I recently spoke with Mildred McClain, co-founder and executive director of The Harambee House/Citizens for Environmental Justice, which has helped bridge communities and companies for more than three decades. Based in Savannah, Georgia, the organization develops the capacities for local communities to "speak for themselves" when it comes to economic or environmental decisions that could affect their health and well-being.

McClain, a featured speaker on an EarthShare webinar series in April and May about climate justice, was instrumental in creating a community business roundtable in Savannah that helped shape the environmental policies of organizations with a big economic stake in the region including International Paper, the Georgia Ports Authority and Colonial Oil.

It was not easy to overcome corporate skepticism that the constituents Harambee House represents — predominantly Black individuals but also white and brown community members with lower incomes, she recalls. "It took us a quite a long time to convince them that, in fact, environmental justice was not an impediment to anything, that it was a bridge to everything," McClain told me.

How did the dynamic change? Much of it came down to both sides acknowledging each other at a human level, according to McClain and her long-time ally, Michelle Moore, chief executive officer of community energy nonprofit Groundswell, who was also part of the conversation. "There’s a really critical, critically important step here that corporate leaders need to take," Moore observed. "And that is to really humble themselves, and understand the power and authority, but also the humanity, that they carry."

Here are other important dynamics that make for a successful corporate-community relationship:

  • Respect the need for self-determination.
  • Listen to each other, and come with data.
  • Be willing to invest in communities where businesses have done damage.

As companies look beyond their internal processes for cultivating diversity, equity and inclusion, they would do well to seek ways to engage the BIPOC communities affected by their operations more proactively — not just as a one-time fact-finding exercise but as part of a systemic approach to considering environmental justice in their overall strategy.

Read the full article about climate justice advisors by Heather Clancy at GreenBiz.