Philip R. S. Johnson, Senior Program Director of Environment & Health, Heinz Endowments

Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, The Heinz Endowments seeks to help the region thrive as a whole and just community. They concentrate on advancing a sustainable future for the community and planet, successful learning outcomes for young people and their families, and building a culture of engaged creativity. Their sustainability work includes foci on building an inclusive and clean economy, ensuring equitable development in the region, restoring and protecting Pittsburgh’s environmental systems and public health, , and developing sustainable food systems. Internally, The Heinz Endowments have worked to crosswalk priorities and expertise in each of their program areas.

You’ve been working at the nexus of children and the environment since the 90’s. What does this grantmaking look like in practice?

Our grantmaking focuses on protecting prenatal, infant, and child populations from environmental health threats such as air pollution, unsafe drinking water, lead poisoning, radon, harmful chemicals, and other adverse risks. We support research, projects, and initiatives that follow public health tenets of preventing harm, are grounded in empirical and scientific evidence, center community-directed priorities, and which support our region’s most vulnerable and underserved populations, especially communities of color and low-income communities.

Tell us more about your clean air, healthy places for children, and safe drinking water initiatives.

Many groups and projects support a variety of initiatives. The Breathe Collaborative is a coalition of citizens, environmental advocates, public health professionals and academics working to improve air quality in the region. The 1,000 Hour Initiative provides funding to local schools and early learning centers to test for and support mitigation of lead, radon, and other preventable environmental hazards. Get Lead Out, Pittsburgh is a public awareness campaign working to help families impacted by lead poisoning and to enact policy changes to prevent lead exposures. The Our Water campaign works to achieve safe and affordable water for Pittsburgh residents.

What processes or systems have you developed internally that build on your expertise in both sustainability and learning?

Over time, our teams worked together to build scientific and advocacy capacity in the region through shared grantmaking and engagement with education and early learning center networks. Respective staff discuss and review strategic grant priorities across programs. It is helpful to work collectively to identify shared objectives and how each program can provide meaningful contributions.

Many place-based funders feel uncertain as to the role they can play to shift environmental policies locally at a level that alters outcomes. How did being based in Pittsburgh help you arrive at your sustainability goals? What advice would you give to place-based funders just beginning their efforts to connect children, family, and environmental issues?

Protecting public health and the wellbeing of children are fundamentally local priorities in any region of the country. All cities, including Pittsburgh, strive to ensure their populations enjoy healthy, sustainable conditions in which to thrive and grow. As such, communities value the opportunity to work with grantmakers to ensure that children and the environment benefit from protective policies and regulations. Seek out and listen to community leaders to hear their priorities; help support good science and strong advocacy networks to advance community goals; and support the work of policymakers and leaders who share these objectives.

What questions do you have for your peers working in the intersection of environmental justice, climate change, and children’s health, education, and stability?

What strategies have proven successful in your region? Given the many competing priorities for funding in learning and sustainability spaces, what factors have proven most compelling to advance intersectional grantmaking?