Fostering a Healthy and Sustainable Environment

In 2018, the Foundation launched All For NC, ZSR’s Framework for Grantmaking and Learning. One of the major strategies of that framework is the State-Level Systemic Change (SLSC) Strategy. The Foundation believes that lasting state-level systemic change is most likely to be achieved and sustained through the combined efforts of networks of local, regional and statewide organizations working with different constituencies; using multiple strategies and approaches; and working together towards common or aligned goals. One of the priority areas for the SLSC Strategy is Fostering a Healthy and Sustainable Environment, which, with the exception of a couple modifications, has been described as follows since 2018:

  • Consistent with the Foundation’s mission and core values, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation seeks to improve the lives of all North Carolinians by preventing harm to, ensuring access to, and enhancing the resilience of the natural systems that sustain life. The Foundation believes healthy natural systems are deeply connected to human health, economic security, and community resilience. In addition, because low-income communities and communities of color shoulder a disproportionate share of environmental hazards, the Foundation places a special emphasis on promoting solutions that address ongoing injustice. 
  • Consequently, the Foundation supports local, regional and/or statewide efforts that: prevent and mitigate the impacts of climate change; ensure healthy air and water quality and water quantity; promote access to the green economy; address the impact of environmental hazards on human health; and protect significant ecosystems while meeting the growth demands of the state in environmentally sound ways. 
  • Through this grantmaking strategy, the Foundation funds work that is focused on state-level systemic change. For a healthy environment across the state, the Foundation recognizes that some of its environmental investments may need to focus locally and/or regionally within the state.

Prior to All For NC and, indeed, for decades, ZSR has invested in the environmental movement in North Carolina, helping to establish and build the capacity of many organizations that are fostering a healthy and sustainable environment.

We continue to celebrate the accomplishments of our longtime environmental partners, who have made and continue to make significant and commendable strides on a number of environmental issues, yet recognize the work is not done. At the same time, we believe that new strategies need to be pursued to complement the efforts related to fostering a healthy and sustainable environment and other work so that all of it becomes even more effective. Given the state’s history and the current context, this moment is an opportunity for the Foundation to increase its focus on the intersection of environmental and other justice issues through a racial equity lens.

Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities across North Carolina continue to be significantly impacted by the layered effects of climate change, polluting industries and systemic racism. To ensure our environmental grantmaking is more inclusive, balanced and equitable, during the Fall 2021 grant cycle the Foundation will seek to target more organizations that center communities that are most directly impacted by environmental injustices. This will include allocating a portion of funding to these types of organizations.

We will work to build trusting relationships particularly with Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) led and centered organizations, listening and engaging with communities and BIPOC-led organizations, and shifting power and resources to directly impacted communities. These are organizations that have been doing the work for decades, yet philanthropy has under-funded or not funded them at all.

At the same time, we will continue supporting environmental partners that play unique and critical roles in systems change and continue seeking to center racial justice and be equitable partners with directly impacted communities. This will include funding these types of organizations. We believe that supporting these organizations, as well as supporting new grantee partners that center communities that are most directly impacted by environmental injustices, will contribute to a vibrant and aligned systemic change infrastructure by transforming power structures and sharing resources to build equitable networks, collaborations, alliances and coalitions. 

As we embark in this new direction for our environmental grantmaking, we will continue to operationalize a racial equity lens in ZSR’s work, including, but not limited to, building relationships; closing access gaps to resources, power and infrastructure; modifying language; and strengthening grassroots BIPOC infrastructure. Further, while we will continue to support efforts in the Fostering a Healthy and Sustainable Environment priority area, our new direction includes greater focus on:

  • Organizations and networks strengthening the ability of directly impacted communities to shape the decisions and systems that affect their lives.
  • Funding Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) led and centered organizations.
  • Funding organizations already working at the intersection of issues, including climate, environmental and energy justice, and democracy issues. (We define “democracy” here as strengthening the ability of people to shape the systems that affect their lives).
  • Supporting ground-up, decentralized, and interconnected networks. 
  • Strengthening the capacity of organizations and networks.
  • Supporting work that promotes shifting control of energy, land and labor to communities, such as increasing community-owned energy and green economic development, and community control, ownership and stewardship of land.

We recognize that integrating these new and enhanced elements into our environmental grantmaking will take time. However, we are committed to working alongside community leaders, current partners and new grantees, all of whom we believe individually and collectively can positively impact and foster a healthy and sustainable environment, to co-create this new strategy to ensure that we are promoting solutions that address ongoing injustices and ensure equity.

(Updated June 2021)