Overbrook Grantees take on Science Museums

Two of Overbrook’s grantees have teamed up and are making waves in the world of science and natural history education. The Natural History Museum (a new grantee of the Foundation in 2015) and launched a joint “Keep It in the Museum” campaign last week which singles out five influential science and natural history museums for their connections to fossil fuels industry through investments, endowments, or board members and donors from the fossil fuel industry. The campaign comes on the heels of an open letter written in March by the Natural History Museum and signed by nearly 150 of the world’s top scientists, which decried the link between museums and the fossil fuel industry. The letter made major news headlines around the world and helped spark a campaign to remove David Koch, one of the nation’s most avid climate change deniers, from the board of two of the country’s biggest national history museums.

The joint effort between The Natural History Museum and has already made an impact. One of its five target institutions, The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, has since announced a new plan to phase out all of its funding tied to the fossil fuel industry. Executive Director Jonathan Foley wrote in a statement released last Friday, “It seems difficult to reconcile the mission of a public science museum focused on ecology, evolution, and sustainability and the practice of investing in fossil fuels.” As of this summer, the Academy has cut all direct investments in fossil fuel companies and has begun to phase out any oil, gas, and mineral leases on lands with historic mineral rights given by donors. Additionally, the Academy has adopted a new institutional gift policy that ensures contributions are consistent with this pledge, and will begin working to untie its endowment completely from fossil fuels.

We can't wait to see what comes next from this exciting collaborative efforts. Congratulations to The Natural History Museum and on the victory!


Rebuild by Design Winners Announced!

Last week, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Shaun Donovan announced the winners of the Rebuild by Design competition; a multi-stakeholder initiative that will place New York City and New Jersey waterfronts at the epicenter of climate change resiliency planning.

Over the last year and a half Rebuild by Design brought together many of the world's top engineers, architects, policy professionals and local community members to create innovative ways to minimize flooding and protect shorelines. Among their entries: building a series of protective breakwaters in New York Harbor that slow the force of waves while serving as living reefs to rebuild the dwindling oyster population; designing "hyperabsorbent" streets and sidewalks that would mitigate storm runoff; digging channels along streets to divert stormwater; and creating buildings that are designed to flood without being damaged.

The six winning projects - which will receive a combined $1 billion in prize funding - together provide a comprehensive plan of protection, enhancement, and innovation. Check out all the winners here!

June Environmental Grants Announced!

The Environment Program awarded 17 grants this grant cycle. Of this group:

  • Five are for Latin American Biodiversity Conservation (Earthworks, Fundacion Cordillera Tropical, Mongabay, Rainforest Action Network, and The Vance Center);
  • Seven for Sustainable Consumption & Production (Clean Production Action, Food Tank, Forest Ethics, Green Press Initiative, Product Stewardship Institute, Story of Stuff, and Sustainable South Bronx);
  • One for Media (Island Press);
  • One for Movement Building (Climate Justice Alliance);
  • Two are multi-year pledges that were awarded in 2013 (LAANE and Urban Green);
  • Two are new grantees (Climate Justice Alliance and Sustainable South Bronx);
  • And in total, the Environment Program awarded $505,000 this grant cycle.

The Foundation is extremely proud of the work of all its grantees, and congratulates them on their many and impressive successes!

Movement Building

The Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) is a newly formalized alliance of over 35 ‘frontline’ communities and grassroots groups, whose common goal is a “Just Transition” away from extractive industry and towards sustainable, local, and living economies. The Alliance members have experienced first-hand that communities of color and lower income communities often bear the brunt of polluting activities and are especially susceptible to the effects of climate change. In 2013, CJA launched the “Our Power Campaign” – a campaign designed to unite these communities in fighting against polluters and fighting for alternative solutions and climate adaptive measures. In September, local environmental justice organizations in New York and New Jersey will lead CJA’s grassroots mobilization effort in relation to the UN Climate Leaders Summit.

Latin American Biodiversity Conservation

For more than 25 years, Earthworks has worked to protect communities and the environment from the impacts of irresponsible mineral and energy development. Overbrook is proud continue supporting its Campaign against Dirty Mining, which empowers grassroots groups to protect communities, biodiversity, and water resources from the impacts of irresponsible mining - and was a critical part of the successful effort to shut down the planned Pebble Mine in Alaska.        

