The fact is that the challenge of protecting our natural resources, acting against climate change’s causes and achieving sustainability in how we live, work and play is called the “green” movement. And it takes people of all colors and cultures to make it strong.
Despite it all, it might as well be called the “white” movement, given its dominance by an overwhelmingly narrow demographic. A study by Green 2.0, an independent advocacy campaign to push greater diversity among environmental groups, has found that the boards, leadership and staff of the 40 largest such organizations continue to be predominantly white.
The group’s 2017 Transparency Scorecard tracked some improvement in minority representation among environmental organizations: People of color represent 27 percent, 15 percent and 22 percent of staff, leadership and board positions, respectively.
One of the reasons for this imbalance is the roots of the large environmental organizations in conservation. That orientation left them unaware or unfamiliar with, or even uninterested in, the particular environmental concerns shared by many minority communities: lack of access to clean drinking water; being neighbors with chemical and power plants; lives that industrialization may have compromised.
If they didn’t see those issues as social ones, the traditional environmental groups assumed that people of color just didn’t care. Not so, says Vien Truong, director of Green for All. Studies by Green for All have found, in fact, that “communities of color overwhelmingly care about the environment — more than their white counterparts. They’re willing to pay more for the cost of the energy. They know that they will save costs later on in health care and in improved quality of life.”
There’s a price to be paid for the lack of diversity within the environmental movement. Writes Jarami Bond, a corporate sustainability manager, this lack of diversity stunts the mainstreaming of sustainability. “Bringing cultural liaisons aboard the corporate sustainability teams can help bridge gaps, broaden an organization’s positive influence and reach, all while bringing in new perspectives and strategies,” he says.
Still, the need for inclusiveness is broader and deeper than just the corporate side, as the Green 2.0 study attests, though it may fall to businesses to show the way.
But, what many organizations fail to understand and address – whether they’re in the private or public sector or environmental non-profits – is that stewardship of our natural resources and environment, today and tomorrow, is a responsibility that we all have to share. In most cases, a lack of cultural competency is the issue whereby organizations simply haven’t considered the developmental process necessary to effectively work cross-culturally.
“We need to keep making that point and embed cultural competency as a guide to find ways to foster ownership and engagement in our environmental assets and causes across a broad spectrum of people,” says Bradley Fauteux, a Toronto management consultant with strong credentials in environmental and conservation issues.
What will it take to ensure a green movement that reflects a broader base of interests?
It starts with better, more open and honest dialog across the artificial barriers of color and culture. As Jarami Bond notes, it takes openness and empathy about our experiences to find common ground for our shared interests in the environment to flourish.
It also takes focused, proactive educational efforts to make the case to those who have no context for the role, need and value of our natural assets. As Brad Fauteux points out, immigrants from, say, desert lands, may know nothing about camping in a forest or canoeing on a quiet lake.
He goes on to explain, “They must learn why we must protect these resources and be encouraged to use them to fully understand the need. Because the fact is that people can’t be passionate about a river they can’t paddle, or a lake they can’t swim in, or a trail they can’t use.”
This post was sponsored by Steve Whitton
Photo Credit: PixaBay