Sustainable Production & Consumption

Overbrook grantee GESG wins prestigious award!

On World Environment Day, Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda (GESG) – an organization founded by community members to combat their region’s environmental degradation – was one of five recipients of the prestigious Energy Globe award (an annual award founded in 1999 by Austrian energy pioneer Wolfgang Neumann). Each year, the Award identifies five organizations that represent the best in national sustainable practices the fields of earth, fire, water, air, and youth. The award also carries with it a €10,000 cash prize, in recognition of the fact that many of the organizations have accomplished a lot with a very little, and could accomplish a great deal more with even a little more.

GESG won the award for its groundbreaking work in restoring watersheds and supporting communities’ sustainable food efforts. As part of the project, more than 289 communities in the Sierra Gorda region will receive support to preserve and strengthen their water supplies through improved agricultural techniques, including soil regeneration and carbon capture. In addition, communities will receive training on how to reduce the impact of current agricultural practices on the community ecosystems, without compromising the food production and income levels.

Congratulations, GESG!

UPDATE: and thanks to GESG's work, a new species of magnolia has been discovered! Read more about it 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.


Check out this link to learn more about 'Eco-Districs' - a concept that's both really old and really new, somewhat borrowed (but not blue, as far as I know).

Courtesy of UCLA-Berkeley

From Llewellyn Wells, who's working to start an Eco-District pilot project in New York City: "An Eco District is a neighborhood or district with a broad commitment to accelerate neighborhood-scale sustainability. Eco Districts commit to achieving ambitious sustainability performance goals, guiding district investments and community action, and tracking the results over time. An Eco District is a neighborhood committed to sustainability with the components of empowered people, green buildings and smart infrastructure."

So what does that actually mean? Imagine a neighborhood which increases renewable energy use (relying on large players like nearby hospitals or industry) and energy efficiency, grows its green spaces, and decides as a community what it's most important sustainability goals are (more farmers markets? less noise? flooding protection? etc).

Portland, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. are doing it - which means NYC can do it better and bigger! Want your neighborhood to be the next Eco-District? Let Llew know!

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.


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.

Paint the town red...and have manufacturers take back the can

From Overbrook-grantee Product Stewardship Institute:

The Colorado State Legislature voted on April 15 to enact a bill requiring paint manufacturers to fund and operate a statewide post-consumer paint take-back program. The bill, SB 14-029, ensures the environmentally responsible end-of-life management of leftover paint throughout the State of Colorado, while shifting the managerial and financial burden away from the state and local governments. It will now go to Governor John Hickenlooper to sign into law.

Once signed, SB 14-029 will make Colorado the eighth state in the nation to implement an extended producer responsibility (EPR) law for leftover paint. The bill is based on a model program developed through a multi-stakeholder dialogue that PSI facilitated. In 2010, Oregon became the first state to roll out a leftover paint collection and recycling program based on this model, followed by California in 2012 and, most recently, Connecticut in 2013. Rhode Island, Vermont, Minnesota and Maine are expected to implement paint stewardship programs this year; in fact, Vermont is on track to launch May 1st.

PaintCare, Inc. - the nonprofit organization established by the American Coatings Association, which represents paint manufacturers - will fund and oversee the implementation of Colorado's program, as it has done and will do for the other states. The source of this funding will be a small point-of-sale paint recovery fee that consumers pay to retailers. The retailers will then pass along the funds to manufacturers, which will in turn funnel them into PaintCare to manage the entire take-back program, including collection, transportation, recycling, public outreach, and administration. All architectural paint manufacturers that sell their products in Colorado will be required to register with the PaintCare program.

Colorado's embrace of SB 14-029 is great news for the product stewardship movement, as it represents a growing acceptance and understanding of EPR as a sustainable materials management solution - one that saves taxpayer dollars, creates new 'green' jobs, and helps protect the environment.