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Partnerships, power of convening help Live Well Springfield Coalition advance climate policies

Environment, Health

To highlight how community-based organizations can build community power and influence policy in a powerful way, three of Kresge’s Climate Change, Health & Equity partners discussed 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 in our three-part series, learn more about Live Well Springfield Coalition at the Public Health Institute for Western Massachusetts. Make sure to check out other articles in the series featuring Environmental Health Coalition and Coalition of Communities of Color.

The Power of Convening People

To address issues like asthma, chronic disease, food access, housing and homelessness and extreme heat and weather disasters affecting residents in Western Massachusetts, the Live Well Springfield Coalition believes in bringing communities together.

“One of our big strengths is the power of convening people,” said Samantha Hamilton, senior manager of community engagement for Live Well Springfield at the Public Health Institute for Western Massachusetts.

To engage residents with lived experience, Live Well established a Resident Advisory Council whose members help the coalition throughout its planning, implementation, evaluation and decision-making process, Hamilton said.

“We share in the power,” Hamilton said. “For every one resident on the council, there’s a stakeholder or a partner that matches that voice. And that was intentional – we didn’t want to have to residents sitting at a table where there’s 20 professionals or 20 environmental justice advocates and their voices would be lost. Balancing that out allows residents to collectively speak up about issues that are related to them and challenge our processes as well.”

Let's stay in touch Sign up for our newsletters SubscribeWhat Live Well has also done is lift up those who are doing the work in 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 emphasizes how important it is to put people from communities of color in the conversation.

“We want people to know that they can be involved. The folks that are doing this look just like you and they make time for something that is important to them,” Hamilton said.

Another piece of the work is building capacity for resident advocates on flexing their civic muscles, including workshops where residents dive into a specific policy and break it down in a way that helps them not only know who and what is involved in the process, but also explain it to their neighbors.

While still navigating some political tensions, Hamilton noted that Live Well is getting strong traction on two of its policy targets: the adoption of community choice energy by the City of Springfield, Massachusetts and a requirement for the city to apply a Race and Health Equity Impact Assessment on new developments, budgets, and policies to identify health impacts of proposed city projects and policies

And Live Well doesn’t just work with communities, it works with community-based organizations and institutions interested in making a difference.

Together with Health Care Without Harm and local partners, Live Well organized an extreme heat tabletop exercise that resulted in “Partnerships for Climate Resiliency: A Practical Guide for Community-Based Disaster Planning for Health Care.”

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

Though there have been extreme heat tabletops done before, what was unique about this project was that it was the first-time community-based organizations were integrated in the exercise, Hamilton said.

“The tabletop exercise is a template that has step-by-step instructions for engaging community partners and running a community climate resilience exercise. If you haven’t been engaging in community prior to this in an intentional way, this could be a starting point to bring folks who are typically not talking about climate or extreme heat days to the table to consider how they could approach it,” Hamilton said.

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

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

The provisions included in the climate bill will:

  • Create pathways for energy storage such as battery back-ups to be paired with community cooling centers in environmental justice communities which could prevent those facilities from having to run diesel generators that would add to health impacts in even of a black-out; and
  • Expand eligibility for a Massachusetts Clean Energy Center equity program to also include community-based organizations working on climate resilience and extreme heat issues.

In addition, the final bill includes hospitals and health care facilities within the scope of an energy storage study which could lay the groundwork for health care facilities to use battery storage to ensure their facilities can operate through extreme weather events without being dependent on polluting diesel generators.

To download the guide, click here.

Want to learn more? Watch this and other sessions from the symposium here.