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Lois DeBacker named a 2024 Notable Leader in Sustainability by ‘Crain’s Detroit Business’


For nearly 40 decades, Lois DeBacker has worked in the environmental sector. As managing director of Kresge’s Environment Program, DeBacker can trace her passion for sustainability issues back to 1973 as a “card-carrying environmentalist and the co-organizer of a daylong environmental teach-in” at her high school. She wrote about this experience back in 2020 in honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

Today, DeBacker has been honored with the prestigious 2024 Notable Leader in Sustainability award by Crain’s Detroit Business.

All honorees were recognized on April 8. As one point of criteria for receiving this honor, candidates must: “Make a measurable environmental impact by working toward zero emissions, supporting environmental justice efforts, educating the community on climate change or other sustainability concerns and/or developing green solutions.”

DeBacker has done all these things – and more – during her 30+ years in philanthropy.

DeBacker joined Kresge in February 2008. Her experience includes more than 16 years at the C. S. Mott Foundation in a series of positions of progressive responsibility, including the role of Associate Vice President of Programs. Before joining the Mott Foundation, she worked for 10 years in Michigan state government in both policy development and program management capacities.

Collectively, the full Kresge Environment Program team helps cities combat and adapt to climate change while advancing racial and economic justice. The pollution that causes heat waves, extreme storms and other climate disasters disproportionately harms low-income communities and communities of color. Through grantmaking and social investments, the Environment Program supports efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; prepare for the effects of climate change that cannot be avoided; and advance social cohesion and equity.

One of DeBacker’s top priorities is elevating the leadership, inclusion and influence of people of color, people with low incomes and equity-focused organizations in climate change decision-making at the local, state and federal levels. By factoring climate change into infrastructure, land use and other planning decisions, DeBacker urges that urban leaders can ensure their communities are prepared for the impacts of climate change.

Among her many accomplishments, a notable career win achieved by DeBacker and her team occurred in February 2021. The Kresge Foundation was among the first climate change funders to take the Climate Funders Justice Pledge launched by the Donors of Color Network.

The pledge called on funders to commit at least 30% of their climate change grantmaking dollars to Black, Indigenous, and other people-of-color (BIPOC)-led organizations and to publicly report progress toward that goal on an annual basis.

In 2022, the Donors of Color Network announced the Climate Funders Justice Pledge had created a new funding baseline for BIPOC-led justice groups of nearly $100 million, just one year after the world-changing campaign’s launch. In 2023, the baseline reached $120 million.

Kresge took the pledge because the foundation firmly believes that the nation – and the world – will not be successful in efforts to combat and adapt to climate change unless a powerful and diverse movement of community leaders demands action and is resourced to lead, DeBacker noted.

Ten years ago, less than 10% of Kresge’s climate grant funds went to BIPOC-led organizations. Under DeBacker’s leadership, Kresge worked to deliberately increase funding support for such groups to nearly 40%, as of 2023.

Congratulations again to DeBacker on this powerful body of work – and for leading Kresge’s efforts to combat climate change.