Environmental justice organizations in the United States often have limited resources. An article in AlterNet critiqued the environmental movement’s tendency to fund large organizations at the expense of supporting grassroots groups; this may be part of the reason that environmental justice groups lack funding to expand their work.
Fortunately, a little Internet-savvy assistance can go a long way toward helping environmental justice groups succeed. Using online resources can save time and money for small nonprofits; it can also reduce the extent to which they duplicate one another’s work. Finally, using online resources can also help to build community and amplify the voices of environmental justice nonprofits.
Databases and Wikis
Wikis and databases are great collaboration tools for small nonprofits that are interested in building coalitions. Environmental justice groups can work together regionally, nationally or locally and share lists of resources that they use to advance their work.
This year, the New England Environmental Justice Forum volunteers have created a wiki which pulls together the names of local organizations and lists resources they can use. The site also has a forum.
Case Study Websites
Sharing successes and failures can build grassroots movements and help groups learn from one another. Groups can also use case studies as real-world examples when seeking support in the community or from funding agencies. Case studies can also provide stories and quotes for social media outreach and annual reports.
The website CBSM.com is a good example of how environmental and health organizations can share success stories, ask one another questions, and troubleshoot their outreach approaches. Environmental justice groups could adopt the same approach and share their successes and failures. Environmental outreach can be a complicated and challenging activity; learning from other groups can make this process easier and save time for busy nonprofit staff.
Building collaboration between environmental justice groups and white-collar professionals is critical to the success of legal initiatives. Alternatives for Community and Environment, a Boston-based nonprofit, has organized a network of legal and environmental professionals called MEJAN. These professionals could use a Q&A website similar to Quora or Yahoo! Answers to answer questions for one another, environmental justice advocates, and their community supporters.
Many organizations, including the EPA, provide online databases which environmental justice organizations can mine for information. This can yield data about local Superfund sites, leaky underground storage tanks, air pollution sources, and more. Here are links to a few of them:
Leaking underground storage tank databases are located on state websites; for example, here‘s the one for Texas.
Social media can influence public opinion, create accountability, and highlight stories that nonprofits want to tell. Environmental justice groups can use Twitter and Facebook to post the outcomes of public hearings, track the performance of business or government organizations, and broadcast that information to interested audiences. Alternatives for Community and Environment already uses Twitter to announce decisions at public hearings and share quotes from speakers.
Making creative use of video can also help environmental justice nonprofits get the word out about their work. YouTube is becoming increasingly popular as a search engine, so eye-catching environmental videos can spread the word about neighborhood issues.
Cell Phone Apps
I’ve never seen an environmental justice cell phone app, but I think one might be very useful. If community volunteers are out in the field reporting polluting activities or observing toxic dumping, a cell phone app could send that information to a national or regional database. As environmental justice organizations build coalitions, they may begin to use cell phone technology to record what they find.
Disclosure: I’m on the outreach committee for the New England Environmental Justice Forum.