Denise Fairchild
United States
2021 Awardee

A veteran leader in environmental justice and community development, Denise Fairchild is dedicated to untangling the multidisciplinary root causes of climate change.


Denise Fairchild exemplifies the key qualities of a Climate Breakthrough Awardee: ambition, a strategic mind, systems-changing thinking, and a track record of effecting change. Denise is president emeritus of Emerald Cities Collaborative (ECC), a network of key U.S. nonprofits coalescing to advance sustainable development projects nationwide, after previously serving as the inaugural President and CEO (2010-2022). In that role, and throughout her lifetime of accomplishments, her natural ability to influence both the grassroots and grasstops sets her apart. She does not focus on outcomes aloneshe builds relationships.

While Denise’s breakthrough strategy is still taking shape, its core is energy democracya movement seeking to understand and unravel the multidimensional root causes of climate change. Having co-edited an acclaimed book on the issue, she wants to disrupt the foundation of America’s fossil-fuel dependent economy by prompting large and enduring cultural shifts in energy consumption norms. This vision represents something novel in American climate efforts.

One of her potential approaches is targeting scope 3 emissions, which typically represent the majority of a company’s gas releases but are ignored by many carbon reduction policies. Denise plans to use her relationships within the energy democracy and frontline communities, as well as government, environmental, and business communities to be a driving force in making cultural shifts as a cornerstone to carbon reduction.

As she has done throughout her career, Denise will involve in her strategies the leadership and expertise of people of color and youth. The central impetus of her breakthrough strategy is clear and urgentan investment in intersectional climate action at an immense scale.


Denise Fairchild has spent her career leading campaigns and building alliances in environmental justice and community development work, most recently taking the Emerald Cities Collaborative’s influential work in climate and economic justice to the federal level in the US. 

Her deep passion and expertise led her to early leadership roles, including at the Local Initiative Support Corporation in Los Angeles and the Community and Economic Development Department at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, where she was credited with raising over US$100 million for community-based housing and commercial development projects. 

Denise holds a doctorate in urban planning, with expertise in community, economic, and real estate development, along with working with and in low-income communities of color.