A firestorm of protests has swept the United States. In their wake, government leaders have implemented curfews and law enforcement has carried out riot control efforts. The widespread use of tear gas as a crowd-control tactic has raised significant health and safety concerns–not only for those protesting but for the environment as well.

Effects on Individuals

Tear gas quells riots by temporarily making people unable to function by irritating their eyes. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns that those exposed to tear gas may experience excessive tearing, burning sensations, blurred vision, a runny nose, difficulty swallowing, coughing, rashes, vomiting and redness in the eyes. These symptoms will usually disappear within a short time if the exposure to tear gas ceases. Long-lasting exposure or exposure to a large dose, especially in a closed setting, may result in more severe health effects, such as blindness, glaucoma, chemical burns to the throat and lungs or respiratory failure.

Using tear gas during the COVID-19 pandemic is especially worrisome because it increases a person’s susceptibility to the virus. A study conducted in 2014 found that US military recruits who were exposed to tear gas as part of a training exercise were more likely to develop respiratory illnesses such as the common cold and the flu. One of the immediate health effects of exposure to tear gas is coughing, which facilitates the spread of COVID by increasing the number of infectious droplets in the air. Moreover, tear gas can compromise the body’s ability to fight off the infection by causing injury and inflammation to the lining of the airways.

Effects on the Environment

Tear gas is actually not a gas. It is a chemical powder that is mixed with liquid in order to be dispersed as a spray. Because of its powdered nature, chemical residue is left behind after every spray. In addition tear gas may contain silicon, which allows it to last longer in the environment and not disintegrate as quickly.

Studies about tear gas tend to focus on its health effects on humans, so the environmental impact on wildlife, plants and water, is not well known. However, because its residue settles on surfaces and stays there for days before breaking down, tear gas can contaminate agriculture, local wildlife and groundwater. This puts Black and Latinx communities who live in urban or poor areas especially at risk since they face disproportionately high rates of asthma and respiratory illnesses because of their proximity to factories and industrial sites. The air quality in these communities is often low; therefore, there is a legitimate concern about the potential of tear gas as a harmful contaminant. 

The question, then, is how do we ensure a more discriminate use of tear gas and other chemical weapons, especially during a respiratory illness pandemic? Other cities such as Seattle have temporarily halted its use, but many have yet to reconsider. 
To accelerate reform, individual actions can be taken, such as calling local police departments and demanding a review of their rules and norms regarding tear gas usage or attending city council meetings and raising community awareness of the issue. House Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mark Takano and Chuy Garcia have announced that they will be introducing a bill that forces local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to dispose of all chemical weapons. We must call our local elected officials to amass support for bans on tear gas at the city level. Banning chemical weapons is one of the many steps we must take in this moment to prevent a new wave of COVID-19 and any unforeseen environmental impacts that may disproportionately affect communities of color.

Written by Maria Reyes, Programs Intern

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations and institutions scrambled to put systems in place to allow for remote work. Some were able to adapt rapidly and some are still struggling. Ultimately, the overwhelming majority of workers who are able to work from home did so. Now almost three months into mandatory remote work, we recognize that while the isolation can be difficult for some, the reality is that working from home is a privilege. 

Students too were required to go home as dorms emptied and classes moved to online platforms, but those at the crossroads of work and school are often overlooked. The young aspiring professionals worked tirelessly during the school year for the opportunity of landing an internship, hopefully putting them a step closer to their dream job. Internships are key because they allow students to build their network, learn soft skills not taught in schools and provide the opportunity to be paired with thoughtful, patient and understanding mentors. 

Because of the pandemic, many internships have been canceled. For some it might merely be an inconvenience and a disappointment. For others, such as low-income students, missing these experiences can have lasting repercussions on their professional lives; alternative work might be scarce as the national unemployment rate continues to soar. Some internships are fortunately still taking place, yet the experience of a virtual internship is not the same as an in-person one. There is not the same sense of camaraderie built among other interns in the same cohort, networking and face to-face-interactions with mentors and colleagues and getting to know the feeling of working in an office. 

So what can organizations with virtual internship opportunities do to support their students even while they themselves are coping with ongoing current challenges?

A crucial step organizations can take is to ask questions. We can’t fix problems we don’t know exist. Open and honest conversations between mentors and mentees are more important than ever. Some students might be afraid or embarrassed to admit they don’t have a reliable internet connection, a personal computer or a quiet place without distractions where they can work. Organizations like Girls Inc. have had experience in this even before the pandemic, and they provide laptops to all program participants. For summer 2020 internships, they conducted surveys with their participants to find several accommodating solutions for their students. 

