Air Fair

Marking Earth Month, One Roof Foundation and partners launch environmental justice initiatives to address pollution in South Park and Duwamish Valley — by Bob Condor

The quest for a sustainable planet is a worldwide issue but the impact is undeniably local. We all want fresh air and clean water. For Seattle’s South Park neighborhood, it’s an urgent and hyper local issue.

Research shows residents of the Duwamish Valley neighborhood have an average life expectancy 13 years shorter than adults in more affluent north-end neighborhoods. Kids in South Park are three times more likely to suffer from asthma.

One Roof Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Kraken and Climate Pledge Arena, has been working with the South Park community and corporate partners, including Amazon and Tegria to drive positive change in the South Park neighborhood.

The work started last May when One Roof Foundation was launched with environmental justice as a pillar. Staff and One Roof board members embarked on a learning journey by reviewing research studies, attending seminars and, most importantly, listening to environmental justice leaders in the public, philanthropic, academic and nonprofit sectors, along with front-line community advocates.

“We are not the experts in this work, but we are partnering with those who are,” said Mari Horita, Kraken vice president of community engagement and social impact and executive director of One Roof Foundation. “The front-line community members who understand first-hand the underlying issues and can help us find the right solutions.”

One Roof defines “environmental justice” this way: “Every person should have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, clean and safe places to gather and play…but they don’t, and certain neighborhoods and communities face significantly greater environmental risk factors like air, noise, and water pollution.”

By last fall, Amazon, Climate Pledge Arena and One Roof Foundation formed the Climate Equity Fund to support local environmental justice organizations and projects. One of the first grants was awarded to the Duwamish River Community Coalition (“DRCC”), to support DRCC’s clean air program among other projects.

DRCC plans include purchasing kayaks used by community members to safely spend time on the Duwamish River, planting mature trees to augment the tree canopy in the South Park industrial area and developing a community stewards program who will help implement environmental health and justice projects.

“We formed this fund because we know that while climate change is global, it has hyper-local implications,” said Horita. “And low-income neighborhoods, communities of color and immigrant populations face greater environmental harms resulting in unsustainable living conditions and gross health inequities.”

“The grant is helping to keep us going strong at securing climate and environmental justice to Duwamish Valley,” said Paulina Lopez, executive director of the DRCC. “It can be hard for nonprofits on the ground to have enough funds to have the capacity to carry out efforts. The funds help us plan for achieving a more sustainable environment in our local community.”

To mark Earth Month this April, One Roof Foundation, in partnership with DRCC and with guidance from faculty at the University of Washington’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, will be purchasing air filters for every classroom at a local school in South Park. One Roof’s interest in this project stemmed from a two-year University of Washington study demonstrating that air filters placed in Highline and Federal Way classrooms significantly reduced toxic particles from road vehicles and planes at the Seattle-Tacoma and King County international airports. One Roof will also be donating a portion of the Anchor Auction proceeds to DRCC from the Kraken’s Green Night game on April 20.

What’s more, Tegria and One Roof are joining together to invest $10,000 in a community event in May to distribute filters, vacuums, mattress covers and other air-pollution deterrents. The foundation, Tegria and other partners will be exploring future community action, including an air monitoring program, tree planting, youth informational sessions and regular river and neighborhood cleanup events. Tegria has had an ongoing commitment to South Park and the greater Duwamish Valley community.

Horita said One Roof and partners like Tegria and Amazon are working with the South Park community to both mitigate the here-and-now impacts of air pollution and strive toward “long term policy and systems change.”

“Investing dollars is critical, but it’s more than that,” said Horita. “It’s about building trust and understanding how we can leverage the particular platforms [Kraken, Climate Pledge Arena] and connections we have to achieve the greatest impact in South Park and all communities we are looking to serve.”

To help raise awareness and understanding about the issue of environmental justice, plus to offer ideas on how to help, One Roof is hosting a virtual panel featuring local and national experts on the topic April 13. Panelists include University of Washington pulmonologist Dr. Vinay Gupta, Lopez, and Kevin Kutz from Tegria. Climate leader Brady Walkinshaw will moderate the discussion. Information on the panel can be found on the Kraken’s Green Month landing page.