But many environmental organizations are still predominantly staffed and led by White employees, a new report finds. And with few people of color on staff, racial disparities in who’s impacted most by harmful environmental policies will continue, a leading environmental justice expert says.
According to the report, the international environmental group Greenpeace has made notable strides since 2017, when 31.4% of its full-time staff were people of color. In 2020, more than 40% of its staffers were people of color, though just over a quarter of them were senior staff, with most of those positions still held by White staffers.
World Wildlife Fund, an international organization with a focus on animal conservation, made little progress in racial equity. People of color have made up between 25% to just over 26% of its full-time staff from 2017 to 2020, the report found, and most of its board members are White, too.
The National Audubon Society, a non-profit that focuses on bird conservation, added 6% more people of color to its full-time staff for a total of 24% — still less than a quarter. Senior staff at the Rainforest Action Network, a San Francisco-based non-profit for rainforest conservation, are more than 77% White.
Andrés Jimenez, executive director of Green 2.0, said it’s not enough to hire more people of color. Structural change within an organization requires buy-in from leaders.
“If you don’t create a workplace environment where your employees of color feel welcomed and valued, they are not going to stay long,” Jimenez said in a statement to CNN. “As we say in the report, diversity is only the first step.”
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“Nearly every aspect of American society is segregated,” he said. “Environmental and conservation organizations are no exception. … America is segregated, and so is pollution.”
While putting people of color in leadership positions can make a difference, Bullard said, he recommends that people of color create and lead their own organizations that have a foundation in racial justice, which can inform their environmental work, rather than focusing on environmental issues alone.
Existing organizations should collaborate with groups like his that are led by people of color so both can thrive and address their goals, Bullard said.
“We need more advocacy on the part of the leading environmental conservation groups aligned with people-of-color groups who are fighting for a fair share of green dollars,” Bullard said. “This collaborative advocacy needs to start now.”
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CNN reached out to Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, the National Audubon Society and the Rainforest Action Network for comment. The two that responded, Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network, acknowledged that while both had made progress in hiring more people of color, the environmental movement still has a ways to go toward racial equity.
“The level of progress the report shows for Greenpeace itself is a testament to our staff and leadership’s commitment to embedding justice within our organization and through our work in the world, but we know we still have a long way to go to get to where we need to be,” said Greenpeace USA’s Ebony Martin, the group’s chief operating officer, who leads its equity and inclusion work.
Greenpeace has acknowledged it needs to renew its focus on environmental justice, and staffers wrote blog posts urging supporters to speak out against legislation that would further environmental racism.
Pallavi Phartiyal, Rainforest Action Network deputy executive director, agreed with Bullard that racial disparities lie at the foundation of environmental injustice and disproportionate climate impacts. She said the organization is working on centering the experiences of Black and indigenous staffers and people of color who work there and in the rainforests they work to protect.