In the late 1980s, Peggy Shepard helped lead the charge against toxic emissions emitted from a sewage plant in her Harlem neighborhood, a battle that forced New York City to implement reforms and the last three Promoted his work as an environmental justice and health advocate for decades. .
But Sheppard, co-founder of the Group of ACs for Environmental Justice, has collaborated with large national environmental organizations and has been invited to sit on their boards, she still stands among her many peers in the green movement .
“These organizations are generally predominantly white. Their boards are generally older white men,” Shepard, who is black. “They are realizing that not only do those boards have to be young, they have to get more diverse.”
A report released on Wednesday by Green 2.0, an independent advocacy campaign that tracks racial and gender diversity within the environmental movement, found that while progress has been made in recent years, it has been at an incremental pace that all Begging for “improvement” at levels, “said Andrés Jimenez, the campaign’s executive director.
New data from the nation’s nearly 40 largest nonprofit environmental organizations and the top 40 foundations and grant providers show that, on average, these groups added six people of color and eight women to their full-time workforce from 2017 to 2020, adding color. Two people and two women to their senior staff at the time, and one man of color and one woman to their boards since 2017.
Advocates of diversity acknowledge that such large heritage groups, staffed by hundreds and with budgets of millions of dollars, may be the best position to address national parks and issues such as endangered species. But according to federal government research, these groups have historically not corresponded to problems with inner cities and communities of color, places that are burdened with pollution.
The latest numbers reflect a noticeable change, but still highlight that organizations and foundations remain highly white – even as many of those groups issued statements calling for racial justice last year And identified how despite their progressive ideals, they have failed to react to system inequalities people of color have been subjected to in the United States.
Some organizations reported being on their boards or at senior level, including people of color, including Ocean, an ocean conservation nonprofit, and the Bluegreen Alliance, who work with labor unions to promote clean jobs and infrastructure Does. Neither group responded immediately to requests for comment.
“The number is not a lie. Organizations cannot avoid the actual numbers that we have inserted in this report,” Jimenez said.
Most environmental groups named in the Green 2.0’s 2020 “Transparency Report Card” voluntarily shared the diversity number of their staff and boards, Jimenez said, although there were a handful of people who participated in the last year about the last year Refused to provide information or gave only partial numbers.
For example, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a government-backed agency chartered by Congress, provided no data on the racial and gender makeup of its board, although it says it has increased the number of people of color and women Between senior staff and employees. The Foundation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, whose board of trustees includes actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Robert Redford, released its board’s racial and gender makeup in 2017, 2018 and 2020, but did not do so in 2019. Its recruitment increased in the role of senior staff and people of color and women among employees from 2017 to 2020, according to council data provided by the Green 2.0 report.
NBC News’ review of council staff and board makeup shows that half of its 10 leadership are people of color, while one-fifth of its nearly three dozen members are nonwhite boards.
Troy Riddle, who became the organization’s first Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer in August, said the council would start formalizing a strategic plan about its diversity, equity and inclusion next month that would focus on the principles of environmental justice Will improve its operation. And helping disarm the groups at the forefront.
“People have said in the past that [the Natural Resources Defense Council] All of this money, all of this power, and we are not the ones who are impressed at the table, “said Riddle.” But I can say with certainty how we are not doing business today. “
Jimenez said he was disappointed that most of the foundations and grant providers cited in the Green 2.0 report refused to provide any information or only partial data about their staffing and boards in 2020, although some of them have held national protests Given public statements. After the death of George Floyd spoke out against institutional racism or in favor of environmental justice initiatives.
“The importance of data transparency cannot be overstated,” the report said. “This is an important step that allows each organization to self-assess and identify areas where they are progressing and where they still need to improve.”
‘I’m so sorry’
One of the most widespread confessions of a major environmental group about its role in historical racism came last summer from the Sierra Club, the country’s oldest conservation group.
Executive director Michael Brune said in a statement that the founder of its club, noted naturalist John Muir, “was not immune to the racism raised by many in the early conservation movement” and “made disparaging remarks about black people and indigenous people Who were deeply attracted to “harmful racist stereotypes, although his ideas developed later in his life. “
“I am deeply sorry for all the losses the Sierra Club has sustained, and for black people, indigenous people and other people of color,” Brun said, adding that the group rekindled its leadership with people of color Will design from “Top-level organizational decision making” and transferring more money to invest in its employees of color and environmental justice issues.
A NBC News review of the leadership of the Sierra Club found that people of color make up about half of an interim executive steering committee and about one-quarter of its 15-member board of directors.
Dan Chu, executive director of the organization’s fundraising Sierra Club Foundation, said its leaders are committed to being accountable for its diversity numbers as it works toward the “path of equity, inclusion and justice”.
“Solving the climate crisis is not only about reducing the carbon in the air, but it also ensures that as we do, we are creating a more just society,” Chu said.
The Sierra Club and other major environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Audubon Society have seen the number of people of color on their boards from 2017 to 2020, although their staffing levels saw an increase.
Político previously reported that the National Audubon Society, led by a majority of whites and boards, was at the center of controversies when allegations surfaced of a “culture of vengeance, fear and protest against women and people of color”. The senior leaders denied the claims.
“Audubon is in the embrace of growth and change,” David Zubold told Politico at the time, and we are eagerly becoming Audubon for everyone. “” We have been in a deep transformation around equity and inclusion for many years, in an environmental arena that has been white-dominated for decades. “
Jimenez stated that diversity is an important indicator of an organization’s commitment to equity and inclusion, but they are not the only measure.
“It’s not only that everyone should have a seat at the table,” he said, “but is everyone being heard?”
Shepard, one of a handful of people of color at the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund Board, said she is heartened by focusing on communities that have faced environmental injustice, such as Flint, Michigan, where drinking water Is headed. And Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley.”
But while most lower-income groups such as local green organizations and grassroots groups and majority white national organizations do not have the same financial or political benefits as black and brown communities, those communities are ignored and harmed by pollution Will continues to be saddened by poor health, Shepard said.
Studies have shown that white Americans live in places with better air quality than black and brown communities, although they largely cause significant pollution in white communities.
“For every flint, there are 15 and 20 other cities that are struggling with their own issues,” Shepard said. “Those who live in elite communities are not expressing the concerns of those people, and for too long, the attention has been invisible to communities of people of color and low-income.”
President-elect Joe Biden has made climate change and diversity issues a pillar of his upcoming administration. Environmental groups said they indicated the importance of being involved in the selection of Michael Regan, who is Black, to head the Environmental Protection Agency, and Native American member of Congress Deb Holland from New Mexico as their Secretary of the Interior was done.
Jimenez said he would like for national green groups, which play an important role in helping lawmakers write environmental legislation, not only pay attention, but take action.
“One of the worst things an organization can do is to not try at all,” he said.