This post summarizes week five of Schree Greene’s Environmental Justice Corps fellowship at LABB.
When I arrived in New Orleans one month ago, I didn’t expect anyone to understand the mindset of a social entrepreneur. Not because the subject is unknown, but after Hurricane Katrina, I was expecting people to be “money hungry” entrepreneurs. To my surprise, I have met people who have moved from all across the country to help rebuild the infrastructure of New Orleans.
On June 29, I participated in the Social Entrepreneurs of New Orleans New Ventures Accelerator event (www.seno-nola.org). Social entrepreneurship is when a person uses new, innovative business ideas to tackle social problems in ways that will benefit a community. Social entrepreneurs throughout the city convened to coordinate solutions for the most pressing social challenges city-wide. Visions for high-potential solutions were shared to tackle crucial sectors such as economic development, healthy food access and public education. This event was absolutely necessary for continuous growth of the city.
As a North Carolina native, I can most commonly identify with healthy food access. North Carolina ranks number one nationally in the production of sweet potatoes and third in the production of cucumbers and strawberries. Other crops include corn, tomatoes, peanuts and wheat.
What’s the problem locally? In New Orleans, if the community has access to healthy food, typically it’s not affordable. And if it is affordable, the location of the fresh produce is often not within a reasonable distance or location. There is also the risk that the ground soil could be contaminated with chemicals due to events like the Murphy Oil refinery spill and contamination from petrochemical activity on land and in the area’s waterways.
This is not only an extreme environmental justice issue, but a distinctive link between environmental justice and social entrepreneurship.
So what’s next? How can social entrepreneurs help farmers grow healthy produce here when petrochemical plants are located all across Louisiana? Social entrepreneurs can collaborate with environmental justice organizations like the Louisiana Bucket Brigade to fight against the common problem. In my opinion, one way for both entities to collaborate is by demanding government officials and politicians to complete an environmental impact assessment on the oil refineries. The impact assessment tool will enable the government to weigh in on relevant evidence of the effects of the pollutants caused by the oil refineries. With all the evidence from local community members (soil samples, health documents, air samples, etc.) complied together, this will put pressure on the refineries to make some serious changes. Social entrepreneurs can use this evidence in conjunction with environmental justice policies to help create sustainable living environments for community residents.
Another important way for social entrepreneurs to become linked with environmental justice is by forming a Louisiana Environmental Justice Summit similar to the EJ Summit held in North Carolina each year (http://www.ncejn.org/). This summit will allow social entrepreneurs to educate community members on the importance of sustainability, development, healthy food access, and education. The summit would also give community members the opportunity to voice their concerns and openly speak out against environmental injustice. Social entrepreneurs and environmental justice organizations can work together in the ongoing efforts of community organizing and community development. The more the community is involved, the more funds can be raised, and the better the outcome for residents. The information gathered from the summits can be used to lobby state officials for a timely change.
It is very apparent that there is a connection between social entrepreneurship and environmental justice. This connection is the next innovative way to help reduce economic and environmental issues. As a dynamic partnership, this duo can provide unlimited resources to benefit future generations. It is important for young people to educate themselves as much as possible on the current issues. Our chance to change a nation begins with our imprint in a community. Let’s start, together!
“I’m encouraging young people to become social business entrepreneurs and contribute to the world, rather than just making money. Making money is no fun. Contributing to and changing the world is a lot more fun.”