Academy Article
June 2024

Environmental Justice and Philanthropy Panel


The American Academy of Arts and Sciences hosted in May Integrating Environmental Justice and Philanthropy: Lessons and Opportunities as part of ongoing outreach for the recommendations in Forging Climate Solutions: How to Accelerate Action Across America. The discussion was moderated by Mustafa Santiago Ali (National Wildlife Federation), who cochaired the Commission on Accelerating Climate Action which issued the report.

Santiago Ali led experts from environmental justice organizing and philanthropy in a discussion of about the past, present, and future of funding for climate and community impact. The panelists were Yoca Arditi-Rocha (The CLEO Institute), Michael Barber (Alaska Conservation Foundation), Jasmine Davenport (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), Jason Landrum (Lenfest Ocean Program), Deborah Philbrick (MacArthur Foundation), Rev. Lennox Yearwood (Hip Hop Caucus). 

Participants shared that despite progress in recent decades, there are still significant barriers to accessing funding, especially for grassroots organizations. Some funders have separate portfolios for climate change and environmental justice work, which makes it harder to center justice-focused outcomes in all climate work. For other funders, bright dividing lines might obscure the commonalities between urban and rural, BIPOC and white, and liberal and conservative communities, and how protecting against environmental injustice can benefit all people. To be successful, some speakers suggested, funders must proactively identify who they are not already working with and see how new models, like co-development of projects, might better include them. 

Participants argued that when funding is achieved, it can be transformational. With resources, environmental justice organizations can remove barriers to participation in community dialogues including transportation and childcare. Instead of being exploited, local experts can be compensated for their contributions. Furthermore, because this work is inherently collaborative, building long-term relationships between communities, environmental organizations, and funders is vital. Santiago Ali and other participants stressed that work can only move at “the speed of trust” and often requires acknowledging historical breaches of trust.  

In closing remarks, Commission cochair David Victor (University of San Diego) discussed connections between the conversation and Forging Climate Solutions, including the benefits of developing infrastructure in an equitable way. Following the webinar, the CLEO Institute’s Olivia Collins and Joanne Pérodin led attendees from philanthropic organizations in a training on implementing best-practices in equitable grantmaking.