Addressing Social Inequities and Environmental Problems

Since 2008, the Small Change Fund has worked with over 200 community partners to support more than 230 environmental projects. Now leaders Burkhard Mausberg and Franz Hartmann are using their platform to support those same small but mighty groups as they strive to continue their mission amidst COVID-19.

On Tuesday June 9, Mausberg and Hartmann took the time to answer a few questions from us about how advancing the environment and equality go hand-in-hand, what that looks like in Toronto and how the green economy could support an equitable recovery.


How has the Small Change Fund had to adapt its programming and the way its delivered during the restrictions for COVID-19?

After COVID-19 started, we focused our efforts on one vulnerable sector: small to mid-sized environmental groups. They play an important role in their communities in helping with environmental solutions: they’re the local green heroes who help build resilient communities.

The small environmental groups are facing dramatic reductions in funding and need to rethink how they provide their services. Unlike larger groups, they don’t have sufficient capacity to navigate the crisis.

So we created a program that helps them “crowd-source” the resources they need to survive and thrive. We facilitate bi-weekly conversations to allow peer-to-peer learning, provide one-on-one coaching, raise funds, find online resources, and provide a fundraising platform. See


Are there certain projects or groups who are underserviced and/or who you worry about?

The COVID crisis has stopped small environmental groups from doing the very activities that made them indispensable: community engagement.

Projects that bring people together physically, such as tree planting, beach clean ups or student education, have been cancelled. Important work isn’t getting done. For most, this has led to a serious reduction in project funds tied to these activities.


People might not necessarily think that helping the environment is a way to fight inequality. What would you say about that to Torontonians?

There has been a change in how environmental and social equity advocates work, especially in Toronto. Realizing we are close allies, our common agenda calls for addressing social inequities and environmental problems simultaneously. Social housing is a good example. Both environmental and social equity advocates want a building retrofit program that reduces energy use, creates local jobs and provides better living spaces.

Today, we see this unity in purpose in the work for an economic recovery. Social equity groups insist the recovery must be green and environmental groups insist it must be just.


How can the green economy support a more equitable recovery?

Any green economic activity can and must support social equity.  Investing in building retrofits, green energy and natural infrastructure (e.g. trees, community gardens, green roofs), can be done in ways that create meaningful well-paid work, especially for communities suffering from inequities. Many examples exist where promoting fossil-free transportation and low carbon neighbourhoods also addresses social inequities. The Tower Renewal Partnership is one great example.


Knowing that the effects of COVID-19 will be felt for some time, what help do you need to best support your environmental projects now and in the coming year?

Quite bluntly, local environmental groups need financial support to ensure they survive.

Toronto groups work on many important local environmental projects and we urge everyone to donate to their local environmental group and support them. Check out page 3 of Toronto Foundation’s Good to Give Guide for a sample list of some of those groups.


We've witnessed unparalleled nimbleness from systems to policy change to address COVID-19. What are timely approaches that could be adopted and would make an impact on the climate crisis?

COVID 19 has shown how effective, powerful and indispensable governments are to our financial and physical well-being (especially the federal government). The various income support programs for individuals and businesses and the speed at which they were funded and created are prime examples.

Governments can adopt this approach in how they address the climate crisis. We know the solutions. What we need is for the government to adopt them and invest in them. This is a key feature of the green and just recovery now being discussed in Toronto and globally.

We’re at an important historical moment. Let’s seize the opportunity to re-imagine and collectively build a better normal.


Learn more about the Small Change Fund.