Set for Friday, Nov. 3, the Sustain Dane Summit 2023 returns for its 15th annual event at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center as leaders in the field of climate, environment, and sustainability look to gather for learning, reflection, and networking for future efforts. The event will take place from 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and will have Diamond Spratling, award-winning environmental justice activist, storyteller, and public speaker, as the featured keynote speaker.
Spratling is currently the executive director of an organization she founded to engage with Black and brown women, girls, and non-binary people around the importance of environmental justice, Girl + Environment. The inspiration for creating the national non-profit organization comes from Spratling’s own interest in the world around her as a child.
“I myself have always been curious about the environment,” Spratling told Madison365. “I was just one of those kids growing up, but I noticed very early on that there wasn’t that much representation and people who looked like me in the space. There also weren’t that many equitable solutions when it came to climate and sustainability, and it wasn’t really inclusive of the individuals in the communities who are most impacted by these issues. That’s kind of what I always jokingly say, frustrated me to get into this work.”
It was the work of Girl + Environment that compelled Sustain Dane to reach out, and some of the same barriers Spratling looks to address with her team will surely be important topics at this year’s Summit. One thing that stands out to Spratling as being a crucial aspect of how we approach sustainability, environment, and social justice comes through developing ways to include and acknowledge the disparities that many marginalized communities disproportionately face.
“Everyone just wants to live here happy and healthy,” said Spratling. “I think we can all agree on that, but one of the things that we cannot ignore is the fact that we have a huge number of people, specifically Black and brown people, Indigenous people, low-income people, people who have disabilities, and tons of frontline and marginalized communities who ultimately cannot take advantage of things as it relates to climate. Also, some individuals are already set up to fail, so we have to prioritize and not only engage Black and brown frontline communities, we have to defer to them because they know what’s best.”
The Sustain Dane Summit will also have a climate roundtable with Cristina Carvajal, founder and executive director at Wisconsin EcoLatinos; Ben Reynolds, director of operations at Reynolds Transfer and Storage; and Cheryl DeWelt, Environmental Education & Garden Manager at Madison Children’s Museum, as well as segment featuring transformative local projects.
Spratling is most excited to discuss storytelling and how it can be used as a tool to build coalitions and understanding around how environmental issues affect everyone.
“Storytelling is so powerful, and I’m excited to not only tell my story and how I got into this space, but to have a very interactive conversation with other individuals who will be participating,” Spratling said. “They can begin to build out their stories and share their stories with other people at their tables too, so I’m very excited to have more of an interactive keynote. I know usually you’re listening to someone talk for two hours, so I’m very excited to be able to switch things up a little bit. Then to also go a step further from the storytelling of having your story, to how you can meaningfully engage the community in your work, too.”
One thing Spratling wanted to make clear is how misguided the notion is that communities are not invested in the environment’s effect on them. By purposefully focusing on increasing accessibility, outreach, and understanding in the current climate and sustainability space, Spratling attested to the power of organizations such as Girl + Environment in building awareness and activity around environmental issues in the communities most impacted.
Spratling’s hope for her influence at the Summit, as well as the general direction of discussing environmental justice, is to build connections across areas by sharing stories, experiences, and knowledge to center how critical it is to get involved.
“I think that for people, there are opportunities to think of climate as intersectional because it really is. I think that that’ll probably be one of my biggest messages to share with the audience, is that this does involve you. You can do something, you should be doing something, and you should be mobilizing other people in your network to do something as well. My biggest thing is to uplift and share the message that it takes everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re in tech, it doesn’t matter if you’re a storyteller, or whatever your background or your passion is, climate justice is going to impact everyone and already is impacting everyone.”
To learn more about the Sustain Dane Summit 2023, visit the Sustain Dane website here.