The Role of Business in Creating More Resilient, Connected and Livable Communities for All People

(Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)

By Kate Ogden

At Seventh Generation, we spend a lot of time thinking about the future. In everything we do, we are fighting for a future that is healthier, more equitable, and more sustainable than the world we live in today.

Because we cannot accept things the way they are.

For the past several years, we have increasingly used our voice to advocate for climate justice and equity because the global climate crisis is having devastating impacts on our world right now. What’s worse, in the United States and around the world, vulnerable and marginalized populations like People of Color, the elderly, children, and those with lower incomes are being hit first and hardest by the climate crisis.

Environmental racism has long meant that Black communities, other communities of color, and low-income populations are more likely to experience negative health impacts due to pollution.

Why? The factories and industries responsible for creating pollution that’s harmful to human health usually are built in or near the communities where these populations live. Many of these same people are more likely to experience devastating health and housing impacts from extreme weather. This is especially true in the hurricane-prone Gulf states where research shows that not only are low-income communities also predominantly communities of color, they’re less likely to have the needed insurance to aid with flood or storm damage, and the resources to recover or evacuate before the next storm on the horizon. Consequently, the people and families who live there are also less likely to be able to recover economically before the next storm is darkening the horizon.

We see similar effects on Indigenous communities, such as in the Navajo Nation in the Southeast, where reckless uranium mining has created debilitating health problems such as kidney failure and cancer. One recent study found that 27% of residents had heightened levels of uranium in their system, more than five times the U.S. average. This is just one of the many examples of how impacts of resource extraction continue to disproportionately affect Indigenous Americans.

These disparate impacts are caused by and exacerbate long-standing inequalities in American life. Which is why the solutions needed to address the climate crisis must not only lower emissions, they also must boldly tackle inequity. Those who are most impacted by the negative effects of the climate crisis must be at the center of the solutions we seek. In our actions to make our communities carbon-free, we must also make them more resilient, more connected, and more livable.

In the face of such staggering injustice, it’s clear that we must divest from the systems that continue to pour fuel on the fire of climate change and instead invest in renewable energy systems that will help us create a healthy future for all people.

Hard Truths About Health

But inequality doesn’t only cause disproportionate impacts when we’re talking about climate. It’s true for health in general. The Navajo Nation was one of the areas hardest hit by COVID-19. In early May it even surpassed New York state for the highest COVID-19 infection rate in the U.S. The disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 have also been seen among Black Americans, who are dying of COVID-19 at a rate three times greater than white people. New research shows that air pollution increases a person’s chances of contracting COVID-19 and that People of Color are more likely to live in polluted areas.

Couple this with less access to health care diagnostics and treatment, bias in the medical system, and increased likelihood of underlying conditions and you arrive at a hard truth: While everyone is susceptible to the virus, Black people and other communities of color, such as in the Navajo Nation, are impacted more severely and in higher numbers. While we work to develop treatments and a safe, effective vaccine for COVID-19, we also need to invest in fixing the systemic problems in our health care, in our economy, and in our communities that caused such disparate impacts in the first place.

When we look at racial inequality through a climate lens, it’s easy to see how systemic injustice is deadly. It is even clearer through the lens of our broken criminal justice system. A recent study found that police in the United States are three and half times more likely to use force against Black people than they are against white people. And in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed when a police officer knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes, the police used force against Black people seven times more often than White people. Additionally, systems like cash bail have a disproportionate impact on poor communities of color, trapping many in an unforgiving cycle of criminalized poverty. These impacts are caused by and exacerbate the same inequalities seen in the climate crisis.

This free online report from B Lab compiles articles and resources to help your business become a climate leader.

A Long Journey of Repair

At Seventh Generation, we have been taking a hard look at our role as a business when it comes to confronting both the climate crisis and systemic racism in this country.

As part of our efforts to support struggling communities during COVID-19, Seventh Generation committed $1.2 million of in-kind product donations, a portion of which went directly to members of the Navajo Nation and Oglala Sioux Tribes. These efforts are a first step in a long journey of repair. We are proud to continue to partner with Indigenous communities in our advocacy for climate justice and equity and by providing grant funding for Indigenous-led initiatives via the Seventh Generation Foundation.

We are newer to the fight for racial justice for Black Americans, but we acknowledge the parallels in the injustices the Black community faces from our criminal justice system and from the climate crisis. As a first step in our response to this current moment, we made a public statement and declared our support for the protestors putting themselves on the line to take a stand for racial justice right now. We made a $100,000 donation to The Bail Project to ensure the safe and quick release of protestors across the nation.

Further, we’re fighting hard to protect voting rights during this critical election year. We believe that we need to elect leaders who will, at all levels of government, begin building healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable communities by dismantling the violent systems that target those who are most vulnerable. To help protect the rights of all voters, we’re calling for Voting from Home to be an option for all registered voters and asking elected officials to ensure that upcoming COVID-19 response packages include funding that helps states take action to protect voter rights.

Today, the Black Lives Matter movement and others are calling for us to defund the police. The reaction to this call has been mixed, in part because of a fear that decreased police budgeting could result in more crime. A close look at the numbers, though, reveals why defunding the police is an impactful solution. According to the ACLU, of the over 10.3 million arrests that happen each year, only 5% are for violent offenses. Yet in cities across the country, police budgets account for increasing amounts of local spending. This needs to change.

Climate activists everywhere, including Seventh Generation, have long called for divestment from the fossil fuel industry, which for generations has been harmful to the planet and the people on it — especially People of Color. While this idea may once have seemed radical, divestment from an entrenched and harmful reliance on fossil fuels is now seen as a needed step to building healthier people and healthier communities. Those funds can then be reinvested in creating green jobs and infrastructure, nurturing human health, and building a safety net so that those most affected can recover and restart. This situation is no different.

At Seventh Generation it is our belief that we as a nation need to begin divesting from police expenditures so that we can begin reinvesting in Black communities and communities of color. This includes creating clean, renewable, and resilient energy systems that will directly benefit these communities.

As we look to the future and continue to fight for the health of future generations, we see the potential for a more just and equitable society. A society in which all communities are able to thrive because we’ve divested from systems that cause harm and invested in solutions that create a healthier, more sustainable, and just world for all.

Kate Ogden is the Advocacy & Movement Building Manager at Seventh Generation. The full version of this article can be found on and was created in collaboration with other members of the Seventh Generation team. Seventh Generation is a founding B Corp member located in Burlington, Vermont.

B The Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab.

Why Climate Justice and Racial Justice Are So Deeply Connected was originally published in B The Change on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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