A recent article in NPQ was titled “Climate Change Can Only Be Achieved if There is Racial Justice.” In that article, it was pointed out that, contrary to media stereotypes, support for pro-environmental policies is higher among people of color than among whites.
As marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson writes in a Washington Post op-ed, climate change support is 57 percent among Black people and 70 percent among Latinx people, compared to 49 percent for whites. Yet, she adds, “Black Americans who are already committed to working on climate solutions still have to live in America, brutalized by institutions of the state, constantly pummeled with images, words, and actions showing just us how many of our fellow citizens do not, in fact, believe that Black lives matter.” Johnson’s point is clear: It is impossible to make progress on stated environmental mission goals absent racial equity.
The point seems obvious. But despite progress here and there, a significant shift in favor of racial equity in Big Green has not occurred, even as countless studies show that organizations that look like America enjoy increased innovation and improved performance.
National data on the social, environmental, and physical determinants of health show that a lack of equity causes people of color grievous harm. Distinguished researchers pinpoint parallels in the lack of racial diversity in Big Green environmental and conservation nonprofits, and the under-representation of people of color on boards and in the leadership. People of different identities, cultures, faiths, ages, and abilities also grapple with inequities.
Rooting out racism is an onramp to protections against the hazards of sexism, heterosexism, and ableism. The US civil rights movement exemplifies the drive for racial justice, paving the way for improvements for many vulnerable groups, including women, LGBTQIA+ and immigrants. Inculcating equity is at the heart of the issue. We saw this again, earlier this month, when the US Supreme Court found in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia that employer discrimination against LGBTQIA+ individuals was prohibited by the language of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, we’ve seen racial equity statements from many in Big Green, including the Sierra Club, Audubon, and the World Wildlife Fund. But statements are just a starting point. Action is key.
Similar to government, business, and the rest of the nonprofit sector, but perhaps with even greater intensity, the future and vitality of environmental and conservation nonprofits depends on applying an equity lens to management systems and processes. This requires embedding equity and inclusion as a core practice.
Changing White Spaces
There is an alienating web of conditions in the nonprofit sector perpetuating the reputation that these organizations are white spaces. For Big Green nonprofits, steering strategies toward a more equitable and inclusive blueprint for protecting the planet is vital. The starting point for the culture shifts that will promote fairness and inclusion is understanding what the barriers are and the ways they tie into an organization’s operations and decisions. Equity, in short, is a critical platform for systems change a