Fundación Cordillera Tropical (FCT) is an Ecuadorian non-profit dedicated to empowering local communities to protect and sustainably manage their natural resources in the Ecuadorian Andes. Overbrook support will help officialize its innovative project engaging private landowners in forest conservation and pasture restoration in the buffer zone of Sangay National Park.  This program aims to prevent the advance of the ranching frontier where it can and manage it sustainably where it cannot, while protecting endangered and endemic wildlife and habitat found in the region’s cloud forests and páramos.

In 2012 the conservation news outlet Mongabay launched its non-profit arm in order to fill what founder Rhett Butler perceived as a gap in in-depth reporting on key issues affecting forests and the communities that depend on them. Last year's Special Reporting Initiative focused on local management of common pool resources. This year's SRI will explore the effects of Brazil's crack down on deforestation in adjacent areas and answer the question: Is Brazil's success displacing deforestation to other Amazon countries? Under its Special Reporting Initiative program, will have an expert panel select a winning proposal, with the chosen journalist producing a series of high-quality articles under an open Creative Commons license to be shared on other web sites or turned into derivative works, including articles for other publications, books, and even videos and film.

Since 1985, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has campaigned for the forests and their inhabitants by working to transform the global marketplace. In the coming year, RAN will put pressure on America’s biggest importer of palm oil, Cargill, in order to convince them to publicly adopt palm oil safeguards in an effort to minimize the social, environmental and climate impacts of the company’s global palm oil trading operations in tropical forests. By convincing Cargill to adopt these safeguards, RAN hopes to catalyze a domino effect among major agribusiness palm oil traders.

The Vance Center advances global justice by engaging lawyers across borders in the areas of the environment; human rights and access to justice; free expression, media, and information; and health and development. With support from The Overbrook Foundation in 2014, the Vance Center's Environment Program will expand its work in Mexico, Ecuador, and Brazil by offering pro bono legal services to additional local and regional environmental organizations in these countries that lack the financial resources for these services.

Sustainable Production and Consumption

Clean Production Action designs and delivers strategic solutions to replace the toxic chemicals used in products and by companies with scientifically-validated green chemicals, sustainable materials, and environmentally preferable products. This year it's launching both the Safer Chemicals Toolkit and the Chemical Footprint Project. The Safer Chemicals ToolKit will empower individuals and organizations by creating common language on the demands for sustainable solutions to toxic chemicals, through a mix of training and vetted technical and advocacy resources. The Chemicals Footprint Project will demonstrate progress about safer chemicals by measuring the chemical footprint of businesses, in the same manner that carbon footprints spurred public awareness of and push of energy use.

ForestEthics mission is “to protect endangered forests, and wild places, wildlife, and human well-being.” In response to an unprecedented scramble by huge fossil fuel corporations in North America to export as much coal, oil, and tar sands as possible to world markets, ForestEthics is galvanizing a network – OilNet - to prevent increased refining and transport of these fuels to the West Coast, the quickest and cheapest path to Asian markets.  With the Overbrook Foundation’s support of its network, ForestEthics will halt the new threat of the radically expanding oil-by-rail “pipeline on wheels.” ForestEthics also became the new home of Business Ethics Network (BEN) in 2013, a network of 700 individual campaign activists and over 150 campaign organizations, which provides numerous trainings to its members, as well as consulting, networking opportunities, and other resources.

Food Tank is a new organization created to reframe the current policy conversation about the food system. Food Tank seeks to align agricultural systems with nutritionally sound and environmentally responsible production, and connect sustainable growth for farmers with healthy food for eaters. Food Tank publishes original content several times daily and seven days a week, including video, articles, columns, reports, and investigative journalism. In 2014, Food Tank will continue to strive to become the go-to resource and convener on food and agriculture issues. It will focus on innovative, environmentally sustainable approaches to alleviate hunger, obesity, and poverty by highlighting emerging research, and global stories of success in agriculture. Food Tank is also partnering with the James Beard Foundation to create a rigorous and interactive rankings system of the top 250 sustainable food organizations.

