OVERVIEW: The Surdna Foundation's Sustainable Environments program supports organizations in their efforts to change the nation's very infrastructure. Its priorities include more energy-efficient buildings, better water-system management, increased access to local and regional food supplies, and a greater availability of efficient mass transit.
IP TAKE: Through its Sustainable Environments program, Surdna shines the spotlight on city living.
PROFILE: Urban centers are where most of the world’s people will be living this century, and they are where the Surdna Foundation now concentrates its efforts to help the world cope with climate change. Sustainable city life is the core mission of Surdna’s Sustainable Environments program. The initiative, the conduit for any Surdna grants related to climate change, funds programs that try to change the way we look at infrastructure and to encourage “next generation infrastructure,” e.g., programs that enhance public transportation, make buildings more energy efficient, and improve food and water systems—all developments that stand to have mitigating effects on greenhouse-gas emissions.
Surdna restricts its climate grant funding to the United States for the time being. Its awards cover numerous aspects of U.S. urban living and are well-distributed geographically from coast to coast. The program organizes its awards into four distinct program categories:
- Sustainable Transportation Networks and Equitable Development Patterns. The program seeks to cut automotive pollution and fuel consumption by expanding mass transit alternatives. Initiatives that build up and integrate light rail and other transit services will get awards under this category. Surdna will look most favorably on any initiatives that combine transit system improvements with other improvements in stormwater management, land use, and any other upgrades that make city infrastructure more sustainable.
- Energy Efficiency in the Built Environment. The program backs initiatives that teach communities how to build or retrofit buildings for greater energy efficiency and make sure that the communities have the financing to make the needed fixes. Public-private partnerships get much credit from Surdna—literally and figuratively. So do any retrofitting projects that benefit low-income neighborhoods and individuals the most, and programs that combine energy-efficiency improvements with other infrastructure needs, such as renovations to help control stormwater.
- Urban Water Management. The program supports innovations for stemming risks of floods and water-borne pollutants by improving cities’ management of water, especially stormwater. Constructions to corral and release or reuse stormwater instead of letting it passively coalesce in the sewers receive much funding under this program category.
- Regional Food Supply. The program looks to enhance cities’ food security and resource efficiency by fostering more local farm production. Efforts that engage communities in building up farmers’ markets and greater regional food networks will find sustenance in this program category.
The $185,000 that Surdna gave to Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships to promote the adoption of energy-efficiency standards throughout the Northeast clearly exemplifies Energy Efficiency in the Built Environment. More often than not, however, a grantee will get an award for a program that seems apropos to two, three, or maybe even all four categories.
Consider the phenomenon of “smart growth,” a philosophy that encompasses many aspects of sustainable development. Surdna is a consistent fan of smart-growth initiatives. It gave Smart Growth America $4.3 million to work with state governments and the public on fostering smart growth plans across the United States; awarded $540,000 to advise New England communities on how to reduce carbon emissions via transportation and smart-growth upgrades; and issued the Funders Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities $5.6 million for building a critical mass for smart growth in Florida. It also gave Climate Solutions $985,000 for its work with state governments on transit system developments and pro-economic-growth solutions to climate change.
As stated more than once above, Surdna’s Sustainable Environments program likes projects that are integrative. Much as it likes any one significant improvement to a city’s sustainability quotient, it likes it all the more when several sustainability improvements come to fruition at once. A database of previous grants is available here.
Surdna accepts unsolicited letters of inquiry. If you are a good fit you will be asked to submit a full proposal.
- Betsy Fader, Vice President, Programs
- Helen Chin, Program Director, Sustainable Environments
- Alison Corwin, Program Officer, Sustainable Environments
- Kellie Terry, Program Officer, Sustainable Environments