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Investing in Equity To Prepare for Environmental Challenges

Investing in Equity To Prepare for Environmental Challenges

Here in Washington State, the impacts of a changing climate can upset a person’s daily life in countless ways — but not all impacts are distributed equally. From more intense forest fires to rising sea levels, the effects of climate change often disproportionately impact historically marginalized or underserved communities, those that are also the least equipped to deal with the consequences.

The climate justice movement has long advocated for mitigation and adaptation policies and programs at the local, state, and federal level that address these inequities. This blog will look at how a few Washington local governments have placed equity front and center when planning to meet future climate-related challenges.

Shoreline Uses Community Advisors to Boost Engagement

Shoreline, like other Puget Sound locations, expects to experience several climate-related challenges in the future including increased temperatures and extreme heat events, more frequent heavy rainstorms and increased flooding risk, and coastal sea level rise.

When the city prepared to update its 2013 Climate Action Plan (CAP), it retained the original focus of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but added a new goal of centering any future climate action around equity.

This meant conducting intentional outreach and engagement efforts, and the city looked to Tacoma and King County examples for inspiration. One takeaway: more equitable outreach meant building trusting, working relationships with communities, and providing meaningful opportunities for all community members to participate.

The city decided to develop a panel of advisors to provide guidance on community engagement methods and outreach strategies. Advisors had to be at least 16 years old, be a resident, represent a frontline community — one that would be most likely to be negatively impacted by a climate-related emergency — be concerned with climate change, and have a willingness to work with the city. What was not required was a formal knowledge or background in environmental issues.

Community Climate Advisors had to commit to attending up to five 2-hour workgroup meetings in 2021-22 and to promoting the CAP update effort in broad community-based outreach events through mid-2022.

The city specifically solicited applicants from diverse communities and offered several options for applying, including online, via printed application, and through the phone. The city also set up a stipend — $50/hr. for up to $1,200 per advisor — to compensate participants for their time and expertise while serving in the role.

Shoreline ultimately chose 11 advisors. This group (along with city staff) met five times throughout the summer and fall of 2021. Early meetings focused on creating connections between and building relationships with participants as well as educating them on the city’s climate-related concerns and plans, and why it was focusing on equity. In later meetings, the group focused specifically on the city’s community engagement approach; defining the goals, debating strategies, and in the process, sometimes challenging traditional methods.

The city credits the advisory group with creating a more realistic approach to engagement, including the following recommendations:

  • Reducing key audiences to three total: youth, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) and low-income residents.
  • Piggybacking on existing, planned events/ opportunities (e.g., Lunar New Year festival) rather than creating entirely new events.
  • Making CAP outreach fun, positive, easy to access/participate in, and, importantly, offering incentives (such as free food) to attract participants.
  • Partnering with multilingual high school students to help conduct house-to house surveys and outreach (thereby earning school credit during this process).
  • Partnering with local community college students to develop short educational videos (in multiple languages) about the CAP and its update.
  • Using QR codes (linked to web resources) on sandwich boards in door-to-door outreach materials to disseminate information.

While the CAP update is ongoing, staff reported the following best practices during MRSC’s Equity and Inclusion in Climate Action Planning webinar:

  • Allow time for relationships to grow, between staff and advisors and among advisors,
  • Be explicit in inviting groups you want involved in the process,
  • Be sure funding is available to implement some of the ideas generated by the advisors,
  • Leverage existing groups and events,
  • Chose advisors based on commitment and interest in the subject, and
  • Be willing to compensate people for their time.

For more information, visit Shoreline’s Climate Action Plan Update or the Climate Challenge.

Lakewood’s Cost-Effective Approach to Climate Outreach

When the  City of Lakewood, a diverse community in Pierce County, adopted its Energy and Climate Change Chapter of the city’s comprehensive plan in July 2021, the city council directed the implementation team to focus on programs and incentives that would create positive change and buy-in from the community. The team’s challenge has been to engage residents in a conversation about climate change when most are focused on day-to-day issues related to jobs, education, and health. 

With limited resources to devote to climate outreach efforts, Lakewood turned to the University of Washington Student Consulting Lab at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance. Four Evans School graduate students are working with Lakewood to conduct interviews with a diverse group of leaders in the community. To enhance the success of the effort, Dave Bugher, Lakewood’s Assistant City Manager and Community and Economic Development Director, reached out to his deep network of community contacts to encourage them to participate.

The list of contacts that the students will reach out to includes African-American, Asian-American, and Latino community leaders amongst a group representing small businesses, industries, churches, human service agencies, developers, youth, and neighborhoods.

The goal of the outreach effort is to gauge public perceptions of climate change and identify which implementation measures would be likely to move individuals and businesses to take positive action to reduce climate impacts. One ideas Dave Bugher would like to test out is providing free household energy audits designed to help residents make improvements that save costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase property values.

The Evans School student consultants will be reporting the results of their outreach efforts in May of this year.


This blog is part of MRSC's Local Climate Response Project, which is focused on helping local governments reduce greenhouse gas emissions, center equity in climate planning efforts, and adapt to and become more resilient to the effects of climate change.

In the coming weeks, MRSC will be developing more web-based resources to help guide local governments in their planning efforts. In the meantime, there is still time to register for our free January 12 webinar Building Resiliency and Adapting to Impacts, the third webinar in our series on Local Climate Impacts. The prior two webinars can be accessed at our On-Demand Webinars page under the Climate and Sustainability header.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of Tracy Burrows

About Tracy Burrows

As MRSC’s Executive Director, Tracy seeks out innovations in local government, tracking trends in management and technology that impact your work. She has over 20 years of local government and non-profit experience, specializing in growth management, transportation, and general city management issues.
Photo of Leah LaCivita

About Leah LaCivita

Leah joined MRSC as a Communications Coordinator in the fall of 2016 and manages MRSC’s blog and webinar training program, in addition to developing website content.