The article below appeared in the Fall edition of the Environmental Bankers Association Journal. We applaud the efforts by two young environmental professionals at Vieau Associates, Akemi Berry and Meghan Maltby, to channel the efforts of the long-standing EBA Gives Back program toward a program in their local community. This year, EBA Gives Back is dedicated to Minneapolis’ West Broadway Business and Area Coalition (WBC) and Northside Funders Group, which promote equity and inclusion in business development by investing in BIPOC-led businesses. In this article Berry and Maltby outline why they’re so passionate about the organization’s efforts and why the EBA Gives Back initiative is so important-especially now.
LightBox is committed to supporting social justice initiatives and is proud to support the WBC in partnership with Northside Funders Group to assist businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19 and the recent uprisings related to civil unrest after the death of George Floyd destroyed multiple business districts in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Most of us read the EBA Journal at a conference. We receive it from the volunteers at conference check in amidst a bag of swag and flyer’s. Between bites of donuts and fruit, and sips of coffee, we read what our colleagues are thinking about, what they found important enough to teach or bring up to the rest of us. This year feels a little different, as we are likely reading the journal at a desk or kitchen table in our homes. This is our moment to talk about something that is important to us and highlight the opportunity that we’ve been working on the past couple of months: the 2020 EBA Gives Back.
As you may know, EBA made the choice to stand with Minneapolis and donate to West Broadway Business and Area Coalition (WBC) and Northside Funders Group, which promote equity and inclusion in business development by investing in BIPOC-led businesses. This year’s EBA Gives Back focuses on supporting social justice following much civil unrest and the global pandemic. We are aiming to work throughout our organizations and all of our communities to enact positive change. Working on only one neighborhood in one city is not enough; however, if we all work with our local organizations, those who understand the needs of their communities, that is how national change happens. For this year’s EBA Gives Back, we have set the goal of affiliate and financial member contributions of $100,000 across our nation through the end of the Winter Conference.
We want to give a little more in-depth background about us, since we are newer members of EBA, and discuss why this year’s Gives Back is so important, especially now. Akemi Berry began her career in the field with Vieau Associates in 2017. She holds a bachelors in geology and archaeology from Oberlin College and a masters in earth science with a focus on climate change from the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities. Like Akemi, Meghan Maltby began her career at Vieau Associates, but one year later in 2018. She holds a bachelors in biochemistry with a minor in microbiology from the University of MinnesotaTwin Cities. Our work focuses on environmental due diligence, including Phase Is and Phase IIs, as well as remediation and development work.
We think that many of you, like us, entered the environmental industry wanting to do your small part to impact positive change. So often we hear that this notion is youthful and naive and that one becomes “practical” through their career in our field, as the reality of business sets in. Sure, we have already met with some harsh realities; however, we refuse to let our values fall to disregard. We cannot adequately achieve the goal of protecting human health and the environment without understanding how our current business models perpetuate systemic racism in our industry. The inequity created through these structures disproportionately affects communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. A sustainable business model in the 21st century requires that we address these issues.
EBA offered us a new perspective of our field. We’ve met many of you who are well-established in the field both as consultants and financial members and learned from your expertise. EBA is a space to share ideas and network. It fosters communication across the sectors of the industry and highlights the current issues faced in our field. As a national organization, our membership benefits from a range of perspectives and backgrounds.
We noticed that despite the opportunities and talent at the EBA conference, there are areas for improvement and growth. We also observed that the discussions on inclusion and equity of underrepresented members in EBA were relegated to breakout lunches. We felt that the topic required a platform on the main stage. In addition, there was little to no discussion of how the current structures in our industry facilitate inequities in the communities where we conduct our business. We discussed this concern after attending our first conference, and again after the second, and struggled at finding a solution. How can we best address our concerns at a professional level?
As the pandemic hit our industry and civil unrest following the death of George Floyd destroyed multiple business districts in Minneapolis and St. Paul, we realized the urgent need to invest back into our community. We saw, from the ground up, that significant numbers of people were coming together to support their neighbors who had been hit hard, not only by an ongoing pandemic, but also by destruction of grocery stores and other essential businesses. In June of this year, we initiated a Charity Match campaign with our new company, GZA. We specifically focused on investment into Twin City communities fighting food and housing insecurity. After discussing our goals with HR, we came up with ways to donate. A few generous members of GZA donated so we had a healthy fund for immediate needs for the community (food, clothing, household supplies) and after vetting several proposed organizations, GZA now has a match program for non-profit organizations in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and New York City, and will match up to $10,000 that their employees donate. This effort has led to an enhanced mission within GZA to expand the matching program focused on all 31 offices and their respective communities.
The pandemic has forced us to change many of our practices and alter our status quo, as EBA did for its annual Summer Conference. With the shift to a virtual conference, the standard EBA Gives Back was no longer feasible and from our, albeit limited, perspective, had run its course. With our commitment to contribute to our communities, not just personally, but professionally, we seek to find a renewed focus in the EBA Gives Back program for substantive and lasting change in the EBA mission. Our first action in this effort is to shift the direction of the EBA Gives Back to address equity, inclusion, and diversity in our fields. We hope that this initial effort can be EBA’s first step at creating dialogue within our respective communities and with our industry, and advance our understanding the communities we are meant to serve.
EBA stood with Minneapolis and donated $500 to WBC and Northside Funders Group. Our GZA peers have already contributed to organizations in Philadelphia (Philabundance), New York City (Food Bank for New York City) and Minneapolis (Second Harvest Heartland and Prism) which fight food and/or housing insecurity. We are asking you to see what organizations in your own communities have a similar mission to support efforts like economic development and investment in BIPOC and low-income communities, food security, housing security, and building resilient communities. Many of your companies already have these initiatives in place and many of you already contribute to these initiatives personally. If your company already has structures in place, that’s one less hurdle to jump over. If your company doesn’t, but you are personally invested in an organization, reach out and see what you can do together.
As most of you know, EBA brings together experts in their field, hundreds of members from over 70 affiliate organizations and over 40 financial institutions. With our combined effort, we can reach our $100,000 goal by the Winter Conference, providing quantifiable results in EBA’s mission of DEI. Just think – if every organization donated $1,000 to their local causes, we’d exceed our goal. Our peers at GZA have already reached and surpassed their portion of that goal. Look around and see how you can help, we need you now more than ever.