Organizations are becoming acutely aware that pushing toward environmental sustainability is important but inadequate, given the undeniable link between polluting industries and disproportionate harm to low-income and communities of color. Even so, many corporate sustainability practitioners are not well-connected to the history of the environmental justice movement in the United States or the community advocates toiling on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Given the influence professionals working in the climate arena have on the pace and shape of the clean energy transition and resilience planning, it is incumbent upon us to learn how to work in true partnership with the communities suffering first and worst from the climate crisis. We must learn to remedy legacy harms and prioritize frontline communities in our climate decisions and actions. This starts by developing authentic collaborations with new partners representative of frontline communities, deferring to their priorities, and sharing the stage.
In this spirit, we share these hopeful examples of climate actions that are rooted in justice and new forms of partnership:
- Volt Energy Utility and Sharing the Power Foundation: Volt Energy Utility, an African-American owned utility-scale solar development firm, recently launched the Sharing the Power Foundation. The Foundation will receive a portion of Volt’s revenue from select Power Purchase Agreements (PPA), and in turn invest those resources to enable under-resourced communities to benefit from the clean energy economy. This approach demonstrates how long-term renewable energy contracting can not only accelerate the development of new renewables but can also accelerate social justice. Funded initiatives will include a new Environmental Justice Ambassador Fellowship intended to create a pipeline of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) into sustainability and clean energy careers.
- The Just Transition PowerForce: The Just Transition PowerForce is a coalition of environmental and climate justice leaders from across the United States the working to align the climate commitments of corporations toward deep investments in the sustainable and climate resilience of frontline communities. This includes helping companies understand their role in enabling a just, clean energy transition, and co-creating opensource tools and models, such as an Environmental Justice Measurement & Evaluation Framework that guides the evaluation of climate and resilience project concepts for the attributes necessary for environmental, social, and climate justice outcomes.
- The City of Chicago’s 2022 Climate Action Plan: Last month, Chicago released an updated Climate Action Plan, the first update since its original 2008 plan. The plan includes an ambitious goal to reduce the city’s carbon emissions by 62% by 2024, and to do so in a way that centers equity. The strategies and actions included in the plan were deliberately assessed and prioritized based on their potential to deliver local and equitable co-benefits. This means stepping up to the challenge of retrofitting small buildings, enabling distributed solar, and acknowledging that significant resources must be directed to frontline communities.
WSP looks forward to continuing to partner with frontline communities in the pursuit of equitable and effective climate action. From energy strategy and water stewardship to climate resilience and sustainable cities, community advocates should always have a seat at the table and a platform for their voices. There is a noticeable gap between corporate sustainability practitioners and those who are disproportionately burdened by the climate crisis that WSP seeks to bridge. Events like the Climate Leadership Conference, of which WSP is a proud sponsor and participant of, offer a great opportunity to educate corporate sustainability stakeholders, share different perspectives, and begin a productive conversation on how both the public and private sectors can authentically collaborate with communities to address climate change.