Other organizations like Focus Points Family Resource Center also understand that simply providing a student with an internship or apprenticeship, even if paid, is not enough to guarantee a student’s success. Focus Points offers childcare for participants in their adult English classes and the Comal Food Incubator program. A holistic approach to participant well-being should be a high priority in any organization.

Employers also need to regularly examine the challenges of remote work. Supervisors and mentors must be understanding of the unique difficulties of communicating virtually and be more flexible with all working practices. Understanding the different realities of each student is pivotal to their success. 

Last but not least, improving practices to reduce workplace inequities, which include building teams that are intentional in creating a culture of diversity equity and inclusion to aid the success of the interns and the workplace as a whole in the short and long term. Despite the challenges of virtual work, this time can also be an opportunity to encourage and strengthen your organization’s diversity goals. Most importantly, organizations must remember the commitment they have to students and to the next generation of professionals in the sustainability movement and beyond.

Through our Sustainability Skills Initiative, The Alliance Center is providing internships to five young people this summer, made possible by partnerships with the University of Chicago, Girls Inc. and the University of Wisconsin. Through these partnerships, we are able to assess and work to meet the individual needs of each of our interns to provide a safe, valuable and constructive internship experience. To learn more about this initiative, contact Isabel Mendoza at imendoza@thealliancecenter.org

Written by Isabel Mendoza, Program Manager at The Alliance Center

By Anne Behlouli | Program Manager, The Alliance Center

As we learn how to navigate the far reaching impacts of COVID-19 and work to get to the “other side” of this crisis, we have the chance to ensure things don’t necessarily go back to business as usual. While there are many activities we aren’t able to participate in currently, there are still actions we can do from home to build a more sustainable future. 

Last month, the Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club and several other nonprofits released the latest version of Banking on Climate Change 2020: a report focused on global banks’ fossil fuel financing. One of the major takeaways is the financing of fossil fuels by banks is on the rise. Since the Paris Agreement in 2016, 35 international banks have not only been sustaining their investments in fossil fuel companies, they have actively expanded it with $2.7 trillion invested. 

To be part of the solution, what actions can we take to relocate our money and support banks that focus on the wellbeing of people and the planet?

Step 1: Check How Your Bank Stacks Up

The annual Banking on Climate Change Report Card ranks banks in order of how much they lend to fossil fuel companies. You can get key insights on what financial institutions to avoid without having to read the entire report!

Step 2: Take Action

There are other banking options worth considering for your checking and saving accounts. Local credit unions are member-owned nonprofits focused on serving the needs of their community. You can actively look for a socially responsible bank utilizing Global Alliance for Banking on Values as a resource. This is an independent network of banks using finance to deliver sustainable economic, social and environmental development.

Finally, if you have a portfolio to invest in, specialized impact investing companies are a valuable resource.You make smarter choices to support innovative companies that are addressing systemic problems and leading long-term economic growth. Oil and gas companies were already facing structural problems even before COVID-19. The recent crash of the oil price demonstrates how volatile the market is and how divesting from fossil fuels is both an ethical and financially-wise decision for the future of your savings.

It’s Up to Each of Us

We each have the opportunity and available resources to evaluate where our money is and which industries it’s currently supporting. If you are looking for a way to take action to support a more resilient future during the time of quarantining, please consider researching your bank and discovering more sustainability-minded options. This small step can make a big difference in reducing the funding of fossil fuels and instead investing in a more equitable future for all.

The Best for Colorado community has demonstrated immense resilience and care during this difficult time and we couldn’t be more appreciative. Here are five Best for Colorado companies that we’d like to highlight:

1.  Montanya Distillers

To help support frontline institutions like, hospital, senior care centers and doctors’ offices, Montanya Distillers, an American rum company, has pivoted their production to make an antiviral surface sanitizer! The distillery is collaborating with the Gunnison County Incident Command Center to distribute the sanitizer to those most in need in their community. In a recent blog post on their webpage they explained, “we believe it’s our duty and responsibility to do what we can to help our community navigate this challenging and uncertain time.”

2.    Ship Sunshine

Every month Ship Sunshine picks a cause to support, and next month’s will be nurses and teachers! Sending these critical workers care packages and giveaways is their way of showing their appreciation and spreading a little sunshine to those who need it most during this difficult time. Ship Sunshine offers a carefully curated collection of gift boxes designed to brighten anyone’s day and you can also build your own gift box on their website. With so many of us needing a little extra care and thought during this turbulent time, Ship Sunshine is definitely helping spread some joy.

