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New Article: What Foundations Are Funding in Environmental Health



May 12th, 2011

“Philanthropy at the Intersection of Health and the Environment,” by Karla Fortunato and Kathy Sessions of the Health and Environmental Funders Network (HEFN), was released earlier this month in the May issue of Health Affairs, a thematic issue on “environmental challenges for health.” The Kresge Foundation provided funding for the journal issue on this important topic. Below I mention just a few highlights from this informative GrantWatch article.

Foundations are increasingly viewing protection of the environment as a way to improve human health outcomes, the authors say. Foundations’ grant awards demonstrate that growing belief. Based on what they learned from a 2007 HEFN analysis, Fortunato and Sessions estimate that foundations are now investing at least $70 million a year for environmental health projects. Examples include helping disaster-stricken communities in the Gulf Coast area of the United States after the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill, supporting a national movement to reform federal policy on chemicals, defending clean air and water standards, and funding “environmental justice work in low-income communities and communities of color.”

In their well-organized article, Fortunato and Sessions discuss (1) what types of foundations fund environmental health (that is, “who” is funding in this area)—and it is not just health foundations; (2) why foundations invest in environmental health—they do so to prevent disease and protect health, reduce inequities and health disparities, and broaden support for clean and healthy environments; (3) what types of projects foundations are supporting—grants are being used to improve scientific understanding, clean up communities, strengthen community organizations, promote systemic change (that can be policy change or economic change), and to respond to disasters (such as September 11, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the BP oil spill).

Health Affairs readers will be particularly interested in the policy change section of the article. The authors note that “comprehensive national chemicals policy reform is the main interest of US funders in this area.” For example, they point out that many environmental health funders would like to see the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 overhauled. Fortunato and Sessions later note that opportunities exist to translate foundations’ investments “into stronger policies to protect public health.”

Fortunato and Sessions also mention “funding gaps”—that is, needs that foundations are not funding. In the area of environmental justice, they note that “the largest remaining gap. . . is probably in work related to Native American communities and groups.” However, they say that “the biggest funding challenge. . . is one of scale.” There are simply not enough dollars being put into environmental health and justice compared with what is needed.

The authors mention numerous foundations in the article, such as the California Wellness Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Kresge Foundation, and the New York Community Trust. I would guess that this may be the first time you have heard of some of the other funders cited, though. For example, do you know of the Passport Foundation, “recently created by a group of hedge fund partners”?

This is just the basic outline of the article—much more is in the full-text version. If you are not a subscriber, click here to order a copy.

Don’t miss the rest of the Health Affairs issue on environmental health. That link goes to the Table of Contents, where abstracts of articles are free to all.

For more information on the Health and Environmental Funders Network, popularly known as “HEFN,” visit its website: http://www.hefn.org. Fortunato and Sessions codirect this group of funders.

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For more information on environmental health funders, see these past GrantWatch Blog posts:

“Roundup of Recent Blog Posts: Environmental Health, Medicaid, Global Health, & More” (April 14, 2011)

“Round-Up of Foundation News—Bioethics, Environmental Health” (May 11, 2010)

“Focus on Foundations’ Funding in Environmental Health” (April 22, 2010)

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