Approaching environmental justice at work and in life
As part of our ongoing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) efforts, each quarter, we select a focus area for discussion and action. For Q4 2021, the theme is environmental justice.
While we’ve had an employee interest group around environmentalism at TXI since late 2018, this quarter has been an opportunity to build off of conversations that started with our Green Team, expand this discussion across the company and turn our ideas into actions.
In adopting a focus on environmental justice, we’re not just talking about climate change or waste management. We’re asking how TXI as an organization and as a group of individuals impacts the environment and how these impacts intersect with questions of race, class, gender, etc.
Today interim chief equity officer Lloyd Philbrook and project manager of the Green Team Hannah Green are leading this initiative.
The history of the TXI Green Team
The TXI Green Team is a people-driven initiative. A few years ago, it came to be as a group of individuals who were interested in climate change and thinking about how they could cope with––and positively contribute to––trying to slow or avert the impacts of climate change.
In the beginning, this employee resource group was an opportunity for folks to gather to speak about how they were struggling with climate change and what sorts of activities they were doing in their personal lives to try to deal with it.
Members would go off and do research around composting, carbon offsets for travel or whatever interested them, then come back together and then share their findings over a meal. It grew into larger conversations around how to use these ideas to make a difference at TXI as well.
One of the first efforts was getting compost service at the office to handle food waste from lunchtime meals. The Green Team introduced various types of recycling, but much of this fell by the wayside when TXI became a distributed organization in 2020. The DEIB team is interested in figuring out how to reshape green initiatives to apply to TXI's ongoing hybrid working model.
New energy and a new project manager
Delivery Lead Hannah Green joined TXI in July 2021 and quickly found the Green Team. Hannah has long been interested in the world we live in, and outside of her work at TXI, she’s pursuing a Masters of Arts in Public Policy with the goal of eventually working to shape environmental policy.
When asked why she joined this employee resource group, Hannah said, ”I think a lot about structures that incentivize waste and the extractive destruction of the world, and how we could shift those fundamental structures so that it's easier for people to make decisions that are in better alignment with their values.”
Her energy and expertise made her a natural fit for additional responsibilities as project manager of the Green Team. “I think it's a really unique and interesting project to ask, ‘What would it look like for a for-profit corporation to actually embrace environmental justice and take responsibility for the negative impacts that we all make on the climate and our communities?’”
She finds the opportunity to focus on this complex question during work inspirational. Her hope is to see if the Green Team can shift future actions on environmental justice from incentivizing individual actions to working toward justice as an organization. What might this look like?
For example, think of the small number of TXI staff that compost at home. The Green Team can surely work to get more folks within the company composting, but what if TXI as an institution used its leverage with other institutions to scale up the number of people composting on a much larger scale?
Hannah sees this as a great opportunity to take part in an experiment to see what people can do within the confines and the structures of an innovative company.
A first step toward environmental justice: establishing a baseline
The DEIB and Green Teams are actively thinking about what actions might come out of their Q4 Focus on environmental justice, and as Lloyd said, “The starting point was trying to get a baseline understanding of where folks are at so we can meet them there and assist in the process of getting educated around the topic.”
Their first specific goal is to help folks understand the term “climate change” and “environmental justice,” as there’s a lot of information and context available.
As Lloyd explained, “We want to make sure people understand that we’re speaking not only to the impact of climate change on the environment but about who feels the greatest impacts within the context of our communities.”
Often, questions of environmental justice are also class questions because the poor tend to be disproportionately impacted by environmental issues because of where they're located or because they don't have the resources to impact change. The same could be said about environmental justice in the context of race, as BIPOC communities are often disproportionately impacted.
To truly explore all the different intersections between race, environment and class, we must first establish a strong baseline and shared vocabulary within the organization.
How we engage our company around a broad topic
At our most recent all-hands meeting, the Green Team led a group learning session about environmental justice that framed this topic area in both global and local contexts.
After watching an informational video, the facilitators invited people to share their own experiences before breaking out into small groups to learn more about a list of specific topics, ranging from ocean health to air pollution to land usage.
Out of each small group, they asked for one suggestion of what TXI could do to make a difference in that area, turned the list of suggestions into a company-wide survey and asked every employee to rank which ideas they’d most like to see implemented.
And this is where engagement gets transformed into action: the Green Team will refine the ideas into actionable proposals and present them to leadership for serious consideration. They hope to have turned two or three of these ideas into actions by the end of 2022.
How to measure progress toward an idea as large as environmental justice
While the overarching goal is to help folks grow their understanding of environmental justice and their role in it, implementing the team’s proposals will be the true sign of progress.
One of the challenges is, of course, just how large and ambitious some of these proposals are.
For example, one of the questions that have been raised is how we, as an organization can gauge whether our clients share our values:
- Are they trying to be a sustainable organization?
- Are they trying to figure out ways they can have a positive impact on the environment and on society more broadly?
- Are there methods and processes out there already to help us determine whether our prospective clients are working toward environmental justice?
The Green Team and the DEIB team recognize that this kind of inquiry would touch upon every aspect of TXI, and that this kind of work won’t be accomplished in one quarter or in a single year.
Socializing the idea of environmental justice at work
On a smaller scale, several more immediately tangible actions are in place or in progress. In addition to discussing this topic at quarterly all-hands meetings, the Green Team has also planned monthly lunch-and-learns dedicated to environmental justice topics for Q4.
Hannah and Lloyd hope that the survey results will inform additional opportunities for education, engagement and actions. At the ground level, this type of work is simply about lowering the barrier to entry for individuals who are interested in actions like undertaking at-home composting or installing their own rain barrel.
To extend that example, we may find that many on staff are interested in rain barrels but don’t know where to begin with installing their own. The cost of a $20 rain barrel most likely isn’t a high barrier for our employees, but people may be intimidated by the challenges involved in cutting their gutters and trying something new.
By determining what gets in people’s way, we can design programs that make environmental actions easy. Perhaps that means a contest where everyone who installs a rain barrel gets a fun umbrella. By normalizing that everyone in the company is working on this, providing an open channel where folks can get advice from their peers, the hope is that each task becomes less daunting and more fun.
Published by TXI DEIB , Lloyd Philbrook in environmental justice