Movement Building

A Movement Without Letters

Last month, the Stanford Social Innovation Review featured a piece written by Samantha Harvey, Overbrook’s Environment Program Officer and Program Manager for Building Equity and Alignment for Impact (BEA-I). The piece explores ways that funders can better support grassroots efforts through the lens of Harvey’s experiences with the BEA-I, an initiative designed to reach greater sustained success for the progressive movement by supporting equitable funding structures among grassroots groups, large NGOs, and philanthropy. To read, visit SSIR 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.

Can Communities un-Tragedy the Commons?

What do Albany, Albuquerque, and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park have in common ('politics is an impenetrable jungle' is not the answer)? All are communities grappling with how to balance economic health with human health, community livelihoods with ecosystem livelihoods - and an answer to the question: who gets to decide?

Indigenous Communities and Local Resources: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda): The mountain gorilla is a wondrous animal to behold, if you're lucky enough to get the chance; it's estimated there are less than 1000 left in the wild. Bwindi National Park was created to provide a sanctuary, but doing so resulted in the displacement of the native Batwa people from the now-regulated area. An unsurprising result: poaching, as the Batwa community had lost their original sources of livelihood. A more surprising one: the move affected the well-being of both humans outside the park and animals within, due to unregulated sewage and the resultant spread of infectious diseases.

Wendee Nicole, the first recipient of's Special Reporting Initiative contest series, chose Bwindi to explore a (to some) controversial theory of Nobel Prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrom: that local communities can in fact sustainably regulate their common resources, given clearly defined rules and effective community monitoring.

Ostrom identified eight principles that can lead to effective local control over common pool resources, highlighting as critical collective-choice arrangements that allow most resource appropriators to participate in the decision-making process, effective monitoring by monitors who are part of or accountable to the appropriators, a scale of graduated sanctions for violators, and self-determination of the community recognized by higher-level authorities.

In the case of the Batwa, studies showed that the one forest with Batwa living inside its borders experienced less illegal harvesting by locals, who were allowed to harvest forest products once a week. Working with communities on accessing more hygeinic alternatives to open sewage also led to a drastic reduction in gastrointestinal-related illness.

But how much local control is necessary for effective resource management? What if the affected community took a more proactive stand?

Something Smells Rotten in the State of Hazardous Substances Regulation: Albuquerque: Almost 80% of Mountain View's approximately 4,300 residents are Chicano/Mexico, nearly 40% of the families with children are so poor that they would have to triple their income to climb above the federal poverty line, and all live in walking distance from more than 25 junkyards, 5 gravel/concrete companies, 7 petroleum bulk terminals, and dozens of other industries. Sadly but unsurprisingly, this community has also suffered from higher-than-average rates of cancers and respiratory diseases, echoing the nationwide correlation of poverty, proximity to polluting industry, and disease. If you want more information on related national statistics, also check out this amazingly comprehensive series of maps.

With support and determined advocacy, the Mountain View community decided to change some of their statistics: residents and members of the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice and Los Jardines Institute (The Gardens Institute) organized to address the water contamination and toxic smells coming from the Southside Water Reclamation Plant’s use of chlorine gas to treat wastewater. Community advocates brought this issue to the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency, which found the wastewater treatment plant in violation of the federal Clean Water Act and issued an order for the plant to eliminate chlorine gas.

And what about local decision-making and enforcement when that local regulation has national implications?

Can the Local help manage the National? Albany: Oil - specifically crude oil from the Bakken oil field in North Dakota and Canadian tar sands oil - is the issue sparking debate in the Empire State. Government agencies, residents, businesses, and environmental groups are at loggerheads as to whether companies operating in the Port of Albany should be allowed to transport and refine this new highly flammable oil, particularly in the existing out-of-date railcars.

However, railroad transportation is almost exclusively under federal jurisdiction, as are hazardous materials safety regulation. And with good reason: if every state and municipality had different rules for roads and railroads, interstate transport would be even more of a mess than Chinese rush hour (the actual traffic, not the movie)!

