Centering Equity at this Year’s Awards Celebration

  • June 28, 2018
  • |
  • Mike Harley

At last month’s Environmental Initiative Awards, our community honored five projects and three individuals who center collaborative solutions to Minnesota’s most pressing environmental issues in their work. It was wonderful to celebrate with so many of you and learn about these transformative partnerships.

I’ve been attending this event for over 20 years—it is my job after all—and have seen it go through many changes, but this year felt especially exciting.

Many of you have heard me talk about our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This journey is leading us to ask some very important questions about who is missing from Environmental Initiative’s existing community and how our work impacts communities of color or communities that are economically disadvantaged.

We know Environmental Initiative has had an important impact in our two-and-a-half decades of work. We have helped make Minnesota’s air and water cleaner, but we know that we don’t all breathe the same air or drink the same water. We also know that this inequity is heavily influenced by race and geography. This means that all environmental issues are equity challenges as much as they are issues facing our economy. With this in mind, we understand that an even greater diversity of viewpoints and communities must be meaningfully engaged in our work moving forward.

Because of that recognition, we are actively making changes to our work. It is bearing out in several ways, not the least of which was in this year’s annual Awards celebration.

2018 Environmental Initiative Awards

We changed aspects of this year’s event to center our commitment to equity and reflect the shift in who we believe needs to be included as part of the solution to Minnesota’s pressing environmental issues. First, we tweaked the award categories to better represent the important work happening across our state. Second, we asked our judges to center equity as one of the criteria they used in selecting winners from amongst the people and projects nominated. We believe the 2018 individual and project winners more fully encompass the breadth of environmental work happening across the state, both in the issues their work addresses and the ways in which they collaborate.

These winning individuals and projects may challenge how some have traditionally thought about the environmental movement; that’s because the work the winners are doing illuminates the nexus of communities, the economy, and the environment in their goals and impacts.

None of this is to diminish the work that we have done, collectively, over the years. Together we have had a major positive impact on Minnesota’s environment and I hope we’ll continue to do so with a broader coalition of partners working on a broader set of issues moving forward.

We know this is just one step, and we are going to stumble along the way. We certainly do not have all of the answers or even know what all of the problems are that could be addressed. I want to challenge each of you to think of new ways you’d like to see our organization work, new frontiers you would like to see us expand into and emerging areas that you think we could explore in the future.

We want you to keep us honest as we continue working toward our vision of a healthy environment, prosperous economy and equitable society where leaders are equipped with the relationships, skills, and perspective needed to work collaboratively to solve systemic and complex environmental problems.

Rethinking our work has reinvigorated me and expanded my understanding of what is possible if we ALL work together.