There were plenty of reasons why Barbara and Amos Hostetter were named the city's top philanthropists by Boston magazine, considering how long they've been active in the city's philanthropic universe. But one initiative — their $50 million commitment towards climate change efforts in Boston and Massachusetts — certainly helped solidify the No. 1 ranking.
In 2010, the Hostetters announced they would donate $50 million over five years to help Boston and Massachusetts achieve their 2020 and 2050 greenhouse gas reduction targets and to become national models. Of course, it was a huge announcement at the time, but since then, it's been hard to truly understand the impact their commitment has made.
The multiyear grants were made available by the Barr Foundation, the principal charitable vehicle for the Hostetters, according to a report in the Boston Globe. Although the foundation is one of the most charitable in the region, its grantmaking isn't the most transparent. (See Barr Foundation: Boston Area Grants.) While the foundation has been coming out of its shell somewhat in recent years, especially related to its climate work, the Hostetters are notably private. They're not listed as the trustees on the foundation website, and while the site currently lists some examples of typical grantees, it doesn't provide any detailed financial reports or grant information.
Yet, the climate initiative for Boston organizations — which came as part of a revision of the foundation's environmental grant guidelines — certainly plays a major part in the Hostetters' and Barr's regional grantmaking focus.
For instance, Amos Hostetter gave a rare interview in 2011 to the Boston Business Journal, where the billionaire businessman made it clear that climate change was a huge concern for the foundation. "If the country and world don't wake up to this issue, civil unrest, food shortages, hunger riots, cities underwater" are in the cards, he said. "Virtually every other issue pales in comparison to climate change."
Looking at past grantees does provide a better sense of the initiative's reach.
One of the biggest grantees in 2010 was the Charles River Watershed Association, according to the most recent foundation tax filings available. The association works on conservation, protection, and cleanup projects up and down the Charles River, and it received roughly $1.2 million from Barr. Other major grantees included area conservation groups and green energy groups.
The goal of the foundation's environment program is to help the city meet goals in reducing greenhouse emissions set for 2020 and 2050. And it is focused specifically on making buildings more energy efficient, as well as reducing transportation-related emissions, including by expanding access to and use of public transportation.