In a report released last week, Governor Cuomo's office attempted to define the parameters of state versus federal control of the transport of Bakken oil in New York State. The good news (for some) is that state agencies do retain the ability to monitor and inspect, while the Department of Environmental Conservation has significant permitting control. Municipalities also have the power to regulate construction within their borders.

What if, following Ostrom's thesis, communities surrounding Albany, and other areas where the oil was stored and transported were also able to monitor, inspect, and participate in the application of penalties? Would that help or harm our economy? Our ecosystems?

Of course, this is a blog, not an academic analysis or a hard-hitting expose. It doesn't have definitive answers, and possibly a lot of cliches: the battle between local or large certainly isn't new news. But it is good to think about, and seriously ask ourselves, whether the role of communities should be larger in our regulatory world, and if, rather than making things more confusing, communities could tailor existing rules to local needs, and then better monitor and enforce them. Because our commons really shouldn't be a tragedy.

Building Equity & Alignment Initiative - UPDATE

For our readers, as a quick refresher:

Building Equity and Alignment for Impact (the BEA initiative) is a grassroots-led entity launched in July 2013, converging around a shared future vision for a more inclusive, connective, winning environmental movement. As developed by a majority-grassroots group along with allies from “big, national green” and philanthropic sectors, the goals of the BEA are clear and simple:

  • To expand the pool of resources available to the environment and overlapping progressive issues;
  • To shift that growing pool of available resources to more equitably service the grassroots organizing sector;
  • To break down historic barriers between big green, grassroots and funding sectors, building authentic relationships toward greater alignment and solidarity;
  • To shift the prevailing culture within philanthropy away from a top-down, funder-driven approach, and toward a base-building, bottom-up, collaborative approach.

After its initial convening at Wingspread last July, the initiative formed four workgroups: (1) a Communications team; (2) a Mapping team; (3) an Outreach team; and (4) a Weaver team, tasked with keeping the other three on track toward shared goals of the initiative.

Now to the good stuff!

In February, representatives from all of the workgroups presented two sessions for funders highlighting grassroots base-building work – both at the Environmental Grantmakers Association State of the States briefing and at an EDGE Funders Alliance event hosted by the East Michigan Environmental Action Council. Both events were packed and furthered the conversation among funders and grassroots groups about how sectors within the movement can partner more effectively and equitably. These meetings also highlighted the next stages of the Initiative, from the short-term through the end of 2014.

And more good news: in one of his last acts as Executive Director of Greenpeace, Phil Radford has agreed to host a reception and meeting between big greens and members of the BEA team in DC in early April, and will talk about his own involvement in the BEA as part of his Greenpeace legacy. This is a critical meeting as it solidifies the incredible support role Greenpeace has played in the BEA’s development, and sets the stage for connecting more big, national group allies to the grassroots organizing sector.

Overbrook is extremely proud to be able to offer support as the BEA continues to expand, bringing in new voices and lifting existing ones, and we look forward to reporting on future progress!

 For more details on specific BEA workgroups, contact Samantha Harvey at Overbrook:

Can Idealism become Reality?

On March 11, thousands of people across the world tuned in, turned on, and pledged to not drop out (you can do the same here).

Ami Dar, the founder and executive director of Idealist (beloved job search engine of 20-somethings everywhere) launched a new, ambitious network on Tuesday - one that aims to help people everywhere connect and take action on any issue that concerns them, locally or globally, online and in person. Just as the creation of Idealist was driven by the desire to help organizations and individuals better connect with each other, this network was borne from a frustration all too common to many of us: you want to do something to help, but you don't know how. That something could be creating a community garden, instituting recycling in your building, organizing a global rally against hunger, or honing in on an idea you haven't quite figured out yet.

Will the idea take off? That's up to the people who use it. But at a minimum, the coordinators of the network have pledged to help develop standardized plans and guides for popular projects. For instance, if you're interested in growing a community garden, you can access (free of charge) a guide on how to do so, what typical problems are ,and important things to think about.

It's easy to join - you can do so here, and more importantly, it's exciting to join. Because the flip side of feeling frustrated at not knowing how to move forward is the excitement, relief, and yes, sometimes even joy, at finding others who feel the same way, who are ready to join.

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.