Partnerships and the strength of the Live Well Springfield Coalition contract help advance climate policies

To highlight how community organizations can build community power and influence policy in a powerful way, three Kresge Partners for Climate Change, Health and Equity discuss challenges, lessons learned, successes and best practices for organizations working to address climate injustice and advance health equity at the University of Maryland Symposium on environmental justice and health disparities.

In the third article of our three-part series, learn more about LiveWell Springfield Coalition at the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts. Be sure to check out the other articles in the show series Environmental Health Alliance And Communities of Color Alliance.

The power of holding people

To address issues such as asthma, chronic disease, access to food and housing, homelessness, extreme heat, and weather disasters affecting residents in western Massachusetts, the LiveWell Springfield Coalition believes in bringing communities together.

“One of our great strengths is the power of bringing people together,” said Samantha Hamilton, senior director of community engagement for LiveWell Springfield at the Institute of Public Health in Western Massachusetts.

To engage residents with live experience, LiveWell has established a resident advisory board, Hamilton said, whose members assist the coalition in all stages of planning, implementation, evaluation and decision-making.

“We share the power,” said Hamilton. “For every resident on the council, there is a stakeholder or partner that matches that voice. And that was intentional – we didn’t want residents to sit at a table where there were 20 professionals or 20 environmental sanitation advocates and their voices would be lost. This balancing act allows residents to speak collectively about Issues related to them also challenge our operations.”

What LiveWell has also done is elevate those who do work on its campaign projects. Whether it’s serving as an advocate for healthy eating in schools or speaking on stage at a jazz festival about climate justice, Hamilton stresses the importance of putting people from communities of color in the conversation.

We want people to know they can participate. People who do this are just like you and make time for something important to them, Hamilton said.

Another part of the work is building capacity for resident advocates around flexing their civic muscles, including workshops where residents dive into a specific policy and detail it in a way that helps them not only learn who and what is involved in the process, but also explain it to their neighbours.

While it’s still dealing with some political tensions, Hamilton noted that LiveWell is getting strong traction on two of its policy goals: adoption of community choice energy by the city of Springfield, Massachusetts and city requirements to implement an impact assessment of race and health. On new developments, budgets and policies to determine the health impacts of proposed city projects and policies

And LiveWell not only works with communities, but also community organizations and institutions that are interested in making a difference.

In collaboration with Health Care Without Harm and local partners, LiveWell organized a very hot tabletop exercise that resulted in “Partnerships for Climate Resilience: A Practical Guide to Community Disaster Planning for Healthcare.”

The tabletop exercise brought municipal government employees, health care workers, residents, and community organizations together to understand the impacts and resilience efforts during severe weather days.

Although there have been very hot tablet computers done before, the unique thing about this project, Hamilton said, was that it was the first time that community organizations had been incorporated into the exercise.

“The table exercise is a template with step-by-step instructions for engaging community partners and conducting a community climate resilience exercise. If you haven’t been involved in the community before in an intentional way, this could be a stepping stone to bringing people who don’t usually talk about climate or hot days to a table negotiations to consider how to deal with it,” Hamilton said.

In addition to a guide that helps hospitals better integrate community priorities into disaster planning around climate change, the recommendations made by community members in the tabletop exercise were included in two provisions of a landmark climate bill signed into law by the governor of Massachusetts in August 2022.

The legislation contains comprehensive policies targeting renewables, transportation and fossil fuels, including a provision that would allow some cities and towns to ban fossil fuel infrastructure on new and large construction projects, a first for the state.

Provisions in the climate law will:

  • creating energy storage pathways such as battery backups to be paired with community cooling centers in environmental justice communities that could prevent those facilities from having to run diesel generators that would increase health impacts even in the event of a power outage; And
  • Expand eligibility for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center Equity Program to also include community organizations working on climate resilience and extreme heat issues.

In addition, the final bill includes hospitals and healthcare facilities in the scope of the energy storage study which could lay the groundwork for healthcare facilities to use battery storage to ensure that their facilities can operate during severe weather events without relying on polluting diesel generators.

To download the guide, click here.

Want to know more? Watch this and other sessions of the webinar here.

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