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RVC report provides solutions to lack of diversity in environmental justice movement

By Rainier Valley Corps

Did you know that people of color (POCs) are severely underrepresented in the environmental justice movement? Yet, they are the most affected by environmental challenges. 

In fact, across the country, race is the biggest predictor of who lives near contaminated water, air, or soil. It’s a vicious cycle rooted in racism that we need to break out of. POCs need the resources, to wield influence, and to have a voice in order to create an environmental movement that works for everyone.

A few years ago, a report titled “Green 2.0 report” outlined just how bad and how long the disparity has been in the lack of diversity in the environmental workforce. 

“The percentage of ethnic minorities on the boards or general staff of environmental organizations does not exceed 16 percent,” states the report. “Once hired in environmental organizations, ethnic minorities are concentrated in the lower ranks. As a result, ethnic minorities occupy less than 12 percent of the leadership positions in the environmental organizations.” 

The constant failure for the green movement to exceed these low percentages is known as the “green ceiling.”

To better understand this dire issue and need, Florence Sum, RVC’s Green Pathways Program Manager, researched and wrote a report, “Stronger Investments in Leadership Programs will Diversify Environmental Justice Movement,” which exposes how diversity is often championed and stressed by white-led environmental organizations, but the numbers consistently prove otherwise. 

More importantly, the report offers very clear ways to achieve diversity to bolster the green movement. This has been a decades-long issue and we’re long overdue.

RVC, in partnership with Got Green, are fighting and setting the example to do just that. Together, they have rolled out the Green Pathways Fellowship Program, which will place a cohort of future leaders of color through a two-year program. This is a similar structure to RVC’s successful Community Impact Fellowship Program

There needs to be a deep commitment for POCs to undergo professional and leadership development so that lower-income communities and communities of color finally have a substantive voice at the table. 

The RVC report explains what the current opportunities are in the green sector, why pathway programs work, why we should act now, what the outcomes are and what will change, and what the models are for breaking the green ceiling. The answers are in the report, we just need to implement these practices and act now. Here are some highlights of areas we found that should be strengthened and grown:

  • Funds that go toward organizations fighting climate challenges need to be diverted to develop an internship pipeline for emerging leaders of color, through racial equity and intersectional lens. 
  • Grassroots organizations need the most support, as they are typically far more diverse and reflective of their communities compared to their state and national  counterparts. 
  • Creating pathways programs will not only diversify organizations and meet the needs of struggling communities, but will also set the stage for a better future for all.

In order to fight environmental issues together, different demographics, especially those disproportionately affected, need a seat at the table and we all have to be on the same page. This report gives us a blueprint to develop and place strong leaders of color in the green sector and achieve the type of diversity that is needed. Let’s get to work.

For more information or to read the executive summary and the full version of our report, visit our Resources page