OpenAQ believes that our words and actions matter when it comes to racial equity and environmental justice. Like many U.S.-based organizations, we took our first public stance the summer of 2020 following the unjust murders of several Black Americans. In the blog we published, OpenAQ’s Commitment to Environmental Justice, we committed publicly to several actions to fight racial and social injustices and to support environmental justice.
In the spirit of accountability and transparency, this blog shares the progress we have made on our initial commitments, as well as our current commitments and implementation plan for achieving them in 2024 and beyond.
Progress on Our Initial Commitments
Action 1: Organize a working group series focused on decolonizing science, including a discussion on the current funding landscape: The goal of this action is to critique the systemic hierarchy and westernization of the scientific field and the funding structures that support it. We hope to ultimately co-create tangible opportunities to shift capital flow in support of a more equitable system.
Progress on Action 1: In 2020, OpenAQ hosted a webinar, Air Quality Data and Citizen Science: Pushing for Environmental Justice, and gave a presentation at the International Society of Exposure Science, Decolonizing Air Pollution Science: Understanding the Power Structure. OpenAQ worked with partners to develop a poster session, Moving from Extractive to Engaging Collaborative International Science in Environmental Science: Let’s Land the Helicopter, for the American Geophysical Union 2023 conference, and will be hosting a 3-part webinar series on Parachute Science in 2024 with these partners.
Action 2: Diversify the OpenAQ organization: We believe that our organizational structure and culture should be reflective of and representative of the communities that we collaborate with across the globe. The organization values diversity — including but not limited to racial and regional diversity, diverse perspectives on air pollution issues, diversity in knowledge and expertise and lived experiences in communities that are highly polluted and/or areas that lack air quality data — as critical to shaping the future direction of the organization in fulfilling its mission. OpenAQ is committed to bringing people with such backgrounds onto the team, advisory board, and governing board.
Progress on Action 2: As of December 2023, OpenAQ’s staff is 25% people of color, 50% female. Our Board of Directors is 50% people of color, 50% female, 33% non-U.S. national origin. Our Advisory Board is 30% POC, 30% female, 50% non-U.S. national origin. Representation includes lived experience of the issues we are working to address.
Action 3: Build upon existing partnerships and proactively seek new partnerships to strengthen data accessibility and galvanize communities of support: This would entail activities like building tools and collaborative workshops to enhance low-cost sensor networks and air pollution studies, including with communities of color in the U.S. We aim to equip environmental justice organizations with the data infrastructure and tools necessary to achieve their goals on the ground.
Progress on Action 3: Through our Community Ambassador Program, OpenAQ provides practical skill building for emerging air quality leaders in low- and middle-income countries. We partnered on a project led by the City of Los Angeles to build a predictive model that allows local officials to issue more timely and effective on-the-ground interventions when air quality is poor; this project engaged vulnerable communities and — in its newest iteration — will further engage with environmental justice organizations to incorporate socioeconomic, demographic and health data. OpenAQ has offered assistance to environmental justice organizations that received funding for air sensor projects from the U.S. EPA and conducted ethnographic interviews with a few to understand their current data practices. In 2023, we updated our website so that it requires low internet bandwidth to access, and began equipping users with varying levels of technical literacy with new ways to access, understand and use the OpenAQ data platform.
Action 4: Prioritize filling in data gaps, particularly in communities that lack air quality data across the globe: We recognize the data-sharing infrastructure we provide is a direct reflection of the systemic disparities in investment in environmental data infrastructures between the Global South and North. We also recognize our own biases in prioritizing what data are ingested into the platform. This has shaped our platform to be Euro-centric. We will commit to adding in government air quality sources for areas currently underrepresented on the platform. For areas lacking in government-grade data, we will prioritize collaborating with organizations that have low-cost sensor networks for the low-cost sensor pilot and directly engaging with government agencies.
Progress on Action 4: OpenAQ has added nearly 300 government monitoring stations in the Global South. In addition, we began hosting data from several air sensor partners in 2021, which has expanded data coverage in countries and communities experiencing the worst air pollution, so far adding more than 1,200 air sensor locations in the Global South. We thank the Latin America Early Career Earth System Scientist Network for translating our 2022 Open Air Quality Data: The Global Landscape report into Spanish and Portuguese — a report that reveals data gaps and encourages greater government transparency.
Action 5: Recognize and honor Juneteenth as a company-wide holiday.
Progress on Action 5: Since 2021, our staff has taken off this day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.
OpenAQ knows we must demonstrate a consistent, long-term commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion and actively seek opportunities to stand in solidarity with people and communities who experience racial, social and environmental injustices — both within our own country and across the world.
To that end, in November of 2022, we refreshed our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion statement:
At OpenAQ, we recognize that marginalized communities across the globe face worse outcomes in many areas of life due to colonialism and racism, including poorer health driven by disproportionate exposure to air pollution. By providing universal access to air quality data, OpenAQ empowers a global community of changemakers to solve this issue of air inequality. To do this, we…
- Expand data coverage in marginalized communities
- Advocate for transparent, publicly accessible air quality data and for more monitoring where people are most vulnerable
- Engage with communities that are disproportionately impacted by air pollution and are traditionally excluded
- Equip changemakers with the data infrastructure and tools necessary to reduce disparities
To realize our mission, OpenAQ must be diverse and inclusive. Our focus on diversity includes racial and geographic diversity, as well as diversity in knowledge, perspectives, expertise and lived experiences in communities that are highly polluted and/or lack air quality data. OpenAQ commits to reflect the communities that we collaborate with, bringing people with diverse backgrounds and identities to our team, governing board and advisory board.
In 2023, we developed an Implementation Plan that outlines specific ongoing and new actions we will take to realize our commitment through our organizational operations and our work across the globe.
Our internal actions include:
- Increase and sustain our staff and board awareness and understanding of equity, diversity and inclusion principles and practices.
- To reflect inherent and acquired diversity, strive for diversity on our Board of Directors and Advisory Board, including racial, gender and geographic diversity.
- Practice diversity and inclusion in our hiring process and be an inclusive work environment that welcomes and retains people-of-color on staff.
- Ensure that the way we communicate and our communications materials are culturally appropriate, broadly accessible (including translated materials), and not exclusive. Highlight examples of air inequality and steps to tackle air inequality on our communications channels.
- Embed equity, diversity and inclusion into organizational processes and policies, such as job descriptions, annual performance goals, work planning deliverables, code of conduct and budget.
Our external actions include:
- Apply an equity lens to our programmatic work, determining whether there are opportunities to enhance equity or to reduce inequities. This includes seeking feedback from partners representing marginalized communities and building an equity impact review into our post-project evaluation process.
- Ensure that our data platform, as well as all associated venues where the public engages with our content (such as GitHub), remains free from any form of bias.
- Be an ally by using our connections to elevate and ensure marginalized communities are at the table representing their interests; endorsing environmental and social justice activities that complement our mission; supporting conversations about decolonizing science, including decolonizing the current funding landscape; freely share information about helpful resources, including funding opportunities, with community-based organizations working to protect marginalized communities from air pollution.
- Procure goods and services from diverse vendors, including businesses that are owned/operated by members of historically underserved or underrepresented populations; small locally owned businesses; businesses that have demonstrated their commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion; and businesses that work on international causes.
As we continue this journey, we invite community input and ask allied organizations to share any learnings that will help us improve. Contact us with any thoughts or suggestions at info<at>openaq.org.