3.  Simple Switch

During this time the world has scrambled to online shopping platforms.What makes Simple Switch different from other platforms is their commitment to ethics, labor laws and environmental impact. Their collection of ethical products ensures that your purchase directly makes a positive impact, spanning from environmental innovations to supporting development projects. Lately, they’ve been offering discounts to encourage people to shop online rather than leave their homes. If you’re looking for an alternative to Amazon, for an ecologically and socially conscious e-commerce website, consider Switch Switch. 

4.  Phunkshun Wear

Phunkshun Wear normally manufactures ski masks out of plastic water bottles. Right now, they’re committed to doing their part to slow the spread of coronavirus by donating a mask to the Colorado Mask Project for every mask purchased. Using a mask like theirs can help Colorado communities protect themselves against the spread of the virus, while simultaneously helping ensure that medical workers face no shortage of N95 masks. Governor Jared Polis even appeared on television, wearing a Phunkshun Wear Colorado branded personal hygiene mask, encouraging all Coloradans to wear non-medical protective masks outdoors. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things about our daily lives, but it hasn’t altered the love we have for this planet. We’re still committed to celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day! The Alliance Center is working with a team of partners across the Denver metro region to create a week of celebrations. Once it became clear that it was no longer safe to hold in-person events, we quickly made the shift to virtual engagements. Our idea is to replace gatherings we initially planned with online resources and calls to action so people can remain involved and connected. We are calling this virtual week of engagement Denver Earth Week 2020: Inside Edition. 

Part of this digital transition includes launching a brandnew Climate Bridges podcast! The podcast will premiere on Earth Day, April 22. Our goal is to create an intergenerational bridge – to encourage conversations between leaders of all ages and to learn how civic and climate action can translate to real results during this time of social distancing and beyond. We’ll pair youth climate leaders with veteran climate activists to discuss what drives them, the challenges they face and how they think we can best solve our most pressing problems. The conversations will range from food security to the circular economy, from what we each can do in our own backyards to our global impact as citizens of this earth. Each podcast will end with a call to action – steps you can take after listening to celebrate Earth Day every day. Our first interview will feature Denis Hayes, the organizer of the first Earth Day, and Liliana Flanigan, a high school senior and youth climate activist from Grand Junction, Colorado.

Amid, and in spite of, present challenges please join us in celebrating Earth Week and the 50th Earth Day celebration! Share how you’re celebrating Earth Week with #DenverEarthWeek on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! To learn more, check out Denver Earth Week 2020: Inside Edition to explore various ways you can celebrate our incredible planet.

Read about The Alliance Center’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Yes, this is yet another communication to share how an organization is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. And we’ll get to that. But first, we want to say thank you. Thank you for being part of our community. The Alliance Center was founded on the belief in the power of collaboration through community. Even though we’re unable to be together physically, we believe this pandemic is showing the true power of community. How quickly we were able to come together to protect those who need it most, how easily people turned to their neighbors to see how they could help – these are the small acts of kindness show the strength in community.

The Alliance Center’s doors are closed to the public temporarily, but our community stands strong. As the hub of sustainability in Colorado, we aim for innovative solutions in all we do. We feel fortunate that our staff and many, if not all, of our tenants are able to continue their crucial work with the help of technology, and we are in the process (one started long before the current pandemic) of developing a communications center that will enhance our ability to adapt as the workplace of the future, reduce our CO2 emissions and increase our connectivity. Unfortunately, a situation like this might arise again in the future, and The Alliance Center will be ready.

Our community’s health and wellbeing is and always has been The Alliance Center’s utmost priority and concern. Here is what we are doing for our staff and wider Alliance Center community in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Let us know if we can do anything else to assist you during these unique times. We hope our collective responses to the COVID-19 threat allow it to pass quickly and we are able to welcome you back to The Alliance Center in person soon! In the mean time, please utilize the resources located on our Our Response web page.

Happy Women’s History Month! My name is Esperanza, and I recently joined the Alliance Center as the Programs and Communications Intern. I was born and raised in Las Cruces, in southern New Mexico. I graduated from Amherst College last year, where I studied Environmental studies and Latin American studies and became especially interested in environmental justice issues. After graduating, I worked abroad for a summer as a research assistant studying Peru’s forest conservation program. After that, I moved to Colorado to be close to family. I found The Alliance Center because of my interest in exploring an environmental career, and because the organization’s holistic view of sustainability especially resonated with me.

