Story at a glance
- Environmental policy has a disproportionate affect on Black, Indigenous and other people of color in the United States.
- An independent advocacy campaign to increase diversity within the environmental movement released its annual assessment of nonprofit organizations and foundations.
- While representation has increased among reporting organizations, gender and racial disparity persists.
The environmental movement in the United States just received its diversity report card for 2020, and it's doing better. But activists argue that improvement just isn’t happening fast enough.
“The survival of the environmental movement is going to be dependent on the community participation and leadership of communities of color and young people,” said Rep. Raúl Manuel Grijalva on a virtual call. “It can’t be cloistered and it can’t be selective anymore. This is a movement that is vital to the life of every living thing on this earth and climate change has made that an immediate issue.”
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The pandemic and racial justice movement have highlighted and exacerbated issues of inequity in the last year, said Grijalva, a Democrat representing Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District, which borders Mexico. At the same time, it has hampered efforts by Green 2.0, an independent watchdog launched in 2014 to address inequality in the environmental sector.
"This year’s results are colored by two major national news events—the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide protests over law enforcement abuse and racial justice reforms—that likely influenced the mixed participation we received from both NGOs and foundations," said the campaign, noting that three of the 40 largest NGOs that submitted data in previous years did not participate in 2020 and only 11 out of 40 foundations participated.
Stefanie K. Johnson, an associate professor at the University of Colorado, analyzed data from those who did participate by self-reporting their demographic data from 2017 through 2020, and measured changes in both race and gender diversity in boards, senior staff and full time staff. The report also includes a breakdown for each organization, which includes the Environmental Defense Fund, World Wildlife Fund and the Coca-Cola Foundation, among others, of the progress they've made over the past four years.
On average, the number of people of color and women at these organizations is increasing, even if it still falls short of equity. Between 2017 and 2020, reporting organizations added an average of six people of color and eight women to their staff, two people of color and two women to senior staff and one person of color and one woman to their boards. But women and people of color are also more likely to leave nonprofit organizations and foundations, negating some of the progress the movement has achieved.
“I think the time for change is really now and this report does not show that an immense change has really happened,” Johnson said on a virtual call.
Of course, the numbers don’t always tell the whole story, the report acknowledges — and that’s not always a good thing. Achieving equity is not the campaign’s only goal and organizers continue to emphasize the importance of greater transparency across the board.
"Several environmental organizations who believed they had made a commitment to diversity found themselves struggling to reconcile their good intentions with the reality of a discontented staff or with accusations of harassment and discrimination," said the campaign. "Diversity without inclusion is tokenism. Diversity without equity is segregation. Diversity without accountability does not promote justice."
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