“The purpose of the New Green Challenge is to engage households of color into a conversation about sustainability,” says Annette Miller, Emerging Markets and Community Development Manager for Madison Gas & Electric. “My goal is to create awareness in the African American and Hispanic communities about eating healthy and being aware of energy and being aware of the environment. I do think that if we do create awareness, people can make better decisions as an individual, better decisions as a family, and better decisions as a community. I think that is really important.”
The New Green Challenge is a pilot program brought to you by the African American Council of Churches, Centro Hispano, EnAct, Green Madison, Madison Gas and Electric, La Movida Radio, the Urban League of Greater Madison, and Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation (WECC). Since last September, members of Madison's African American and Latino communities have been participating in a six-month challenge to live greener lives. They have been meeting monthly to learn from experts on energy, food, waste, water and transportation, setting goals in each category, and sharing their experiences. The program will end in April to coincide with Earth Day.
Sustainability covers five areas — eating healthy, recycling, water, transportation, and energy. “We want to find out from these households perspectives what they think about being sustainable as African Americans and as Latinos living in our community,” Miller says. “How easy is it for them? How difficult? How much of it do they already do? What aspects do they have to work harder on?”
Working with Centro Hispano of Dane County and the African American Council of Churches, they were able to find 13 households — 7 Latino and 6 African American — to take the New Green Challenge.
“People are really enjoying it. There are some surprises in terms of what they didn’t know,” Miller says. “But also we’re finding some surprises in what they did know and what they have been doing already.”
Little gems of energy information like closing your blinds at night and opening them during the day to let the sun in can to passively heat your homes can make a difference in your energy bills. Turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth can save you gallons and gallons of water over the year. “There are so many little things that people find out,” Miller says. “When you add them all up, they make a big difference.”
An important part of the New Green Challenge is that the community is invited to follow the households. They’ve created two Facebook pages — New Green Challenge and El Desafío de Vivir Verde. “Basically, the African American and Latino communities can follow along and see how these households are doing but they can also read articles and talk and discuss and comment and like and provide feedback on their own experiences, as well,” Miller says.
On the New Green Challenge Facebook page you can find all kinds of interesting articles and features including a recent University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources and Environment study that shows that contrary to commonly held assumptions, African Americans are as concerned as white Americans — and in some cases more so — about environmental issues.
“When you think about the concentrations of communities of color in the United States, you can understand why there might be a higher percentage of communities of color who care about the environment because, when you think about it, the environment tends to be the most detrimental to them — air quality, water quality, density issues, less-than-stellar housing. [They may be in a] food desert with no easy access to healthy food in a more urban environment,” Miller says.
“Look at Lakepoint Drive in Madison, there are fast food places there within walking distance and it’s hard to find a grocery store within walking distance,” Miller adds. “If you think about Allied Drive you see a McDonald’s right there. Where’s the grocery store?”
Minorities are very interested in energy conservation, healthy foods, transportation, and recycling, they just might not have as much accessible information nor the places to talk about sustainability — another reason why the New Green Challenge is important. The future of neighborhoods and communities and environmental policy very much needs to be a part of a conversation that involves minorities. “There are definitely conservations about where food and access to food should be placed,” Miller says. “If African Americans and Latinos don’t weigh in on that they will continue to be excluded. They will continue to have the horrific health indicators that they have.
“The demographics in our community are changing. We know that we [in the past] have marketed to and invited our white community to really get involved,” Miller adds. “The question that we asked ourselves collectively was, ‘How have we invited and welcomed and engaged communities of color into this conversation?’ When you think about it, you don’t see a lot of people of color engaged in the conversation like you do whites in the community.
“If we don’t talk about things like transportation, they can be very negatively impacted and left out of the conversation,” Miller continues. “Getting to a job or getting to a doctor’s appointment or enjoying the amenities of this city — if there is not good transportation option for them they can’t access so many things and that means that their quality of life will be lower. People rave about how great Madison is to live …. But is it for everyone?”
The New Green Challenge helps people make better choices for themselves and their families. Besides the Facebook pages, you can also tune into the New Green Challenge on “Viviendo con energia” on La Movida Radio, WLMV 1480AM at 9 a.m. on the second Wednesday of each month. Speaking of the Facebook pages, they just hit their halfway goal of getting 150 ‘likes’ on the African American page. They have 127 and counting on the Latino page.
The goal is to get each of those pages to have 300 “likes.” “Realistically, that means that 600 people — mainly of color — are talking and engaging with MGE and its partners about sustainability. That’s pretty awesome. Before, we didn’t know who we were talking to. Through this project and this pilot, we know what we are talking to our diverse communities. We definitely want to keep that up. We want to continue to make sure that we are relevant and that we continue to be in touch with what they want. We want to be part of that bridge that helps them access important topics like energy, sustainability, health, and wellness.
“My goal is to create awareness, engagement, and education,” Miller adds. “My long-term goal is to keep both of the Facebook pages alive and thriving and making sure that people weigh in and tell us what they’re interested in learning about.”
You can be a part of the New Green Challenge, too! Follow along on Facebook and go to the New Green Challenge for tips on going green and chances to win prizes.