July 28, 2023

Economist Impact Sustainability Week US

Jason Born, Yulu’s Account Director for Climate and Community Tech, recently attended the Economist Impact’s Sustainability Week US in Washington, D.C. He returned with three key takeaways from the conference on how to drive impact and create a better future for our communities and our planet, connecting the important work of our client partners in the space.

When it comes to finding solutions to climate change, we need to be asking “who” in addition to “what.” 

Designing or redesigning environmental programs requires recognition of the many different ways communities have been historically overburdened by the climate crisis. Several speakers reiterated how there is no one size fits all solution, because asymmetrical injustices have been inflicted on these communities in various ways. Communities living on lowlands at risk of flooding, for example, will need vastly different solutions from those with a high percentage of community members who have lost their union jobs in the fossil fuel economy. Communities where waste removal programs have been introduced need to consider the livelihoods of the many people making their living off of plastic waste picking, and provide a plan to transition their livelihoods. 

When it comes to climate tech investment, think globally, act locally.

Climate tech investment can be a part of the solution by steering away from a singular focus on the macro perspective of our shared planet, doubling down instead on a commitment to engaging underserved local communities. Investors should consider how to create pathways for companies to connect with grassroots organizations dedicated to providing climate justice and racial equity resources, such as Intersectional Environmentalist and the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice. In this way, climate companies can uncover new opportunities to help center, fund, and amplify essential organizations helping underserved communities thrive again.

In order for environmental policies to succeed, government, the private sector, and philanthropic organizations need to work collaboratively. 

There was a lot of discussion around the Inflation Reduction Act and local vs. state and federal environmental policies spanning from Oregon to New York City (as might be expected at a conference held in Washington, D.C.) 

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is the single biggest investment in the environment in US history, and government officials at the conference implored business to harness accelerated green growth stimulated by the measures. Philanthropic organizations will also be key to the shared success of the IRA by helping accelerate clean energy initiatives and getting money to the most difficult-to-reach communities. At the same time, speakers at the conference opposed the “streamline permitting” that makes it easier for companies to build new polluting fossil fuel projects in frontline communities (those that experience the most immediate and worst impacts of climate change and are most often communities of color, Indigenous, and/or low income). This can be challenging in cities and counties that find themselves in states where environmental policies are out of step in regulating decarbonization. 

The message at Sustainability Week was clear: addressing the climate crisis requires government, the private sector, and philanthropic organizations to work closely together to make the tools for decarbonization accessible to all communities, including those that are underrepresented and overburdened by its effects. Hopefully conference attendees and communicators came away determined to not only amplify this message, but see it acted upon.