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Environmental Groups Showing Steady Diversity Gains, Group Says

Nov. 17, 2021, 11:01 AM

Environmental groups are showing slow but steady progress in hiring people of color as full-time staff—though increasing diversity among board members and senior positions has been more modest, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report by Green 2.0 was based on data submitted by 67 of the most influential environmental groups, the largest response to date for the diversity-focused nonprofit’s annual survey known as the Transparency Report Card.

The largely White workforce for green groups, particularly in decision-making positions, has drawn fire amid increasing calls for equity accelerated by the Biden administration efforts toward an all-of-government focus on environmental justice.

Environmental groups responding to the survey added on average a dozen people of color to their full-time staffs between 2017 and 2021, and three people of color on average to senior staff. Among members, three people of color on average were added over the same period.

While there’s been progress, there’s also a need for more gains “for us to truly have an inclusive and equitable movement,” said the report’s author, Dr. Chandler Puritty, an adjunct professor at University of California-San Diego.

“As environmentalists, we must understand that transparency is how we move forward to create a better movement that embraces and champions communities of color,” she said.

Trailing U.S. Population

The diversity watchdog group reached out to 80 groups this year, double the number it contacted for its 2020 report. Sixty-one groups responded along with six others that Green 2.0 hadn’t contacted.

Overall, environmental advocacy groups still don’t quite mirror the U.S. population. For example, Black full-time staff compose 10.7% of the workforce of environmental groups surveyed, compared to the overall Black population in the U.S. of 12.4%, according to the 2020 Census.

Workers identifying as “Hispanic/Latinx/Chicanx staff” in the report account for 9.5% of full-time staff for environmental groups, which is also below their proportional share of the U.S. population.

But diversity of full-time staff has been rising steadily since 2018, when environmental groups employed an average of 62 people of color. Minority staffing has since climbed to an average of 81 in 2020, and 88 in 2021, according to the report card.

First Data on CEOs

The 2021 report is the group’s first to collect diversity data on CEOs. It found 25.3% of the heads of environmental group are people of color, compared to 73.1% who are White; the remaining 1.5% did not respond.

The diversity of board membership has been on the upswing for environmental groups in recent years, with the biggest jump—a 28% increase in people of color on boards—coming in 2020, the report said.

Foundations, which also have been surveyed alongside environmental groups in previous Green 2.0 reports, have shown less interest in participating.

Only 11 of the 40 foundations surveyed reported data in last year’s report. For the 2021 report, foundations were invited to provide information anonymously, which increased participation to 20 foundations.

Among the conclusions: nearly half of surveyed foundations reported that they collect no demographic data for their organizations—"a concerning finding,” according to the report card.

Groups participating in the survey include the BlueGreen Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg Law is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloombergindustry.com