As a community, we in Denver love the outdoors. We love our parks, trails, creeks, and open spaces. We treasure the mountains that surround us and all of the activities that come with them, from skiing and hiking to hunting and fishing. Nature is a big part of this place we call home.
Yet the surprising reality is that we Denverites fall short when it comes to some basics of environmental consciousness. Take recycling, for example. We know that recycling helps conserve Colorado’s timber, water, and minerals. It reduces pollution, curbs carbon emissions, and helps us see more sunshine than smog.
These are all things most of us care about. Yet in 2015, Denver recycled only 18 percent of waste from residences and businesses. The rest—207,000 tons of trash— wound up in landfills. Meanwhile, cities of comparable size are simply out-recycling us: Fresno recycles 71 percent of its waste. In Seattle, it’s 64 percent, and in Austin, 42 percent of waste has a lifespan outside of a single use.
While there are lots of reasons for this disconnect, The Denver Foundation sees plenty of reasons to be optimistic that our community is making positive steps to align our love of the outdoors and care for the health of our planet and people with our day-to-day practices.
Over the past several years, our donors have made larger and more frequent investments in climate- and conservation-oriented organizations through their donor-advised funds.
Between 2013 and 2014, for example, gifts to environmentally oriented groups grew from 3.5 percent to 10.5 percent of the Foundation’s overall donor-directed giving.
These statistics mirrored trends in nationwide giving, which saw a 7 percent increase in environmentally oriented gifts from 2013 to 2014.
Formed in response to the growing interest in these issues, The Denver Foundation’s Environmental Affinity Group (EAG) is a circle of philanthropists who share a love of the natural world and a concern about climate change. Since 2014, the EAG has granted more than $65,000 to groups that are building awareness, nurturing emerging leaders, and creating more opportunities for individuals and organizations to be involved in the local environmental movement.
The EAG pursues an inclusive and resident-led approach to its philanthropic work, which places an emphasis on funding projects with meaningful connections to and within the Latino community. Many Latinos in Denver experience higher-than-average rates of asthma, respiratory disease, and other ill effects of pollution and climate change, yet they are historically underrepresented in environmental policy circles. With support from the EAG, groups including Boulder’s Eco-Cycle are working to shift that. Eco-Cycle and leaders from Montbello, Westwood, Green Valley Ranch, and other areas with large Latino populations are empowering residents to advocate for resources and policy change to protect communities.
“Denver’s Latino residents, who make up one-third of the city’s population, care about environmental issues, yet they’re often not at the table when it comes to making policy,” says Randy Moorman, Eco-Cycle’s Director of Community Programs. To truly engage Latino residents in recycling and composting, we want them involved in the process as an equal partner.
"To truly engage Latino residents in recycling and composting, we want them involved in the process as an equal partner."
Eco-Cycle works to develop Zero Waste leaders within the Latino community who can spread the word and overcome cultural barriers and misunderstandings.”
The EAG’s second round of funding, announced in April, reflects a broad commitment to amplifying diverse voices.
For grantee Big City Mountaineers, that work begins with youth. The organization develops young leaders by connecting them to nature. Big City Mountaineers takes young people on outdoor expeditions that combine climate change awareness, personal transformation, and skill- building, with a curriculum that is culturally resonant and inclusive. Mothers Out Front, a national environmental advocacy organization, will use EAG support to identify issues of significant local and regional impact. Past examples of Mothers Out Front engagement include methane reduction and the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
EAG grantees Conservation Colorado and Groundwork Denver are working together to nurture emerging community leaders and advocates who understand and reflect the concerns of Denver Latinos. (Read more about this program in the summer issue of Give Magazine, out May 16.) The EAG envisions an informed and engaged high-impact philanthropic community that can promote, support, and lift-up best practices and innovative environmental groups to achieve a sustainable Colorado. In addition to distributing grants each spring, the EAG hosts quarterly educational events.
The Denver Foundation is building many new on-ramps into the world of philanthropy. One way is through collective giving. Giving circles and affinity groups are a form of philanthropy through which groups of individuals donate their own money to a pooled fund, decide together what charities or community projects to give to, and in so doing, increase their awareness of and engagement in the community. Many such groups also contribute their time and skills to support local causes.To learn more, please contact Kelly Purdy at kpurdy@ denverfoundation.org or 303.300.1790 ext. 142.
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