Because March is dedicated to celebrating women’s achievements, I’d like to spend some time this month reflecting on the environmental accomplishments made by women around the world.

Climate change will affect all of us, but the poorest and most vulnerable people in our societies will experience especially acute consequences. On a global level, the majority of the world’s poor (70 percent) are women, and poor women continue to face unequal representation in climate-related decision-making processes (IUCN). Despite this, women everywhere are some of the most persevering and effective climate leaders in the world and in their communities.

Today, I would like to honor the work of five incredible women environmentalists and climate leaders who inspire me to believe in and fight for an equitable and sustainable future:   

1.  Wangari Maathai (1940- 2011)

“We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!”

Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her efforts in establishing The  Green Belt Movement in Kenya. The Green Belt Movement began in 1977 as a way to improve rural Kenyan women’s livelihoods, while simultaneously combating environmental degradation, deforestation and food in security. The idea for the movement started off simply – engage women in tree planting – but evolved into a powerful, multi-pronged approach to address issues of equity, democracy and government accountability.

Wangari Maathai’s legacy lives on today as The Green Belt Movement continues to plant trees and work on issues related to climate change, advocacy and gender livelihood issues.

2. Terri Swearingen (born 1956)

“We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to.”

Terri Swearingen, a nurse, led her community and the United States to take action against toxic waste incinerators. When Waste Technology Industries began attempting to construct a waste incinerator in her hometown of Chester, West Virginia, Swearingen became extremely concerned about the health effects this construction would have on her family and community. By 1991 she organized over a thousand residents to protest the construction of the incinerator in West Virginia and went on a nationwide-tour protesting similar constructions around the country. She was arrested in front of the White House for a demonstration in 1992. The day after her arrest, the Clinton administration announced the decision to improve the EPA’s regulations overseeing hazardous waste incinerators, which is what Swearingen had proposed a year earlier. She was awarded the 1997 Goldman Environmental Prize for her achievements as a grassroots environmental hero.

3. Liz Chicaje Churay (born 1982)

“We, the indigenous peoples, are the guardians of Yaguas.” 

Liz Chicaje Churay, an indigenous woman belonging to the Bora community of Pucaurquillo in Peru’s Loreto region, was awarded the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights in 2018 for her contributions to the creation of the Yaguas National Park. Covering over 2 million acres of tropical rainforest, this national park is an amazing global conservation achievement that also uniquely includes a Communal Reserve and acknowledges native peoples. The year before that, in 2017, Liz Chicaje Churay was invited to represent her region’s Federation of Native Communities in the COP 23 in Bonn Germany. In the summer of 2019, I had the immense privilege of visiting her home in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest and listening to her first-hand discuss the critical importance of meaningfully including indigenous peoples’ in conservation and global climate change efforts. Her humility, passion and dedication to the future of her community and our planet inspires me every day.

4.  Ridhima Pandey (born 2008)

“I want a better future. I want to save my future. I want to save our future. I want to save the future of all the children and all people of future generations.”

Ridhima Pandey is a 12-year-old climate activist from Haridwar, India who, alongside Greta Thunberg and 14 other youth activists, filed a petition to protest the lack of international government action on climate change. In addition to being passionate about pushing governments around the world to take meaningful action on the climate crisis, she is also passionate about speaking out against the pervasive use of plastics. Young, outspoken leaders like Ridhima Pnadey, give me immense hope in our future.

5. Kimberly Wasserman- (born 1977)

“My community is my family. They are my boss, my co-worker, my inspiration, my drive, my fight, and I will do my damnedest for them.”

Kimberly Wasserman was the recipient for the 2013 Goldman Prize for her successful leadership in closing two of the oldest and dirtiest coal plants in the United States. Born and raised in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, this Chicana joined Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) after her 3-month-year-old baby suffered an asthma attack. The doctors told her it was related to environmental pollution, which made her determined to stand up for her community’s health. After 12 years of ongoing negotiations with the local government, the coal power plants finally closed in 2012. After this closure, LVEJO and other partner organizations created the Community Benefits Agreements, which prohibits the fossil fuel industry from operating on the newly closed property and ensures residents have a say in how the property develops in the future. Today, Wasserman continues her leadership by training young people in her community to transform old industrial areas in Little Village into public, recreational spaces.

