Black and white headshot style photo of Julia Howard, a woman with long blond hair. She is standing outside in front of a pond. The green TBF arrow icon is edited behind Julia into the image.

Boston Foundation Enters Climate Change Space with Focus on Health Equity 

By: Julia Howard, Senior Program Officer, Climate 

June 17, 2024

With each passing storm and heatwave, we see how climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing our community—and indeed our planet.  While TBF has not been closely identified with this issue, we have been a champion of many climate efforts, from lobbying on Beacon Hill in support of resilient infrastructure to investing in the Boston Harbor cleanup, while also serving as a partner to many leaders in this space.  

In 2022 TBF signaled a deepening commitment to the issue of climate change with the publication of the inaugural Boston Climate Progress Report. But even before that report, plans were underway to bolster our focus on climate, as part of the Foundation’s new strategic focus on equity. This was a groundbreaking step for the Foundation, and I am grateful for Lee Pelton’s bold decision to make climate an encompassing element to all our work, and for Orlando Watkins guidance and partnership in building this new body of work and my new role as Senior Program Officer of Climate.

Over the last five months, I have worked in partnership with colleagues and met with climate leaders around Greater Boston, researching and developing our climate strategy. That strategy is not something separate from our other work—rather, it is intersectional in nature, and will be woven across all our pathways to equity. And it’s already happening! The Boston Foundation just made a transformative $1 million investment in the Franklin Cummings Tech new state-of-the-art college campus in Nubian Square that will support the construction and first few years of educating and training students for jobs of the future, particularly those in clean energy. We just welcomed Dwaign Tyndal, environmental justice leader of 25+ years, to the Shifting Power and Advancing Justice Movement Leaders cohort. And we are joining the chorus of support for the Governor’s proposal to direct $1 billion in the Economic Development Bond Bill to climate tech jobs over the course of the next 10 years.

As we look through an equity lens, and with an understanding of history, we see it is no coincidence that the neighborhoods that are experiencing the first and worst impacts of climate change are the same neighborhoods that have faced the harshest impacts of other systemic inequities—predominantly lower income communities with the highest percentages of people of color. It is not by chance that East Boston, Roxbury, Dorchester, Chinatown, and Mattapan are the neighborhoods that have been identified as urban heat islands (neighborhoods that are significantly hotter during heatwaves). These same neighborhoods are linked to residential redlining, lower levels of public green space, poorer health outcomes and shorter life expectancies.

Cover of Climate Progress Report Boston Climate Progress Report
Two photos from the Franklin Cummings Tech groundbreaking - the top is a poster board listing out supporters of the project including TBF, the bottom is a selfie of three TBF staff members (Antoniya Marinova, Soni Gupta, and Julia Howard)
TBF Staff show their support at the Franklin Cummings Tech groundbreaking
Climate will thread through all our work, but we also recognize the importance of narrowing our focus to achieve greater impact. Therefore, we will be using our convening, policy, research, and funder capacities to go deep on issues of climate justice and health, specifically around the impacts of extreme heat. We will begin with these three activities: 
The green TBF arrow frames a photo of the Boston skyline overlooking the Charles River.

1. We will partner with A Better City, the City of Boston Environment Department, and Boston University to fund a temperature sensor project in the five identified heat island neighborhoods of Boston. More information is forthcoming when this project gets launched this month.  

2. We are joining the Boston Green Ribbon Commission’s Climate Justice Network and A Better City’s Extreme Heat Resiliency Working Group, to continue to learn more of the landscape of this work, collaborating with members, and exploring the idea of expanding to Greater Boston’s Extreme Heat Resiliency Network, to ensure that all efforts around this topic are working in support of one another.

3. We will release our second climate report, focused on retrofitting the small building stock, specifically how private and philanthropic investment can help accelerate this transition in an equitable way. The Boston Green Ribbon Commission and Prime Coalition are serving as advisors for the report, which is planned for release this fall. 

As we forge ahead in this work, we will listen to and uplift community voices, be guided by research, and center equity within it all. We are ready to formally step into this space and join those who have already been in this fight, using our platform to advocate and inspire positive climate actions.
A bus drives past a bus stop on Dudley Street in Boston, a man sits at the bus stop.
A large park in East Boston is set up for a TBF event, the field is crowded with people sitting at tables and walking between informational booths