February 15, 2021

Climate Justice Through Collaborative Design

Climate justice through collaborative design

Healthy Environment program officer Mary Rose Navarro and Taren Evans with the Coalition of Communities of Color share news of an innovative new effort to advance climate justice.


It’s probably no surprise that quotes such as “When you need to innovate, you need to collaborate” and “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” inspire community organizations and philanthropy alike. That’s why efforts that bring together people who live in different locations, face unique challenges and have different ways to influence the government decisions attract funding from foundations such as Meyer. What you may not know is that occasionally the three sectors — community, government and philanthropy — all roll up our sleeves to actively shape an initiative together. That’s certainly the case with Climate Justice Through Collaborative Design, a joint project with Coalition of Communities of Color, Multnomah County, the city of Portland and Meyer Memorial Trust.

This effort is being funded by Partners for Places, a joint effort by the The Funders Network and the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN), which aims to enhance local capacity to

build equitable and sustainable communities by pairing local governments with philanthropy to support sustainability projects across the U.S. and Canada. Meyer will provide the one-on-one matching support for this award and will invest staff time in fostering the long-term relationships needed to make our communities more prosperous, livable and vibrant.

The Climate Justice Through Collaborative Design project will bring together community-based organizations, community members, government and local funders with the intent to co-create intersectional and innovative solutions to advance climate justice. It is no surprise that the Multnomah County Health Department concluded that the communities that face the greatest and most immediate effects of climate change, known as frontline communities, “face extremely sobering disparities that lead to more illness, fewer opportunities and shorter lives.” These communities are disproportionately made up of Black, Indigenous, Latinx and immigrant populations. We see these disparities tragically playing out in real time in the way frontline communities are experiencing COVID-19. The project adheres to the principle that the communities most impacted are best equipped to develop solutions.

In 2015, Multnomah County and the city of Portland adopted the 2015 Climate Action Plan, recognized as the “best” plan in the world by C40 Cities for the breadth of its scope and its focus on equity. The effort to create the plan broke new ground through partnerships with frontline communities that applied an equity lens throughout the process. Although the effort was groundbreaking, the past few years have shown us that even more innovative approaches that give voice to and elevate community concerns from project inception to completion are necessary to truly shift power.

Climate Justice Through Collaborative Design will create a new space where frontline communities can work with local governments in a way that shifts power and honors community wisdom and lived experience. This isn’t exclusively a community organizing space or a space for agency staff to set an agenda and make decisions. It’s a “third space,” where both can bring their unique perspectives to influence a new mental model for climate justice.

Fundamentally altering the way that local government and community work together involves throwing old ways of engagement out the window. Rather than being in a reactive role, community members will be in a generative role, helping to co-create climate justice strategies. Community members will be given resources to fully participate to compensate for their time and expertise. This will help to level the playing field between community and paid government staff and demonstrate the value of community knowledge.

This effort will require all the partners to be more flexible, capture learning along the way, value the relationships more than the outcomes, and trust the leadership of frontline communities. The Coalition of Communities of Color and Meyer are excited to collaborate on this new endeavor beyond our typical funder/grantee roles and look forward to sharing our experiences as we design a new space in which to envision a climate-just future.

Mary Rose & Taren