Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Over 70 Nepali-speaking community members joined ECOSS on snowshoeing trips this year!

Snowshoeing is an iconic winter-time activity in the Pacific Northwest. But immigrants, refugees and other new arrivals to the region may be unaware of the recreation opportunity. Likely fewer still have the requisite equipment and knowledge to undertake this activity. ECOSS’ New Arrivals program helps communities overcome these barriers.

Sunny skies reflect off the snow during an extended snowshoeing hike. Photo Credit: Allan Kafley / ECOSS.

“It was my first time and I had a blast.” – Bhim Taamang

In partnership with the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and Washington Trails Association, community leader Allan Kafley organized four snowshoeing trips to Snoqualmie Pass. The trips served over 50 youth, none of whom had been snowshoeing before. Two smaller groups of adults embarked on extended hikes deeper into the wilderness. During each trip, volunteer rangers guided groups through the snow-blanketed landscape while drawing attention to different vegetation. Youth and adults alike reveled in the winter nature wonderland that the Pacific Northwest has to offer.

“As I thumped my feet on the slushy snow for miles, breathing the cold fresh air of Snoqualmie and being surrounded by giant mountains made me feel at home.” – Ambika Kafle

The trips also provided insight into an important cultural difference. In the United States, popular outdoors destinations are in such high demand that the environment would irreversibly degrade without intervention. Regulations protect designated wilderness areas so that the public land can be appreciated by future visitors. For example, regulations prohibit the use of certain motorized and mechanized equipment, including off-road vehicles, bikes and chainsaws. For the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, it also means limiting group sizes to 12 or fewer.

Typically, when Nepali-speaking communities gather, they gather in force. The group-size regulations do not exist in their home wilderness. But on the snowshoeing trips, hikers learned about how regulations are preserving nature. Although it is unfortunate for the community members who could not join, the regulations ensure that they will be able to enjoy the wilderness in the future. Thus, the anticipation builds for the next snowshoeing season.

Read about other New Arrivals adventures

Thank you Bhutanese Community Resource Center and South Nepali Class for helping recruit community members. And thank you Washington Trails Association and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Services for supporting these trips.

ECOSS named a leader in environmental excellence

The Port of Seattle honored ECOSS as an Environmental Excellence Awardee!

Video by Port of Seattle with footage and photos contributed by ECOSS and Sam Le.

ECOSS’ programs are as diverse as the communities and businesses it serves. From clean energy to waste management, outdoor recreation to stormwater education, ECOSS provides access to environmental solutions to small businesses and marginalized communities. By working from within the communities that are most-impacted by climate injustices, ECOSS bridges gaps among industry, government and communities in ways that respect people’s cultures and lifestyles.

The Port of Seattle’s Environmental Excellence Award celebrates “the dedication of local partners to engage in healthier communities for cleaner air and cleaner water and to invest in enhanced energy efficiency.”

The Port of Seattle recently honored ECOSS with an Environmental Excellence Award for achievements in environmental equity! ECOSS envisions sustainable businesses and thriving communities supported by equitable environmental solutions. The award symbolizes that ECOSS is on the right track in addressing environmental injustices.

Learn more about ECOSS’ programs.

ECOSS receiving the Environmental Excellence Award with Port commissioners and staff.

ECOSS joined other environmental leaders, including small businesses recognized for their transition to clean energy and transportation heavyweight Lyft that is greening their rideshare service.

Check out the award and other awardees!

Thank you Port of Seattle for honoring ECOSS with this honor. And thank you SVP for nominating ECOSS for the award.

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

RainWise Contractor Fair

Green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) such as cisterns and rain gardens help mitigate Puget Sound’s greatest source of pollution — stormwater runoff — while improving your property.

Join ECOSS and RainWise to learn about affordable pathways to get your own GSI and meet the contractors who can help you install them.

Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese interpretation available.

Let us know you’re coming here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1287082221467845/.

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.

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.

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

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.

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