April 28, 2021

Leading the Future: Kristy Drutman

Our fourth guest in our interview series is environmental media host Kristy Drutman, otherwise known as “Brown Girl Green.”

This is the fourth installment of Exygy’s ongoing interview series, Leading the Future: Her Point of View. We hope to uplift present-day changemakers who are moving the needle at the intersection of equity, social impact, and technology. They deserve our continued recognition. Originally inspired by Women’s History Month in March, we’re excited to extend the celebration of women leaders outside of one month into ongoing conversations, reflections, and inspiration. This series is hosted by Roshen Sethna, Civic Partner at Exygy. Watch the full interview here.

“I’ve created a space where people who look like me, who come from underrepresented backgrounds, can feel heard, can feel seen in this work, and can find pathways for a future career in the environmental field.”

Our guest today is environmental media host Kristy Drutman, otherwise known as “Brown Girl Green.” As a Jew-Pina American speaker, activist, and digital media strategist, Kristy is passionate about positively impacting the intersection between media, diversity, and environmentalism. In this interview we talk about Kristy’s environmental and equity focused podcast and media series, bringing marginalized communities into the climate conversation, and how friendships and relationships parallel our collective work in addressing the climate crisis.

Sethna: I know you are deeply in the climate and activism space, so I’d really love to learn more about Brown Girl Green, about your organization, and how you personally came to the work.

Drutman: I came to the work because I grew up in a small town, where I wasn’t really exposed to environmental issues and wasn’t really informed about these things until I went to university at UC Berkeley and studied environmental policy. And during that time, I felt like I didn’t see a lot of representation of people who looked like me in a lot of these spaces doing this work, really educating people about climate change and climate solutions.

Meanwhile, I was seeing my family members being impacted in the Philippines from multiple climate disasters. And I realized that there was a disconnect between who has a voice and a platform in talking about environmental issues, and who actually has that platform and that privilege to do something about it. And so, I decided to come up with Brown Girl Green back in 2017.

And for the past three, almost four years now, I’ve been creating multimedia; including podcasts, videos, Instagram posts, just online content, using social media to educate new audiences about environmental issues, specifically having a lens that emphasizes economic and racial justice. And that’s the work that I’ve felt very passionate about just because I’ve been able to create a space where people who look like me, who come from underrepresented backgrounds, can feel heard, can feel seen in this work, and can find pathways for a future career in the environmental field.

And that’s essentially been a big part of the work. It’s not just content creation, but also workshops and trainings and career development opportunities, especially for young Black, indigenous, and people of color. It’s definitely all core tenets of the work that I do.

Sethna: Tell us about the specific projects and initiatives you’re excited about.

Drutman: Something that I’m really excited about is wrapping up a series for my podcast called Loving Climate Change. And it’s going to feature a lot of different youth climate activists. But not just youth. Basically it’s folks that identify as being an environmental advocate, but they have their own relationships, whether that’d be a friendship or romantic relationship, or family members. And I am going to be exploring what are the relationships that impact our lives, and how does that interweave with talking about climate change and thinking about these issues. Because I think the love piece has not been explored enough.

The other project that I’m excited that I’m going to be joining this spring for Earth Month is the Eco-Life Challenge. I’m one of several partners who are talking about the value of the circular economy. And we’re giving people challenges for several weeks, where you can participate and rethink your consumption patterns and your relationship to the things that you own. I highly recommend checking out the Eco-Life Challenge. I’ll have a link in my profile on Instagram for Brown Girl Green. Highly  recommend people check it out.

Sethna: You’re mentioning the relational aspect and how that influences all of us. What is something you’ve learned diving into people’s stories and learning about their past and how their relationships have influenced them? Were there certain patterns you saw or things that emerged for you?

Drutman: I would say it’s like people had to always figure out how to make this work translatable, similar to people just in a standard relationship having to do things like conflict resolution and maybe making compromises and figuring out how do I adapt to being with this new person in my life or this friendship in my life. So that way people feel comfortable and accommodated.

I see such direct parallels of that with addressing the climate crisis for everyone, because we have to be vulnerable. We have to put ourselves out of our comfort zone. We have to do things that maybe we’ve never done before. And we have to be willing to trust and take risks with other people, if we’re going to really change things. That means being willing to open up to people we don’t always agree with. That means coming up with ideas that aren’t so cookie cutter, that are going to be long-term, that are going to take grunt work to do, just like a relationship.

I think it’s been really interesting to see how people have been able to find that bridge, of both the work that they do around climate, and their own relationships with the people that they care about the most. I see that for every person out there who may be concerned about this issue. That’s kind of the way we have to start thinking about it.

Sethna: It’s almost like this aspect around vulnerability and getting to the crux of  having these really tough discussions and taking action that’s going to be hard for us as humanity. What is the role that media plays in that? This podcast seems very focused on the personal aspect. I know you use media to influence and help educate and change as well. What have you learned from taking different tactics on a media approach?

Drutman: I would again say that the mainstream media is failing to tell the story about climate, especially climate justice. There’s a lot of framing about it just being either it’s just this political party’s issue, or we can just depend on the young people to get it done.

