Mayor Murray launches first-of-its-kind Equity & Environment Initiative

Today, Mayor Ed Murray launched Seattle’s Equity & Environment Initiative (EEI), a partnership of the city, the community and several private foundations to deepen Seattle’s commitment to race and social justice in environmental work. The effort will create new opportunities for those most affected by environmental injustices to lead on the solutions.

“Seattle must pursue environmental priorities that include and benefit all our communities,” said Mayor Murray. “Strong race and social justice outcomes in our environmental work help ensure that Seattle is a place where all people can thrive in healthy neighborhoods.”

While Seattle has long been recognized as an environmental leader, the city faces many of the same challenges as the broader U.S. environmental movement: those who shape and benefit from environmental policies and outcomes are primarily white, upper-income communities. Those who do not benefit from progressive policies are overburdened with health, social and economic impacts.

The EEI was launched to advance three primary goals:

  • All people and communities benefit from Seattle’s environmental progress.
  • Communities most impacted by environmental injustice are engaged in setting environmental priorities, designing strategies and tracking progress.
  • People of color, immigrants and refugees, people with low incomes, and limited-English proficiency individuals have opportunities to be part of and leaders in the mainstream environmental movement.

As a kick-off to the Initiative, Mayor Murray today convened the Community Partners Steering Committee (CPSC) that will help shape the work of the EEI, create environmental justice guiding principles for the initiative, and design the initial strategy for inclusive decision making in the community. A full list of the committee members and their community affiliations can be found here.

One of the key principles of environmental justice is that those most affected by environmental inequities are able to participate in the process and develop solutions. The CPSC participants have expertise engaging a wide range of communities including communities of color, youth, low-income, immigrant, refugee, small businesses, faith-based and limited English proficiency communities. The Initiative will also partner with mainstream environmental organizations, small businesses, artists and others as part of a multi-sector approach to build an action agenda for the initiative.

Several local funders have also provided critical support of the initiative, including the Bullitt Foundation, Seattle Foundation, Russell Family Foundation, Loom Foundation and Social Venture Partners.

“All economic classes, racial groups, cultures, genders and ages have a right to a safe, healthy, attractive environment,” said Denis Hayes, CEO of the Bullitt Foundation. “Changing urban demographics lend a special urgency to the issue. Seattle’s Equity and Environment Initiative is a big step by this progressive city to provide a model for cities everywhere.”

Additionally, a new staff position, housed in the Office of Sustainability & Environment, will guide this initiative and help embed this work throughout the City. Sudha Nandagopal comes to the role of Equity & Environment program manager with many years of experience working racial, economic, social justice and environmental campaigns. Nandagopal recently worked in the Environmental Justice Service Equity Division at Seattle Public Utilities where she helped to create the EEI.

“Dedicating a staff position to this effort clearly demonstrates the value we place on this initiative” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who took the lead in council budget discussions to secure funding for the initiative, including the new position. “Sudha’s extensive experience in racial, economic, and social justice issues, strong community connections, and her passion for environmental justice make her the ideal person to lead this work.”