The Green Press Initiative works to reduce the environmental and social impacts of the pulp and paper industry by shifting large paper-consuming sectors to recycled and Forest Stewardship Council certified papers and through efforts to accurately account for the greenhouse gas impacts from harvesting trees. In 2014-15, Green Press Initiative (in partnership with the Environmental Paper Network) will build awareness and broad-based support for a new methodology for forest carbon accounting that challenges the notion that harvesting trees for paper is carbon neutral. In addition, support will be utilized to advance continued measurable recycled fiber and FSC gains in the US book and newspaper industries, and continue advocating for US book publishers to cease purchasing paper sourced from endangered forests in Canada and Indonesia.

Founded in 2000, the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) tackles the problems of our current system of waste management by encouraging product design changes, mediating stakeholder dialogues, and advocating for “producer responsibility,” whereby manufacturers fund and oversee the environmentally responsible management of their post-consumer products and packaging. In 2014 and 2015, PSI will provide technical expertise and guidance to states seeking to implement producer responsibility programs for batteries, carpet, packaging, and paint.

The Story of Stuff Project was founded in 2008 to change the way we make, use, and throw away Stuff to be healthier, sustainable, and just. The Project’s animated movies have garnered more than 42 million online views worldwide and motivated viewers to support hundreds of environmental campaigns and projects. In 2014, the Story of Stuff will launch a new YouTube series called “Ask Annie,” inviting the audience into a kitchen table conversation with founder, Annie Leonard. It will also continue to move its now 500,000 Community members through deepening cycles of participation in both the Project’s Community and their own. Its Boot Camp will provide basic training in civic participation for 1,000 of its Community members and will implement technology enabling Community members to set up and manage their own campaigns.

The mission of Sustainable South Bronx is to address economic and environmental issues in the South Bronx – and throughout New York City – through a combination of green job training, community greening programs, and social enterprise. The organization’s Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training Academy (BEST) prepares unemployed and underemployed South Bronx residents for jobs in the green sector, and its SmartRoofs social enterprise employs program graduates as it undertakes environmental and ecological projects throughout the city. The Overbrook Foundation’s grant will promote demand for a new kind of workforce in the field of recycling. The grant will support: (1) the development of a marketing campaign that highlights how Sustainable South Bronx’s social enterprise has successfully saved building owners both money and staff resources by conducting activities that aim to promote recycling; and (2) the outreach efforts necessary for the social enterprise to obtain new contracts pertaining to recycling work in the Bronx and Northern Manhattan.


Island Press seeks, develops, and disseminates new ideas and tools for environmental problem solving. Its mission is to provide the best ideas and information in the field to those seeking to understand and protect the environment and create solutions to its complex problems. Island Press identifies critical information needs, consults with leading experts, vets new ideas through peer review, and develops books and other tools and resources as the basis for public education aimed at helping ideas take hold and forming sound policies and practices. Its focus areas include oceans and water; energy and climate change; the built environment; ecosystems; and policy, economics, and law.


As in, our cities and landfills are full of waste. Which is a waste, really. Because it doesn't need to be that way. What if, like Rob Ford's approval ratings, we could bring our waste down to ZERO?

That's right - zero waste. That's no pipe dream (which are also recyclable, btw), and major U.S. cities are getting on board, due in most part to the dedicated, results-focused, and passionate advocacy of national groups, like the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), regional ones like the Toxics Action Center, and local coalitions, including the Don't Waste L.A. campaign.

San Francisco has long had a zero waste policy, but now Oakland wants some of the (zero) action. It passed a resolution this March requiring the City's new recycling contract to meet four specific standards: (1) The City's recycling contractors must provide livable wages and health care for recycling workers; (2-3) the contractor also must provide a separate compost bin and convenient access to bulk-waste pickup to all residents; and (4) the City’s waste contractor must consider sending some of Oakland’s food scraps to a biowaste-to-energy facility where the waste would be used to generate electricity. This follows on the heels of the historic decision by the L.A. City Council to franchise its commercial waste and recycling programs.

