Industry

Can One Community Organization Change an Entire City?

By Dr. LaToria Whitehead

I first met Dr. Mildred McClain as a doctorate student.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the very first conversation that I had with her regarding environmental health disparities in Savannah lead to a five year partnership between the federal government and a community-based organization.  Wearing two hats at that time, I had both a desire to increase lead testing for children in Savannah as a federal employee, and as a student I wanted to understand how an environmental justice organization could accomplish this task. Working with Dr. McClain in this partnership powerfully changed my perspective on how to do both.

Untitled-2Dr. McClain was the founder and director for the Harambee House Inc./Citizens for Environmental Justice (CFEJ). She has been a human rights activist for over 40 years and she initially started the Savannah-based organization as a small focus group in 1991 to fight on behalf of a local subdivision built on contaminated site.  Eventually CFEJ would bring justice and awareness, both locally and nationally, about issues from chemical industries to food deserts to job development.

Like many EJ organizations CFEJ began with a sentiment of moral obligation to the community,  but there is something very special about how this organization works.  As a student, I was a bit naïve about the process of engaging communities. Working with CFEJ, I witnessed how she effectively engaged with the community and listened and responded to their concerns. I was able to see how her hard work and passion led to the trust, respect, and admiration of the Savannah community for Dr. McClain.

She was also very kind and considerate, and brought me along for the journey. I witnessed politicians opening their doors to her, and because I accompanied her, they spoke with me as well. Community leaders and people who resided in these communities their entire lives embraced me and talked with me, a complete stranger, because of her. As a result of the partnership there was an increased awareness about childhood lead poisoning and an increase in the number of children that were tested for high blood lead levels. There was also a new awareness among politicians about a lead ordinance in Savannah, which has been on the books since 1973, and a political taskforce was created by CFEJ to ensure that the ordinance is sufficiently enforced.

As a student, these experiences would forever change my understanding and approach to environmental justice from learning side-by-side with a real EJ champion. There is a multifaceted approach to achieving what we all call environmental justice.  Alongside this approach, comes trust, respect, honor, knowledge, empowerment, long days and long nights.  This description is not only symbolic of environmental justice, but it also embodies the character of Dr. McClain. After interviewing many people in Savannah, the common theme of all of these conversations was about how enlightenment and empowerment from CFEJ helped change their communities.  Among many other lessons, I’ve learned that trust and relationships are fundamental in the EJ world. Thank You, Dr. McClain.

About the AuthorDr. LaToria Whitehead is an Environmental Justice Officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Environmental Health. She’s also an adjunct professor of Political Science for Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Power of Partnership

Hewan Tomlinson

Hewan Tomlinson

Hewan Tomlinson

Photo courtesy of Bernie Gardella, Boston Ballet Company

By: Hewan Tomlinson

Before I worked in energy efficiency, I was a ballet dancer. Like most young dancers, I wanted to have the stage all to myself. I admit I was not all that interested in partnership, unless by that you meant the poor guy standing behind me in the shadows doing the heavy lifting and making everything I did look effortless.

So, I was surprised to find that most of my favorite pieces—to dance and to watch—were the big ensembles. Don’t get me wrong: all any of us wanted was the chance to be alone in the limelight as much as possible! But when we all came together on stage, as partners, we became more than the sum of our parts. We could take an audience of thousands outside their day-to-day lives for a moment, bring them to their feet together, and send them home with an extra spring in their step.

I think ENERGY STAR is like this: our partners strive to be (and are) industry leaders, and they spend a lot of time and effort to get to stand alone up there at the top. But just like dancers, when they come together, they are able to make a great impact. ENERGY STAR partners move in an elaborate dance, bridging many different sectors of the economy. Their collaboration and competition spurs innovation, drives energy efficiency, and helps protect the environment for future generations.

Sure that sounds dramatic, but here are a few facts to back it up:

  • Since its inception in 1992, ENERGY STAR has grown to represent products in more than 65 different categories, with more than 5 billion sold over the past 20 years.
  • Over 1.3 million new homes and tens of thousands of facilities proudly carry EPA’s ENERGY STAR certification, use dramatically less energy, and are responsible for substantially less greenhouse gas emissions than their peers.
  • Families and companies across America are improving the energy efficiency of their homes and businesses with the help of ENERGY STAR in ways that cost less and help the environment.  They have saved nearly $230 billion on utility bills and prevented more than 1.7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the past two decades.

Nearly 20,000 ENERGY STAR partners worked together to make this happen during the first two decades of ENERGY STAR, and they are poised to accomplish even more in the future. If they were dancers on a stage, they would be getting a huge standing ovation right about now.

Bravo! That’s one powerful partnership!

Hewan Tomlinson has over 15 years of experience in the energy efficiency and environmental sector. She serves at EPA as a liaison to energy efficiency program sponsors, supporting their ENERGY STAR partnerships, and their collaboration with industry to advance the market for energy efficient technologies and practices. Much earlier, Hewan danced with the Boston Ballet.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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It’s ENERGY STAR Day!

By: Brittney Gordon-Williams

Today, EPA celebrates the first-ever ENERGY STAR Day in honor of the program’s 20th anniversary. It is a chance for EPA, our partners and everyday people to celebrate the amazing strides that we have made together in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by saving energy. If you made a change to become more energy efficient this year, today is your day to celebrate with EPA!

