Stories from a Green New Deal: Toya

Toya's Story

The thing that grounds my work in climate advocacy is health.

But it started with a story of vanity and greed saving the day. I was working at a cancer center in the middle of Kansas, in the administrator’s office and my boss at the time wanted recycling in the administrative office, because it was a status symbol. At that time there weren’t many recycling pick-up services available, and only a certain number of households got it. My boss’s neighbor had gotten it, and he didn’t.

So, it was my job to reach out to the folks that did the recycling to see what was possible and they said I could bring in the recycling myself. I ended up learning a lot about recycling just from the process of having to sort types of paper, as well as the different types of plastics,  separating the lids and the bottles, and making sure everything is clean.

I got to know the people working at the recycling center, and how that industry worked. I started telling other people that they could bring their recycling to me, and I would bring it to the recycling center. In this part of Kansas a lot of people were burning their trash at the time.

I was in a public health fellowship at the time, and I decided to make a recycling guide. I wanted to include reasons to recycle. Around that time, Kansas had one of the largest prairie fires in it’s recorded history. I remember going outside and the sky was red and it was like there was a filter over everything. I started to look more into the effects of climate change and environmental degradation, and together  with the prairie fire and working at the cancer center I realized that environmental degradation, climate change, cancer, and health are all connected.

And that’s when it clicked; the climate crisis isn’t a future problem.  The climate crisis is happening right now.

I ended up moving to Minnesota to get my master’s and to continue in this work, aiming to merge climate and health work.

The community of advocacy up here in Minnesota has given me a lot more faith that things can work out and that things can change.  I want to see us shift away from visions of grim, dark dystopian futures towards envisioning futures with hope.

I want people to feel comfortable and validated in bringing their expertise and experiences to MN350. If you’re a resident of Minnesota you probably have something that’s important to contribute. I would like to see people take courage, and to contribute things through their own lens.

We can do these things inclusively. We can get more perspectives. I want to approach things in a way that’s trauma informed and takes multiple angles of climate justice into account.

I’m especially excited about the circular economy. I love supply chain stuff, which also goes into the lifecycle of material. I love the idea of sourcing more things locally, and being able to know more about where things come from and where they’re going.

That’s investing within our community.

Maybe I can’t stop people from feeling fear or reacting to their own trauma responses, but I hope that they can take courage. We can believe in our neighbors and coordinate amongst ourselves and be creative.

Climate justice gives me a sense of purpose. It is something that’s larger than me that I’m really happy to commit myself to.


Toya López, MHA, ISSP-SA, LEED Green Associate graduated with a master’s degree in Healthcare Administration from the University of Minnesota. López has worked as a Sustainability Practitioner since 2016 in Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Currently López is the Director of Operations for Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate. Lopez is also a board member for Alliance for Sustainability, Elliot Park Neighborhood, and a Steering Committee Member of the Minnesota Sustainability Practitioners Roundtable. López’s work involves partnering with communities and organizations, linking social determinants of health and equity with sustainability efforts, leading sustainability initiatives, and advocacy for a more environmentally sustainable and equitable healthcare industry.


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