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3 Ways to Engage Community to Drive Climate Justice

By Guest Author April 12, 2022

In recent years, corporations have made great strides to address climate change. They’ve announced bold commitments to reach net zero, pledged to move to 100% renewable energy, and charted an extraordinary path forward.

However, climate change affects each and every one of us. When it comes to solving for the dramatic impacts it has on our world, the connection between corporations, community and technology is critical. The private and public sectors can offer resources and build technology, but to scale in a meaningful way, these solutions need to take into account the nuances of local community needs. The most sustainable, reusable, scalable solutions that will truly move the needle must be designed with the expertise of those closest to the problem – local climate action experts and the communities they serve.

In order to authentically engage the community, Siobhan Foley, a FUSE Fellow for Climate Action in New Orleans and a member of the third Impact Lab advises, “Privilege local knowledge and listen carefully to create something people will actually use. Consider what your technology is good at, communicate that clearly, and collaboratively explore the role your tech can play. Climate change is a global, systemic crisis and there are many points of entry.”

By elevating the voices of community leaders and shining a light on the importance of climate justice, we can help bridge the connection between policy-level decisions and tangible impacts on local communities. As Amit Patel, another member of the Impact Lab cohort who leads Accenture’s nonprofit group, illustrates “There are issues that can be solved at the macro level, but most of the change is going to happen at the local level. It’s twofold: It’s the policies we can set, but how we act upon those comes down to the local community level.”

The Impact Labs cohort on Climate Justice distilled three principles for how best to engage communities on climate issues

Principle 1: Seek Community Validation

Organizers and leaders should use equity frameworks and seek out local voices to authentically vet new solutions. As Siobhan Foley pointed out, the community needs to come together to lay the groundwork and gain a shared understanding of the issue and the goal. Bringing the right community members together and getting them focused on a clear set of goals will ensure that climate solutions have long-term impact and resilience.

“If you don’t engage your community effectively when you make a climate plan, then your climate plan will go nowhere. It will sit on a shelf and nothing will happen. People won’t take it and use it and work with it,” says Foley. She cites an example from her work helping communities adopt deep energy retrofits in San Diego, California. Rather than having experts present on why energy efficiency would be good for the community and the environment, they held a series of open houses to allow neighbors to talk to each other. It was through these neighborhood connections that the benefits, such as lower bills and improved indoor air quality, were truly seen and understood, allowing the technology to be adopted more widely.

One of the reasons this approach worked so well was because community members trusted each other over outside voices. Derrick Jones, Vice-President of IT at NAACP, sheds light on the importance of trust in underserved communities, “It’s tough to build trust with low-income communities of color because they’ve been burned so many times, so they tend to stick to people they know.”

To build trust, consider questions like these when seeking community validation: Are you inviting an inclusive, diverse group of people to take part in consultations and planning? If you’re hosting community meetings online, do potential participants have internet access? If meeting in person, do they have access to transportation?

Principle 2: Implement Sustainably

Solutions need to be designed to last. They should not feel “transactional” — a plan that is dropped into a community at a point in time, but without an eye to the future. In order to have a lasting impact, we need to build climate solutions that can be sustained by community members over time, that are resilient, and that can be adapted as things change.

Part of sustainable implementation is ensuring that education underlies the process of addressing acute need. As Jones pointed out, education around climate issues in low-income communities is fraught with constraints, like spotty internet access or literacy challenges. “For example, one issue with access in a rural Mississippi town is that they don’t have high-speed internet access, and the state constantly cuts public school funding. You can give me a paper, but if I don’t understand and don’t have internet to go online and read, how will the message get received?” says Jones.

At the same time, communities are facing acute climate issues in the here and now, such as losing their homes to a hurricane. It’s difficult for communities to plan long-term when they’re faced with immediate needs.

Principle 3: Design for Reuse

Solutions need to be created to be adaptable from the start, so they have the potential to scale to other communities. Solutions that are overly-specific to a single community are difficult to replicate, and solutions that are too general won’t have local uptake. Adaptable solutions have the potential to thread the needle of achieving far-reaching impact by equipping many individual communities. As Patel says, “If solutions are not designed for reuse from the start, they will get harder and harder to maintain overtime, making them obsolete.”

Doing something at the community level feels tangible. There’s no shortage of innovations happening in local communities, making impactful change on the ground. To solve the global climate crisis, our next opportunity is to work collaboratively to find ways to scale these endeavors.

By working directly and inclusively with communities to seek their validation, sustainably implementing climate action strategies, and designing solutions with a focus on reusability and scale, we can make greater strides toward true climate justice for all. If you work on climate issues, whether in your community or at your company, keep these principles top of mind and put them into action as you brainstorm and build solutions.

Salesforce is committed to climate justice and is giving away over $100 million in grants over the next 10 years to nonprofits working on ecosystem restoration and climate justice.

About the Authors


Siobhan Foley, Executive Fellow for Climate Action, FUSE Siobhan Foley
Executive Fellow for Climate Action, FUSE

As a FUSE Fellow for Climate Action in New Orleans, Siobhan developed the city’s first climate action plan in 2017. Now with C40 Cities, she supports cities in the global network to develop and implement inclusive climate action plans, policies, and programs. For ten years prior to FUSE, Siobhan led a variety of community-based sustainability and resilience initiatives focused on energy, transportation, urban trees, education, and behavior change.


Amit Patel, Managing Director, Nonprofit Group, AccentureAmit Patel,
Managing Director, Nonprofit Group, Accenture

As the lead of Accenture’s Nonprofit Group, Amit Patel helps domestic and international nonprofit organizations and foundations define their strategic objectives and develop solutions to improve their outcomes. His expertise covers the spectrum of challenges faced by today’s nonprofit by helping them innovate and drive transformation.


Derrick Jones, VP of IT, NAACP  Derrick Jones, VP of IT, NAACP

Derrick Jones is the vice president of information technology at NAACP. A Computer Engineer by education, his work in the information technology space has allowed him to broaden his scope to include all things computer, networking, and engineering related. His work with the NAACP has helped him view the world differently and enabled him to think outside of the box to create innovative ways to create long-term solutions.


Cheryl Timoney, Vice President, Tech for Social Impact, Salesforce.orgCheryl Timoney
Vice President, Tech for Social Impact,

Cheryl is the VP of Tech for Social Impact at helping change-makers realize the promise of technology to scale their missions and impact. Cheryl has designed and scaled high-impact programs, including the Pro Bono Program, Technology Grants, and Impact Labs. Previously, Cheryl led program teams in the nonprofit sector building community solutions for economic and community development. Outside of, Cheryl serves on the Board of Directors for Community Action Marin.