For those of us at ENERGY STAR, this day is the perfect opportunity to highlight what people across the country are doing to protect our climate. Over the past few years EPA has witnessed a growing grassroots movement toward energy efficiency, and in 2006 we launched the Change the World, Start with ENERGY STAR campaign to help people in their energy saving journey. Six years later we are excited to see the amazing things that are being accomplished as people across the country commit to becoming more energy efficient.

This year’s campaign featured something for everyone interested in learning more about protecting the climate:

  • This year the ENERGY STAR Pledge reached a huge milestone. Over 3 million people have taken the pledge, committing to making simple lifestyle changes to help protect the environment from climate change.
  • Thousands of young people joined Team ENERGY STAR this year, committing to learning about energy-efficiency and teaching their friends and families how to save energy. Check out the Team ENERGY STAR success stories here!
  • ENERGY STAR’s industry partners held over 950 energy-efficiency educational events as part of the ENERGY STARs Across America event series. EPA hosted an online map that allowed people across the country to find events in their local area, in order to encourage their energy saving journey.

As EPA wraps up the campaign in the next couple of weeks, we are calling on people to tell the world what they have done to protect the climate. One easy way to do this is by joining our Twitter Party this afternoon! At 2 pm EDT EPA will be engaging the social media universe in a discussion on energy saving and we want you to share your story. Just follow the hashtag #TeamENERGYSTAR. EPA and its partners will be hosting ENERGY STAR Day events from Oct. 10th-24th, so follow us on Facebook and Twitter for up-to-date information on events that you can participate in.

Happy ENERGY STAR Day!

About the Author: Brittney Gordon works on the ENERGY STAR communications team. She has worked for EPA since 2010.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Giving Pollutants the Pretreatment

By Steve Copeland

Industry needs a place to send the wastewater it produces. But, conventional wastewater treatment plants can’t handle hazardous industrial pollutants such as arsenic, mercury, and volatile organic compounds. These pollutants can pass right through wastewater treatment plants untreated and discharge to rivers and streams, which can harm aquatic life and human health.  These untreated pollutants can also interfere with the functioning of the wastewater treatment plants so that they are unable to do what they are designed for — treating sewage.

 In order to prevent these problems, the Clean Water Act requires industrial users of wastewater treatment plants to have permits requiring their discharges to be effectively pretreated. EPA works closely with state and local governments ensuring that industries treat their own wastewater before it makes its way to larger treatment plants.

 Effective pretreatment protects our waters so they are safe for swimming, fishing, and drinking.  For example, pretreatment can neutralize the acidity of the wastewater, strip out harmful metals, or dilute the wastewater before it is discharged so that it is no longer harmful. To comply with their permits, industrial users must remove these pollutants before sending their wastewater to sewer systems because wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove these harmful compounds.

 EPA provides training to wastewater pretreatment plant operators on developing successful pretreatment programs. The operators who attend the training and conferences we sponsor have indicated these sessions enable them to implement effective treatment programs.  This is another example of EPA reaching out to industry and local governments,  and working with them to protect public health and the environment.

 Visit this link and click on the “Pretreatment” tab for more information about pretreatment in the Mid-Atlantic Region.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Boast Your Coast!

Displays and Booths at Walnut PlazaJust because you don’t live anywhere close to beachfront property doesn’t mean you’re not a coastal resident! In fact, if you live near and/or between Philadelphia and the northeast corner of Pennsylvania, then most likely your everyday actions have a huge impact on the closest coastal region. Why? Because you are directly connected to the Delaware Estuary, which stretches from Trenton, New Jersey, south to Cape May, New Jersey and Cape Henlopen, Delaware.  Estuaries are areas partially surrounded by land where rivers meet the sea. The Delaware Estuary ecosystem is fed by the Delaware River and its tributaries which includes all of the Delaware Bay. Inhabitants of the area rely on the estuary for drinking water, industry and recreational activities. As do all estuaries, it posseses many habitats suitable for vast amounts of plants and animals and is the birthplace of many different kinds of wildlife.

There are millions of people who live in the Delaware River Basin which includes parts of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The activities of those millions have an effect on the quality of water in the estuary. For this reason, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Inc. held the 2010 Pennsylvania Coast Day on September 13th. This day of family fun boasted ferries, schooners, and other kinds of sea transportation. For those who were prone to sea-sickness, there were over 20 booths and displays at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia, educating child and adult alike.

You can bet that representatives from EPA Region 3’s Water Protection Division were there to do just that. With many fun-filled activities, including a Water Wheel of Questions, Region 3 employees shared the importance of water conservation and keeping our streams clean. Responses from one question on the water wheel really surprised us. “How long is your normal shower?” While it is recommended that you try to keep it to 10 minutes or less, many participants said they take 15 to 30 minute showers! That got us to wonder how many other people take an extended time in the shower. How long do you take? Let us know or tell us how you make an effort to conserve water around your home. And if you were at the event and visited our display, do you have any suggestions for activities or issues we could incorporate at EPA’s booth for Coast Day 2011?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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