WASHINGTON, DC - Robert Raben, founder of an influential public relations and government affairs firm known as The Raben Group, recalled the moment about a year ago that kicked his personal commitment to expand diversity within the environmental movement into high gear.
Speaking to a standing room only briefing at the National Press Club recently, he spoke of how he was a guest of a prominent environmental organization at its annual dinner. “It was extremely well attended; well more than 1200 people,” Raben recalled. “And I could not identify a single person of color other than the servers.”
After discussions with environmental stakeholders, Raben concluded that the lack of diversity within mainstream environmental organizations “is too much the norm.” His response - to launch Green 2.0 as a working group of professionals dedicated to diversifying the green movement.
The briefing - titled “Breaking The Green Ceiling” and cohosted by New America Media, the country’s first and largest associations of ethnic news organizations - was a coming out party now that Green 2.0 has racked up some solid successes. Joining Raben at the podium to endorse the effort were the director of the Environmental Protection Agency and the incoming President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, among the most influential NGOs in the environmental field.
In a society obsessed with data and metrics, Raben explained, Green 2.0’s first action was to commission an in-depth survey of several hundred environmental nonprofits, government agencies and foundations to create a diversity index for the movement. The findings, documented in The Taylor Report and released last August, were sobering: fewer than 16 percent of leadership and staff and boards are people of color. Most worrisome, Green 2.0 Director Danielle Deane told the room, while many of those interviewed for the Report acknowledged the lack of diversity, few expressed any urgency to address it. Nor did anyone seem to have a game plan.
Now that is likely to change. In a move that promises to up the ante for those nonprofits that remain oblivious to the diversity imperative, GuideStar - the country’s primary collector of data about the nonprofit sector - has launched a “diversity index” to track data about the leadership, board and staffs of nonprofits, including those in the environmental field. Partnering with GuideStar is D5, a coalition dedicated to expanding diversity in the philanthropic sphere.
“We have been challenged for many years to get a diverse community in the environmental world,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in her keynote address. She lauded the Green 2.0-GuideStar-D5 partnership because, as she explained, “We measure what we value … Let’s measure! Let’s give (diversity) the value we say it has.”
Diversity, McCarthy emphasized, is a critical dimension of staffing and resources in order to better inform EPA’s mission to protect the health and environment of all Americans.
Rhea Suh, who is leaving the Department of the Interior to lead the Natural Resources Defense Council - becoming the first woman of color to head a major environmental organization - lamented the fact that “the diversity needle hasn’t moved in decades within many government agencies, nonprofit organizations or foundations … Diversity issues are relegated to the EEOC offices or the HR offices and not actually incorporated into the very mission of the organization,” she said.
For Robert-Mark DeSouza, Director of Population, Environmental Security and Resilience at the Woodrow Wilson Center, diversity “makes all the difference.” In conversations with young, aspiring American environmentalists, he said, “they ‘get it.’ A more diverse environmental movement and workforce in the United States increases our impact overseas … and allows us to bring lessons back home. That difference makes all the difference.”
Green 2.0’s action oriented agenda clearly resonated with the audience. Leslie Field, who directs the environmental justice and community partnership program of the Sierra Club, was delighted the Taylor Report had inspired the GuideStar-D5 partnership. “I thought this was going to be another report that would merely sit on the shelf,” Field confessed.
She was also pleased that Robert Raben had taken a moment to explain that Green 2.0 is not an environmental justice initiative but one focused on expanding mainstream environmental organizations’ identification, recruitment and retention of individuals from diverse heritages and backgrounds.
Janell Mayo Duncan, President of Living Well Black, also commended Green 2.0 and echoed McCarthy’s urgency. “The lack of inclusion (in the field) is disturbing, particularly when minorities have been found to be as supportive, or more supportive, of dealing with climate change and promoting sound energy policies,” she said. In addition, there is evidence that minorities suffer more negative impacts from climate change and pollution.”
In his closing remarks, Robert Raben called on leaders in the environmental field to sign the pledge to share their diversity data - a call that was quickly embraced by 11 leading groups, including the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, Earthjustice, the NRDC and the Environmental Defense Fund. But he made it clear diversity is about more than checking off metrics.
“Diversity is a value. It is not a program. It is not an afterthought, it is not a February commemoration,” Raben said in closing remarks. “It is an organic value of an institution, like transparency, integrity, accountability … There’s no beginning and no end. You don’t reach a point where you say, ‘Okay, we’re diverse enough. It’s a constant.”
NRDC’s Suh, a new mother, put it another way. “I will be damned if I leave the world for my daughter in the same place that I found it.” Echoing Raben’s story in describing her early experiences with environmental grantmakers, she said, “I will be damned if I allow her, in 20 years, to walk into a ballroom and to feel like she doesn’t belong.”
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