Carpinteria Bluffs
Carpinteria Bluffs ( Photo by Linda Krop)

Start the giving season off strong by donating to a local nonprofit organization in Santa Barbara County on #GivingTuesday, November 29th!

With your support these nonprofits can continue to thrive and serve those who need their services the most. This is why Noozhawk has re-launched its annual Good for Santa Barbara Section, so that finding a cause you connect with is made easy and donation information is readily available!

In this interview, Noozhawk spoke with Betsy Weber, Assistant Director for the Environmental Defense Center to learn how education, advocacy, and legal actions helps them protect and enhance the local environment.

Environmental Defense Center

Question: What is the name & mission of your nonprofit?

Santa Cruz Island.

Santa Cruz Island. ( Photo by Betsy Weber)

Answer: The Environmental Defense Center works to protect and enhance the local environment through education, advocacy, and legal action. Since 1977, we have empowered community-based organizations to advance environmental protection. Our program areas include climate and energy, protecting open space and wildlife, clean water, and the Santa Barbara Channel.

Q: What was the inspiration behind your nonprofit?

A: The Environmental Defense Center (EDC) was founded in 1977, born as a response to the devastating 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill. The horrific images and painfully slow recovery led to the passage of some of our most important and enduring environmental laws at the state and federal levels – laws including the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and the California Coastal Act. Community leaders in Santa Barbara realized that in order for the promise of these new laws to be fulfilled, there needed to be an organization on the ground, utilizing these new tools to ensure nothing like this could ever happen again here. In 1977, the doors were
opened at EDC, providing the people of the south central coast an environmental watchdog, an advocate, and a legal voice to counter the power of oil companies and other corporate polluters.

Forty-five years later, EDC still advocates, educates, and provides free and low-cost legal services to community groups working to protect the environment throughout
Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo Counties, having represented nearly 140 organizations to date.  There are numerous well-known national environmental law firms, but only a handful of groups with EDC’s regional focus. Even among that number, EDC is unique due to our mandate to empower the grassroots and our broad issue expertise.

Q: How is your nonprofit primarily funded and what are your greatest needs?

A: EDC is primarily funded through generous individual donations. We do not take any government funding. EDC’s mandate is to provide free and low-cost legal services to fellow nonprofit organizations, and there are a number of cases for which we currently have either inadequate or no specific funding.

Q: What types of fundraisers and/or programs does your nonprofit run?

A: EDC is much more than a traditional law firm. In addition to our legal case work, EDC also conducts policy, advocacy, and analysis, leads coalitions to ensure nonprofit partners working in common cause have access to relevant information and shared innovative strategies, and we undertake numerous projects which are not legal work, but match EDC’s expertise and experience and benefit our community and environment. EDC selects cases and projects that will preserve open space and wildlife, protect the Santa Barbara Channel, ensure clean water and healthy communities, protect our climate, and prevent irresponsible fossil fuel projects. In addition, EDC holds an annual fundraiser, Green & Blue, every June. This event plays a critical role in helping ensure EDC can continue our work protecting the climate and environment of our local communities by raising 15% of EDC’s annual operating budget every year.

Q: Describe your organizations staffing models and internal operations. Has anything changed since the start of your nonprofit?

A: Our staff is small but mighty, consisting of four attorneys, three environmental analysts, and a four-member administrative team that handles fundraising, outreach, and communication. We also currently have two legal fellows, and we often work with passionate and dedicated interns. EDC uses a Strategic Plan to guide the Board and staff and help prioritize future cases and projects. The Strategic Plan is implemented through an annual operating plan.

A person kayaking.

(Photo by Erin Feinblatt)

Fueled by the organization’s need to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion, EDC is taking a hard look at our organization and what unique values we can provide, what the community needs from the organization, and where EDC wants to be in five years. To that effort, EDC has embarked upon a robust, multi-year, strategic planning process with the guidance of consultants. Moving forward we look to enhance existing relationships with BIPOC-led and Environmental Justice groups, as work to build new ones. Our hope is that as we continue to build solid bridges to BIPOC organizations and the broader community, we will start to get a better sense for how else we can serve the needs of all communities throughout our service area and ensure a clean and healthy environment for all.

Q: How do people get involved/volunteer for your nonprofit?

A: There are several ways community members can get involved with EDC. Perhaps the easiest way to get involved is to sign up for our email list on our website. This means you will be sent monthly emails that discuss what EDC is currently working on, volunteer opportunities, and action alerts on immediate issues where you can lend your voice.

Also, as a nonprofit organization, EDC of course depends and thrives on the support of our volunteers. From helping execute events such as our annual fundraiser, Green & Blue, and our TGIF happy hour series, to assisting with preparation and execution of critical outreach and fundraising mailings, to participating in creek clean-ups, our volunteers make it happen! We are always looking for helping hands. To sign up to be a volunteer, please fill out the form on our website.

Q: What makes your nonprofit different from others?

A: EDC is the only nonprofit public interest environmental law firm between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Over our 45-year history, EDC has represented nearly 140 community groups, providing them with free and low-cost legal services and helping to empower them with the tools necessary to fulfill their specific mission. This model has allowed us to represent organizations big and small, local and national, and to work on a broad range of issues from preserving open spaces and public access, to protecting our communities’ clean air and water, fighting irresponsible fossil fuel projects and transitioning to clean renewable energy, to preserving critical habitat and the wildlife that depends on them. It is an honor to be able to work on such a large range of issues and represent so many of our fellow dedicated and accomplished nonprofit partners.

Q: How does the work of your nonprofit get communicated to the public?

A: EDC works hard to diversify our outreach efforts, utilizing a variety of print and digital media pieces to engage our communities in our work. In addition to earned media on our cases, printed newsletters, fundraising appeals, brochures, and digital forms.

Q: Why should donors trust your organization and are there other ways to help outside of donations?

A: As we celebrate our 45th Anniversary this year, we are honored to have many donors who have trusted and supported us year after year. EDC has a proven track record of success and has demonstrated that we are for the long-haul, serving as a community watchdog and never backing down. There is no donation too small, and every dollar helps ensure we can stay strong in our work to protect this special place where we all get to live, work, and play. But additionally, we look to this community to support us in our advocacy efforts at the local, state, and federal level. By staying engaged with EDC through our emails and social media, you will learn about the many opportunities to join us by speaking up at a hearing or sending in comments on critical issues affecting our communities.

Q: Can you tell us one short-term goal AND one long-term goal that your nonprofit has for the next year?

A: EDC continues to be committed to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice within our organization, including on our board of directors, staff, law clerks and interns, and volunteers. Our work to build and deepen relationships with BIPOC led and Environmental Justice organizations across the tri-County area remains a focal point in our work today and well into the future. For the long-term, we are working to build our endowment to help ensure that EDC can continue our critical work serving our clients and community for the foreseeable future. The need for our work is not going away, and we must ensure we have the stability to carry on protecting our coast, climate, and communities for the next 45 years.

Click here to support Environmental Defense Center’s mission to protect and enhance the local environment through education, advocacy, and legal action.

Check out Noozhawk’s Guide to Giving for a full list of nonprofits to donate to this giving season.