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With everyone from celebrities and huge corporations to small businesses touting their efforts to “go green,” there’s no doubt that the environmental movement has become mainstream. But does environmentalism include Black people? Between dealing with a struggling economy and the host of other problems afflicting the community, some Black people might feel we hardly have any energy left to monitor our carbon footprints or seek organic foods. But according to Kari Fulton, the National Campus Campaign Coordinator of the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative, Black people were green before it became trendy, and caring about the environment is easier than most believe.

“Every Black person has that one person in their family that tells them to turn that light off. That is a part of thinking green,” she says.

Fulton is an avid environmental activist, and she travels specifically to Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to talk to students about “being Black, but thinking green.”

Fulton believes that HBCU students are open to helping the environment—it’s just a matter of reframing the conversation about environmental justice.

“The way the mainstream markets green-friendly thinking, it is not targeted toward Black people,” she says. “They think we aren’t interested in the environment, but it’s only when they speak of wheat grass and hippies that we lose interest.”

One area in which the green revolution is directly relevant to Black Americans is that of employment. The clean energy bill that passed the House of Representatives this summer includes federal legislation that guarantees a portion of green jobs will go specifically to low-income communities, which will include Black and Latino neighborhoods.

For those who aren’t job-hunting and simply want to go green on their own terms, working-class Black people can go green by making small, simple day-to-day changes: Re-using juice bottles, buying compact fluorescent light bulbs, repairing holes in homes by caulking and adding weather-strips, and using public transportation.

Fulton notes that being an advocate for good public transportation is particularly important. “Black people are getting pushed out of their cities and into the suburbs,” she says. “If we’re going to be living in the suburbs then we need reliable and efficient public transportation.”

An added bonus to using mass transit is that it not only does it reduce your carbon footprint, it saves you money.

“Going green is beneficial to Black people because it can help live within your basic means. Why buy a car you can’t afford and that’s harmful to the environment?” says Fulton.

Black people living in urban communities are especially able to go green. In fact, the New York City tri-state area has the lowest carbon footprint in the country.

There are several urban-specific ways people can work toward green living, beginning with food.

“Food justice is a big part of going green. In our communities, there are nothing but fast food spots,” says Fulton. “We need to change our environment by changing how we eat and live.”

Most cities, including New York, hold farmer’s markets where shoppers can buy local produce. Urban dwellers receiving government assistance need not be deterred: Many farmer markets accept EBT.

Those renting apartments in cities can also become more energy efficient by working with their landlords. Asking building owners to install energy efficient appliances and use fluorescent lights in each apartment can reduce renters’ environmental impact and help lower their electricity bills.

Beyond making small changes in your own life, being Black and thinking green can also be achieved through community involvement. Adding a neighborhood garden, advocating for playgrounds or parks in your area, and encouraging healthy living can all help the environment.

For more information on how green is the new black, visit


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