Key Points

Across the United States, grassroots groups within the environmental justice movement are leading important work on the front lines of the climate crisis, especially in marginalized communities. Despite the importance of these organizations, the philanthropic sector has devoted the lion’s share of environmental funding to more mainstream nonprofits.

Building Equity and Alignment for Environmental Justice and the Tishman Environment and Design Center at The New School conducted a landscape assessment study of environmental funders and grassroots environmental justice organizations in the Gulf South and the Midwest. The study had four research aims: gain a greater understanding of environmental justice funding, capabilities, and priorities in these regions; highlight the complementary objectives of both groups; develop a replicable methodology for similar assessments in other regions; and identify opportunities for funding alignment.

The foundations examined in the study awarded the bulk of their environmental funding to mainstream organizations and a minuscule fraction to grassroots environmental justice groups. Differences in terminology may account for some of the divergence in reported funding; of the 14 foundations who participated in interviews, none had a formal definition of a grassroots environmental justice organization. Other clear misalignment drivers involved issues of access, capacity, racism, and ideology.

This article explores these areas of misalignment between foundations and grassroots environmental justice activists, and offers specific strategies and opportunities for funders to address them.

Open Access