Climate change impacts everyone. But like many other challenges, it doesn’t impact us all equally.
In the United States, many people of color, including Black and Latino families, experience the racial wealth gap. They earn less and build less wealth on average than White households.
And they have to face the climate gap, too.
What is the Climate Gap?
Per the EPA, the climate gap means that underserved communities are the most vulnerable to climate change. That means that in the U.S.,
- Black individuals are 34% more likely to live in areas with high asthma diagnoses and 40% more likely to live in areas with high death rates tied to extreme temperatures
- Latino individuals are 43% more likely to live in areas with high projected reductions in labor hours due to extreme temperatures, and 50% more likely to live in areas with the highest estimated traffic delays due to flooding
As activist Elizabeth Yeampierre explains in an interview with Yale:
The communities that are most impacted by COVID, or by pollution — it’s not surprising that they’re the ones that are going to be most impacted by extreme weather events. And it’s not surprising that they’re the ones that are targeted for racial violence. It’s all the same communities, all over the United States. And you can’t treat one part of the problem without the other, because it’s so systemic.
Princeton explains that the climate gap manifests in people of color being disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change, including:
- Air quality
- Ocean acidification
- Natural disasters like tropical storms
How Are the Climate Gap and DEIB Related?
Stanford defines climate justice as:
Addressing the disproportionate negative impacts of climate change and other environmental problems in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPoC) and underserved communities [and] the unequal distribution [of and] access to the benefits of nature.
Williams College defines racial justice as:
The systematic fair treatment of people of all races, resulting in equitable opportunities and outcomes for all.
Both focused on similar outcomes: making the world a more equitable place and addressing the harms done to underrepresented populations by colonization, racism, state violence, and inequality.
As Yeampierre explains, climate justice is different from a general concern for the climate in the same way that DEIB is different from representation. It’s not just about reducing the amount of carbon — or increasing the amount of women and people of color at work. It’s about how you do that in a way that’s sustainable, fair, and future-oriented. They put it this way:
A just transition looks at the process of how we get there, and so it looks at not just the outcomes, which is something that the environmentalists look at, but it looks at the process — workers’ rights, land use, how people are treated, whether the process of creating materials that take us to a carbon-neutral environment is toxic and whether it affects the host community where it’s being built. It looks at all those different kinds of things.
What Are Activists Doing to Address the Climate Gap?
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. It depends on what each community needs to achieve things like safe infrastructure, food security, and the equitable distribution of resources. Yeampierre references several policies that communities are pursuing:
- Stopping building pipelines, to reduce carbon and other pollutants
- Investing in regenerative energy, like solar panels in public housing
- Building community-owned cooperative utilities
What Can Companies Do to Better 'Go Green' and Support Climate Justice Goals?
1. Provide financial support.
One of the most impactful ways that companies can support the climate justice movement is by helping to fund it. If your company makes corporate donations, and/or matches employee donations, consider channeling funds to a group like the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program or Clean Water Action.
2. Codify remote policies for working, interviewing, and client meetings.
As HBR found, remote work isn’t necessarily “greener” work – but it can be. Working from home can reduce waste, energy use, and emissions, if a company is thoughtful about creating a sustainability-first culture. Examples? A default remote meeting practice for all, from job candidates to important clients, and flying economy and not business class (like IKEA’s CEO famously did). And since we know remote work supports DEIB goals, you can make progress on diversity and sustainability at the same time.
3. Offer sustainable travel rebates and stipends.
A major climate justice issue is the unequal distribution of public infrastructure, including public transportation. Neighborhoods populated by people of color often have less choice when it comes to getting around. To address that, companies can help employees purchase bikes, like in the UK’s Cyclescheme. The program diverts a part of employee salaries to the interest-free purchase of a bike or e-bike, saving employees up to 39% over time.
4. Add “journey days” to your list of PTO.
You know about sick days and personal days. Vacation days, too. Consider doing what some European companies are doing and adding “journey days,” as spearheaded by Climate Perks, to your benefit offerings. The organization works with companies to offer paid days off to employees who would like to take more climate-conscious forms of travel for personal vacations (like taking a bus, train, or boat instead of a plane), but can’t because they don’t have the vacation days to use.
5. Allow employees to use L&D resources to learn about environmental justice.
Maybe they take the Center for Diversity and the Environment’s course in DEI and conservation. Or Harvard’s course in Environmental Justice Practice. Or the Maryland Campaign for Environmental Human Rights’ self-paced Environmental Justice Training. There are plenty of resources out there that can help expand the toolkit your employees have to address both DEIB issues and climate justice.
6. Offer other creative carbon-conscious benefits.
You can subsidize employee produce boxes at local farms, provide green energy stipends for home offices, recycle household electronics and batteries on employees’ behalf, send plants and experiences as corporate gifts, offer ESG investing options in employee retirement plans, and more.