These five incredible women, geographically spanning the globe and coming from very different cultures and backgrounds, all share a common vision: a more equitable and sustainable future. They inspire me this month, and every month, to continue fighting for a world I know is possible. Once again, Happy Women’s History Month!

In 2019 we celebrated The Alliance Center’s 15th anniversary, and now we’re excited to launch our 2020-2022 strategic plan. We have 10 years to drastically change the trajectory of the climate crisis, and this ambitious plan puts the Alliance on track to lead this shift in Colorado. 

In early 2019, The Alliance Center embarked on the strategic planning process. As we began to lay out our vision for the next three years, we started with a marketplace analysis to review and learn from the work of our peers. From there, we looked introspectively at our work through a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis. We gathered input from staff, Board, tenants, community members and partners on our existing work and our impact over the last 15 years. 

Building on our strengths as leaders in high-performance building innovation and connectors and empowerers of change agents, we developed a three-year strategic plan to guide us through 2022. The plan continues our trajectory of demonstrating sustainability in the built environment, grows our capacity to mobilize change agents and drives our ability to accelerate solutions. 

We are excited to continue harnessing the power of business as a force for good through our Best for Colorado program, and we are excited to engage leaders from across sectors in our democratic systems through our Climate+ Democracy program. We continue to operate our building at the highest levels of performance, and we’re ready to move the needle in building technology through partnerships and our Living Lab program. Supporting all these programs is our new academic partnership initiative that will build an employment pipeline into sustainability careers that will provide valuable skills and experience to young professionals, diversify the sustainability movement and increase The Alliance Center’s capacity to implement effective programs.

Check out the two-page version of the strategic plan below. The comprehensive plan can be downloaded here. We have big plans for the next three years, and we are ready to launch into our next era of impact. Thank you for being a member of our community and joining us on this journey!

This year, I’m focusing my resolutions on how I, as an individual, can continue to act in the face of climate change. We have 10 years to drastically change our trajectory in regards to the climate crisis. As Greta Thunberg says, “No one is too small to make a difference.”

Resolution #1: Switch My Bank

I’ve banked with the same big-name bank since I was 14 and never batted an eye at the thought. The fossil fuel divestment movement has increased over the last few years, but only recently did I realize my personal bank account was a contributor to the climate crisis.

Fossil fuel divestment encourages people to remove investments from large institutions and organizations that support the fossil fuel industry. The mentality is that if large amounts of people move money from establishments such as banks, universities and retirement funds who support this industry, collectively we can decrease carbon emissions and reduce fossil fuel usage. The alternative is investing assets in values-aligned institutions who support more sustainable practices.

Switching banks has been on my mind. After hearing Greta Thunberg and Thomas Lopez at the Denver Climate March encourage divesting and seeing The Alliance Center better align its finances with its values, I know it’s now my turn to move my account to Amalgamated, one of our amazing tenants.

Resolution #2: Ongoing Battle with Plastic

The effort to reduce the plastic in my life is ongoing (and exhausting). With the new year I’m going to renew my plastic avoidance efforts. My goal is to replace one plastic item in my life each month with a more sustainable option to prevent enviro-burn out. The plan for 2020 is to switch from the following:

  • Plastic floss to silk alternative in a glass container – January
  • Toothpaste tubes to powder or paste in a glass jar – February
  • Plastic hairbands to compostable options – March

In March I will plan out the next few non-plastic swaps for the following months. Luckily, we have many Best for Colorado businesses, like EarthHero, who make finding sustainable alternatives easy!

Resolution #3: Explore more sustainable food options

My New Year’s resolution is not committing to one particular diet, but to incorporate sustainable eating habits that fit within my lifestyle. I’ll participate in GroundworkDenver’s CSA, because The Alliance Center is a drop off location. I will supplement this with weekly trips to the farmers markets throughout Denver this summer and fall.

I will reduce the amount of meat in my diet. There are many vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians and ecovores at The Alliance Center. Such a community makes it drastically easier to reduce the amount of meat in my diet since cooking suggestions, ideas and encouragement circulate constantly. 

While New Year’s resolutions tend to be short lived, sustainability is an ongoing journey we all can take part in throughout 2020. It is critical we each reduce our environmental impact, especially in this new decade. According to the UN International Panel on Climate Change, we have 10 years to cut global emissions in half to prevent 2° Celsius temperature increases. While no one person can do this, collectively we can and will make an impact. Together, we are greater.

Written by Shay Hlavaty, Communications Specialist at The Alliance Center