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Is the Environmental Movement Still #SoWhite? Learning from the 2019 Green 2.0 Transparency Report Card
March 12, 2020

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Whitney Tome

Whitney Tome is the executive director of Green 2.0, which advocates for improved diversity, equity, and inclusion in the mainstream environmental movement.  

As environmental disasters from the recent wildfires in Australia and California to the growing intensity of tropical storms increase, environmental work takes on heightened urgency. We know that crises such as wildfires, rising sea levels, poor water, and air quality disproportionally impact people of color and vulnerable communities, so it’s important that the movement for improving our environment be accessible, welcoming, and open to all.

Since its inception in 2014, Green 2.0 has pioneered accountability measures for the #DiversifyGreen movement writ large. Through our annual Transparency Report Cards, we’ve exposed some of the worst actors within the top 40 environmental NGO’s and foundations while praising those who’ve demonstrated true commitments to diversity with their hiring practices. Our work has been instrumental in putting the spotlight on the glaring diversity issues within the environmental movement, and as a consequence, we’ve seen folks make substantive progress.

Though the diversity statistics for 2019 are encouraging, it is far too premature to declare victory. Some of the top foundations and organizations in this space who claim to be major, influential players, perpetuate a double standard—asking their grantees for their data and equity efforts while not providing their own.

This kind of hypocrisy is not just a glaring weakness, but it needs to be understood as an obstacle to making the kind of progress and impact these organizations seek to make.

"Opportunity, accountability, and intentionality are three pillars that funders and nonprofits alike must stand on."

Let us be clear—opportunity, accountability, and intentionality are three pillars that funders and nonprofits alike must stand on. Environmental leaders cannot afford to lose sight of the significance of diversity at a time when this movement needs greater unity and coordination of resources than ever before. There is too much at stake. Especially for our most vulnerable communities.

Inaction is inexcusable. And data can move people to action. This is why we publish these diversity statistics each year. With the critical support, leadership, and thought-partnership of Guidestar by Candid and Dr. Stefanie K. Johnson, our report cards and data analysis are produced with great care and efficacy because these organizations, like every organization, must be held accountable.

Based on our 2019 findings, we urge leaders in the environmental movement to adopt the following recommendations: Green2.0_logo-NEW

  1. More organizations in the funder sector of the movement need to report their data. As it stands, so few foundations have reported that Dr. Stefanie K. Johnson simply could not make an apples-to-apples comparison of which sector is excelling more rapidly. It is clear that NGOs excel in reporting data and are making strides, and while we assume foundations are making less progress due to lack of commitment to even report data, we simply cannot know for sure. What is clear is that data reporting signals external commitment and reinforces internal resolve to remove barriers to diversity that exist in persistently white organizations.
  2. Leaders must be thoughtful about how the opportunity to diversify manifests differently at different levels of their organizations. For example, while senior staff numbers have increased slightly in this year’s report, leaders have to consider whether that is sustainable if C-Suite professionals stay longer and their organizations are not expanding the number of senior staff positions. When senior positions do open, pushing search professionals to deliver truly diverse slates is an urgent necessity, and underscores the importance of having good data to back up the need. Evidence for the importance of tracking demographic data and using it to advocate for greater inclusion can be seen in the growing diversity of boards noted in this year’s report.
  3. Listen to young people. As we’ve seen, despite their lack of representation in the public sphere, young people are already building separate lanes of influence on climate change. Their leadership, messaging, and organizing strategies are noticeably more inclusive and racially diverse than the institutions that comprise the wider movement. They are nimble and rapidly responsive, in part, because they are the communities they are trying to save.

    "Inaction is inexcusable. And data can move people to action."

While we have faith that the longstanding, mainstream environmental movement will challenge itself to push the envelope on inclusivity, we implore the recalcitrant organizations to step forward and pledge to do better today. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Because many brown and Black communities just don’t have the time.

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

    The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation Center.

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    Foundation Center

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