Andres Jimenez, executive director of nonprofit Green 2.0, speaks at a launch event on Dec. 13 for the group’s newest report on diversity in the environmental sector. The event also included a panel discussion with leaders from groups included in the report. (Kayla Benjamin/The Washington Informer)
Andres Jimenez, executive director of nonprofit Green 2.0, speaks at a launch event on Dec. 13 for the group’s newest report on diversity in the environmental sector. The event also included a panel discussion with leaders from groups included in the report. (Kayla Benjamin/The Washington Informer)

Black representation in the U.S. environmental sector has increased steadily in recent years but still falls short of truly reflecting the diversity of the American population, a new report released Tuesday by independent nonprofit Green 2.0 found. Among the 68 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and 20 foundations that participated, every single entity had committed financial resources to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in 2022. 

“The good news is that we are diversifying as a sector. The concerning news is that we’re not moving fast enough, and there isn’t enough diversity at the leadership level,” said Andres Jimenez, executive director of Green 2.0. 

“But I think the numbers really show that folks are taking diversity seriously, and they’re understanding why it’s critically important to be transparent,” he continued. 

Actress and activist Rosario Dawson narrated a colorful animated video summarizing key takeaways from the new data, which Green 2.0 released alongside the 178-page “diversity report card.” Black staffers made up 9.9% of full-time staffers at the participating NGOs and filled 14.5% of senior leadership positions at those organizations. 

In general, the percentage of people of color in staff and leadership positions has grown at the environmental NGOs that participated. But some groups—Indigenous people, people of North African or Middle Eastern descent, and native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders—had almost no representation, especially among senior leadership. 

This year marks the sixth annual report from Green 2.0, a group that pushes for better racial representation and more transparency within the environmental sector. More organizations and foundations participated this year than ever before, including four NGOs that opted into the study without being directly asked by Green 2.0. Still, 16 NGOs that did receive requests chose not to participate.

“Those organizations who don’t diversify, are basically saying to staff, volunteers and members: ‘we don’t want to hear from you,’” Jimenez said. “And those organizations are going to be left behind.”

Environmental groups need to include voices from communities most impacted by climate change and pollution in order to effectively make progress on those issues, Jimenez and other environmental leaders have argued. 

“If we don’t really have an emphasis on the folks who need this change the most, then we’re really not doing our job, we’re not really meeting our mission,” said Dr. Mel Michelle Lewis, the vice president for diversity, equity, inclusion and justice at American Rivers. 

The Green 2.0 report includes many of the largest and oldest organizations in the environmental sector, including the Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace USA. In recent years, many of these “Big Greens” have had to confront long legacies of racial exclusion. 

“Conservation and environmentalism have historically been sort of led by white, middle- to upper-middle class folks with a very, very narrow view of how to approach these challenges,” said Dr. Leslie Hinkson, the League of Conservation Voters’ chief officer for racial justice and equity. 

Both Lewis and Hinkson pointed to the Green 2.0 study as a tool for accountability and a way to connect with other organizations to share best practices. 

In addition to collecting demographic data, the report also asked environmental organizations a set of 19 questions about workplace culture. Some questions focused specifically on diversity, equity and inclusion while others centered on broader internal practices for building community and offering mentorship opportunities. 

“We need to be really conscious of this practice of ‘hiring for diversity, onboarding for conformity,’” Mariella Puerto, climate director at the Barr Foundation, said at the launch event for the report’s release. “We have to create the conditions where our colleagues can thrive, and bring their true selves to the organization.”

Kayla Benjamin

Covers climate change & environmental justice for the Informer as a full-time reporter through the Report for America program. Prior to her time here, she worked at Washingtonian Magazine writing stories...

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