Not to be outdone, the East Coast is also stepping up. A coalition of organizations dedicated to reducing waste presented their plan to divert 90% of Boston's waste from landfills by 2040. Boston's recycling rate, along with New York City's, has been disappointingly low for years, hovering around 20%. The increase would be achieved through means similar to other cities' mechanisms, including composting of residential and commercial organic waste, and increasing oversight of the recycling industry. The best part? Implementing these measures would actually save the City of Boston money on tipping fees, to the tune of $56/ton diverted. Not to mention that once you factor in 'external' costs (such as environmental pollution), dumping waste in a landfill is no longer an attractive financial proposition.

Rather, one might say, it becomes rubbish.

Earth Day also = Oceans Day

The nice thing about planting trees on Earth Day is that it's something everyone can do, and has a result that everyone can appreciate. It's a bit more difficult to, say, try and plant a coral reef, or mount a campaign to save these stud muffins. But on Earth Day, it's critical to remind ourselves that our Earth is, in fact, 70% ocean, and the ocean represents critical sources of carbon sequestration, biodiversity, and food. Just because we can't see the damage we're doing as easily as deforestation or air pollution doesn't mean we're not doing it:

- The ocean is acidifying;
- And getting polluted with millions of tonnes of garbage and chemicals;
- And getting overfished at a rate so rapid entire species are on the brink.
Wait - don't get too depressed and click over to buzzfeed! Here's something to calm you down. And there are things we are doing, can do, will do, and must do to change some of those numbers. This list is absolutely non-exhaustive, but represents some of what's going on:
- Recognizing and valuing "blue carbon" and protecting carbon sinks like marshes and mangroves;
- Growing coalitions of groups working on plastics, garbage, chemicals, biodiversity, and fishing, from Secretary of State John Kerry's recent announcement of the "Our Ocean" global conference to the Healthy Oceans Coalition;
- Promoting "Marine Protected Areas" in zones of high biodiversity - just like national parks;
- Knowing what fish you buy and eat, with fun and easy apps like this one from the Monterey Aquarium;
- Saying no and no and no to deep sea ocean mining and drilling;
- Cracking down on the hunting of whales, sharks, and dolphins and promoting safer fishing alternatives;
- Learning and having fun!
There is nothing so beautiful and unique as our Earth - all of it - no matter how many others future planets scientists might find. It nurtures us and it hurts us, protects us and exposes us, gives birth to us and embraces us when we return. It is us, and we are it, until the very end.

February Environment Update (Video Edition)!

They say a picture can tell a thousand words. And sometimes a video can tell a great story.

That's the motivation behind Real Food Media Project's contest. The Project's founder Anna Lappé felt that something was missing from the dialogue on sustainable food. In our contemporary culture, we see a lot of glossy commercials on commercial foods (did you know that making a fast food hamburger look good on T.V. is practically an art?), and the occasional expose of chickens shoved together in sunless rooms, but we don't see as many stories about positive change, about things that are going right and could go better.

The Contest was born out of the belief that there are hundreds of untold stories out there--stories about citizens engaging in communities to fix food, about the crisis of industrial agriculture and what we can do about it, about young people connecting to the environment through learning to grow their own food--but we need to hear about them.

156 submissions were received, and recently narrowed done to 10 finalists (and you can vote on them here!). We're excited to watch them all - and the Contest will hopefully inspire people to realize just how beautiful even a rutabaga can be.


Just as there is beauty in 'real' food, there is beauty in the power of community and grassroots groups working together. That strength is highlighted by the new film from Our Power Campaign. The campaign is supported by the Climate Justice Alliance and the Communities for a Just Transition; a collaborative of over 35 community-based and movement support organizations uniting frontline communities to forge a scalable, and socio-economically just transition away from unsustainable energy towards local living economies to address the root causes of climate change.

Finally, recognizing the need to support collaborations and networks built by and for frontline and grassroots communities, Overbrook's Environment Program has officially launched its new Movement Building Portfolio. While still in its early development and recognizing that its parameters remain a work in progress, its focus will be on understanding and supporting specific movements – rather than specific organizations or issues – to make them stronger, more resilient, and more impactful.