / King County.

The Wilderness Society partnered with ECOSS to conduct outreach around the Trailhead Direct public transit service within historically underserved communities of color. This affordable alternative to driving provides greater access to the natural beauty that the Pacific Northwest has to offer. With support form The Wilderness Society and King County Parks, ECOSS extended awareness of the service into the Bhutanese, Latinx, Korean and Khmer communities of the Greater Seattle area.

Dow Constantine. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

“Throughout King County, people, businesses and nonprofits are doing extraordinary work to protect the spectacular natural environment that is central to our identity and our quality of life,” said Executive Constantine. “The Green Globe Award recipients we honor today inspire and challenge us to leave this special place even better for future generations.”

ECOSS received the Green Globe Award in 1999 for leadership in protecting water quality and in 2015 for leadership in environmental equity. Building on experience, ECOSS is proud to share its strengths and elevate others to be environmental and equity leaders.

Congratulations again to Young’s Restaurant and The Wilderness Society. Read more about their work and ECOSS’ role in promoting outdoors access and environmental equity.

Check out this year’s 13 amazing Green Globe Awardees

Celebrating Earth Day by giving to nature

In celebration of Earth Day, ECOSS partnered with Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust to host a Duwamish Alive! event on April 20th, one of over a dozen sites restoring habitat in the Green-Duwamish River watershed. Last October, ECOSS and the Greenway led volunteers in planting 60 native shrubs in the wetland area of the Duwamish Hill Preserve. For Earth Day, many of these volunteers returned to add mulch to the site, further promoting the health of the budding understory.

The Green-Duwamish River is home to five salmon species, coho, pink, chum, steelhead and Chinook. The last of these species is a critical food source for Puget Sound’s iconic Southern Orcas. By volunteering with Duwamish Alive, community members are protecting the health of the Duwamish River from stormwater pollution by building up the shrubs that are nature’s water filters.

It was not easy work, but 25 cubic yards of mulch were no match for the abundant enthusiasm and stewardship pride felt throughout the day. Check out more pictures from the event below, courtesy of Sam Le.

Events like Duwamish Alive are the product of collaborative community ideation and involvement. ECOSS worked with the Bhutanese Community Resource Center and the Environmental Professionals of Color to engage volunteers and provide environmental education that is relevant and fun.

Learn more about how ECOSS lifts up communities of color via outdoors experiences.

ECOSS’ leadership in Duwamish Alive is supported by the Duwamish Alive Coalition, which brings together organizations working within the Green-Duwamish watershed to discuss shared challenges and cooperate on sustainable solutions.

Thank you to the Rotary Club of Seattle for providing the funding that makes work like this possible.

Bhutanese Community Members at Cedar River Watershed

Allan Kafley named a Sustainability Leader!

Congratulations Allan Kafley!

Allan Kafley at Mt Si. Photo Credit: Allan Kafley / ECOSS.

Despite the desire to connect with their environment, immigrant and refugee communities often face language, geographic and lifestyle barriers that limit their access to outdoors experiences. Allan Kafley saw this need within his own community and took the opportunity to spearhead the New Arrivals program in 2014. Allan currently leads this and other programs as one of ECOSS’ Multicultural Outreach Managers.

Tours to the Cedar River Watershed are an excellent opportunity to show new arrivals the source of their drinking water. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

The New Arrivals program provides education, services and experiences to immigrants and refugees newly-arriving in the greater Seattle area. Crucially, the program generates outreach in collaboration with the communities it serves.

For this pivotal role and for being a leader within Puget Sound’s Bhutanese community, Sustainable Seattle honored Allan with a Sustainability Leadership Award!

Until the age of 19, Allan grew up in a refugee camp, where he was not afforded the privilege of self-determination. This changed in 2008 when Allan came to Seattle as one of the city’s first Bhutanese refugees. Spurred by his father’s stories of Bhutanese wilderness exploration, Allan sought out opportunities to engage with the environment and other refugees. He subsequently helped found the Bhutanese Community Resource Center in 2010, which hosts cultural events and connects Bhutanese refugees with resources, education and experiences.

Allan connects the Bhutanese refugee community with opportunities to give back to their environment. Photo Credit: Allan Kafley / ECOSS.

Joining ECOSS in 2013, Allan has since built awareness of healthy fishing along the Duwamish River, led outdoors trips throughout Washington and improved the environmental health of underserved communities throughout the greater Seattle area. Check out some of his recent projects and features:

Creating opportunities for immigrants and refugees to give back to nature

What does camping mean for the Bhutanese community?

Promoting outdoors access via public transit

New Arrivals program featured as a social innovation

Congratulations Allan Kafley on the award! Your leadership in centering equity in environmental programs is truly inspiring. Join ECOSS in celebrating his accomplishments at Sustainable Seattle’s Campfire Stories.

Learn more about New Arrivals

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