Group of speakers pose for a photo on the Bonnaroo stage

Dispatches from the Field: Bonnaroo Works Fund Environmental Inequity Panel Discussion

This is the second blog about Urban Green Lab’s experience hosting panels at Bonnaroo. To read the first blog, click here.

Bonnaroo, an iconic music festival in Manchester, TN, is more than just a line-up of incredible musical performances. Leading with the values of community, creativity, and positive influence, the Bonnaroo Works Fund was created in 2009 to champion non-profits and programs “changing the world through arts, education, sustainability, and social impact.” (Source

The Works Fund hosts a village of non-profits on The Farm to engage with festival attendees and inspire action as they return home. One dollar from each festival ticket purchased supports Bonnaroo’s long list of sustainability practices, including a permanent compost pad, solar array, carbon offsets, community education, food recovery programs, and food bank donations. Additionally, the funds from the annual silent auction support those efforts and The Works Fund’s non-profit beneficiaries.

Urban Green Lab’s Assistant Directors of Classrooms and Workplaces, Christina Langone and Jackie Goodwin, had the privilege of leading panels in partnership with the Bonnaroo Works Fund on Environmental Inequity and Sustainable Consumption. Our diverse group of panelists left audience members with valuable information and inspiring calls to action. Our panel discussions were held on the only stage fully powered by solar energy. 

The following insights were gleaned from a panel of experts on the impacts of environmental inequity. This blog is a summary of their thoughts on the topic. We encourage you to connect with the panelists to learn more about their perspectives and how you can get involved in their work. 

The Impact of Environmental Inequity

Issues within our environment encompass more than caring about rainforest protection and melting polar ice caps. We know that only some communities have the same access to things like parks, trees, and economic opportunity, but more often than not, we don't ask why this is. 

Nationally, where we dump our garbage and process dangerous chemicals tend to be located in low-income and minority communities. The people who live there have little to no protection from the industries around them. This has been proven true repeatedly across the country, from what has been dubbed “Cancer Alley” in St. Gabriel, LA, to the disputed Keystone XL in Port Arthur, Texas. Environmental justice can be succinctly understood in the unfortunate but accurate quote from Hop Hopkins, "If our society valued all people’s lives equally, there wouldn’t be any sacrifice zones to put the pollution in. If every place was sacred, there wouldn’t be a Cancer Alley. You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can't have disposable people without racism.” 

Marquita Bradshaw is an advocate for human rights with extensive experience in the environmental justice movement. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Sowing Justice, a non-profit helping to empower, connect, and meaningfully include those who have traditionally lived, worked, and played closest to sources of pollution in decision-making processes. When asked how the policies of the past influence the environmental inequities of the present and where we still see these same patterns of racist policies affecting communities of color, Marquita spoke about redlining and the intentional denial of services based on race or ethnicity. People of color are living in areas without green spaces, access to healthy food, and within unsafe proximity to facilities that have negative environmental impacts, such as landfills or industrial plants. Though the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was passed to eliminate the practice of redlining, Black homeownership sits at 44% compared to White Americans at 73%, and people of color continue to face difficulty securing mortgages (Source 1 and 2).

Frederick Cawthorn, CEO of Verge Agritech and President of the Hemp Alliance of Tennessee, explained the idea of environmental justice as imagining an updated, remodeled home. All the rooms are new and fresh and supplied with fast internet, except yours. Your room missed the updates, and you have no connection to the outside world. He explained that in our shared home, we all need to take care of each other and not just some of the inhabitants. 

Jaffee Judah, Executive Director of Recycle and Reinvest, expressed the importance of engaging under-resourced communities in conversation about environmental inequity. A leader for youth in Nashville, Jaffee works to empower the next generation toward change within their communities. Sustainability, through Jaffee’s eyes, means leading others to be conscious and intentional humans. Jaffee shared that investing in young people and providing them with sustainability education instills pride within themselves and their neighborhood and fosters life-long investment in caring for the planet.

Those of us living in Tennessee find ourselves on Indigenous land. Building upon our discussion of fair and equal access to all, Mage, a Nashville-based artist and activist and owner of Moss and Bones Apothecary, shared how he is working to provide safe access to green space for people to have a regenerative experience in nature. Mage is working to bring people from urban environments to the sanctuary he runs with his partner May with this sentiment in mind; “All my relations. We are all related to all things”. 

Many assume that environmental inequities are not present in rural communities, but that is not true. Rural communities have access to green space, but many face the effects of a changing climate and job landscape and have fewer resources to lean on in times of disaster. John McFadden, Tennessee Environmental Council's former CEO, has over three and a half decades of experience in conservation and sustainability. He explained that rural communities are often being stripped of the natural resources in their communities. Much of the urban communities’ food and water supply is sourced from these areas, so everyone must acknowledge and protect those resources. Again, in our shared home, we all have a role to play.

So where do we go from here? This topic is heavy. A heavy burden that is being unjustly carried by those who have done the least to cause it. How do we, as individuals, help build a more equitable world? 

In a closing quote from Marquita Bradshaw, “We don't have to have policies that are inequitable. We can change that. How do you change that? Make sure you know who you are voting for. Make sure that the people that you vote for are going to be truthful about American history; they must acknowledge that racism has existed and that we have to do things to make the world equitable. We have to step up and get people involved beyond voting because there are decisions being made for you on how healthy and safe your community is.” 

We need to overhaul systems, policies, and institutions to be more sustainable. Environmental justice means advancing climate solutions that link human rights and development in a human-centered approach, placing the needs, voices, and leadership of those who are most impacted at the forefront. Support the work of the panelists and those doing the work on the frontlines. In the words of Ms. Bradshaw, “Donate with either your time or your treasure. Use your voice to make this world a more equitable where clean air, water, and soil are a right for everyone, not just a few.”     

Top Take-Aways

Support Environmental Justice Champions 

In whichever way you can, support those who have their boots on the ground and are doing the work. If you don’t have the financial means to donate, volunteer your time and/or your voice on social media to champion those leading the way in environmental justice.

Dig In 

Become an informed community member by learning more about environmental justice issues. Visit Urban Green Lab’s website to learn more about the Nashville Environmental Justice Initiative and read additional resources on the topic. Visit the sites of all the panelists involved and deepen your understanding of their work. 


All panelists would agree that our voices and votes are crucial to change. Engage in local, state, and national elections. Go to the council meetings in your area and stay informed on what is happening in your community. Contact your politicians to make requests that support the needs of those who are most affected by environmental injustices.

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