The media has failed to talk about climate justice, to talk about the climate crisis. So a lot of young people like myself decided to create our own grassroots media to use these platforms that we have through social media by keeping track of trends. What are young people listening to? What are they caring about? And making our content adapt to that. And you really have to be savvy with some of this stuff to really stay on the beat because it’s moving so fast. I think it’s fun and it makes things interesting, because there hasn’t been enough of that media education that’s reached enough  audiences.

I’ve been really enjoying experimenting with what it takes to get that message across. I’ve experimented with many TikTok videos, with audio clips, with one-minute videos, with infographics that me and my team have designed. It’s been really interesting to see how well people have responded to that kind of content and shared it with their friends and family.

Sethna: What’s the ultimate goal with the content? Is it more on the educational side or a call to action on certain pieces of information?

Drutman: It’s largely for awareness. I think I’m really trying to be a bridge for resources, because a lot of people don’t even know where to start. And a lot of the stuff is honestly, not very well documented or well blogged about, or not in a very accessible database, or a place for people to find out about it. It’s all dis-aggregated and there’s a lot of great organizations doing a lot of great work, but how do you find it?

Those of us using social media are trying to categorize everything to make it easier for people to get access to that. Of course, there’s pros and cons to that. We don’t get to go as in-depth as we would like to, but we can definitely give people a pretty in-depth introduction into a topic. That’s really valuable, because if not, you’re just creating more echo chambers. And who are you going to allow in to learn that information?

All of these things require a collective cultural shift to where we are, as they say, “closing the Overton Window.” So that way, creating a more green sustainable future is not something A, that is considered radical or fringe, and B, isn’t pushing out the most marginalized communities from that conversation. I think both of those things requires actually bringing those people into that conversation. And right now, that has not been happening at the rate that it needs to be.

Sethna: A lot of your work centers around workshops. How has that been during the pandemic and what have you learned from the workshop approach to bringing people in?

Drutman: I don’t come from a frontline community. I always try to make that clear, that I don’t come from specifically one of these communities that I’m trying to be a bridge for, to educate about. And I make that clear because I want people to recognize their own place in the world, their own privilege. So things that they’ve had access to within their own environmental narratives, while also identifying what other people’s environmental narratives are. What is their relationship to the  environment, to the injustices that they face?

In the workshops that I’ve been hosting this past year, we explore that. We explore what is your  environmental narrative? What is the story that you’re trying to tell about climate? And that looks  different for every single person. And it’s been interesting because I’ve done that workshop for so many different demographics of people. And it’s interesting to see what the outcomes are for each group,  because they come from different economic backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, genders. And it’s  interesting to see how they respond to the prompts that I offer, because it just shows you that everyone  has a different way of interpreting the same issue. And it’s important that all of those are valid and that  people are empowered to mobilize their own community with that story.

That’s been a lot of what I’ve explored. And it’s honestly been really fun to do during the pandemic, just because I really start with a grounding exercise. I allow people to feel, I don’t know, I guess you could say, connected to nature, even though you’re not in nature. I really try to bring people into that mental space. And I’ve gotten really good feedback from it, so I’ve had fun this past year with it.

Sethna: Tell us about how to get in touch with you or any resources people could use to start learning about climate justice and immersing themselves in it.

Drutman: Definitely. Well, I would love for folks to actually, if you don’t mind more emails in your inbox, I do have a weekly newsletter that I personally love that my team makes. We do weekly climate news, so if you want to stay up to date with climate resources and information, I send out a weekly newsletter. You can follow me, Brown Girl Green on social media. Check out my website, browngirlgreen.org. If you ever want to have me consult your group  on digital media strategy and/or diversity equity and inclusion, or storytelling, all of my offerings are on my website. So please don’t be shy. I love meeting new people and trying to share my resources with as many folks as possible.

I would say, to definitely look up any environmental justice groups in your community. Typically, if you look up food justice, water justice, even just folks fighting against pollution, there’s a lot of resources around that there, even if you typed in “environmental justice, Georgia,” or “environmental justice, Mississippi,” et cetera. There’s so many different groups these days and coalitions that would be happy to have your assistance. I would say that is my first step for people. And outside of that, I have a lot of resources listed on my website and on social media, so you can check those out for books and podcasts and other things.

Stay Up-to-Date

Watch the full interview. Stay up-to-date with Kristy’s work by visiting her website Brown Girl Green, or connecting with her on LinkedIn! Take a look at our past installments with climate artist Linda Cheung, civic tech researcher Cyd Harrell, and futurist Vanessa Mason.

Who are you honoring during Women History Month? Use #LeadingTheFuture and tag us on Twitter @exygy with your response! Stay tuned for more Leading the Future: Her Point of View interviews coming soon.

About the Interviewer

Roshen Sethna is a partner at Exygy with experience in organizational leadership, digital innovation, and product management. She has guided Exygy’s top civic sector clients in implementing user-centered and agile methodologies. Her clients include the Judicial Council of California, San Francisco Unified School District, Center for Effective Public Policy, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Roshen also led the Exygy team to design and build an open-source, digital, affordable housing platform that is being scaled across four jurisdictions in the Bay Area.

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