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Troubling Lack of Diversity In Environmental Movement

The environmental movement needs to diversify.

A recent study of environmental organizations casts a spotlight on this problem. “The current state of racial diversity in environmental organizations is troubling,” concludes the report by Professor Dorceta Taylor, who works at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment.

“Despite the growth in the ethnic minority population in the U.S., the percentage of minorities on the boards or general staff of environmental organizations does not exceed 16 percent,” the report notes.

The findings, sadly, are not surprising. They are something that environmental justice activists have been aware for many decades. The mainstream environmental groups do not hire or promote enough minorities into leadership positions.

Therefore, we decided to create the California Latino Environmental Advocacy Network – CLEAN. It is the first Latino founded, led, statewide environmental non-profit. The California Latino Environmental Advocacy Network – CLEAN will help to bring awareness and consciousness regarding important environmental issues – throughout California.

Environmental protection is a life or death issue. CLEAN is needed because the areas most impacted by air, water, and toxics contamination take place in poor, minority communities who do not have enough money or political clout to fight back. Also, many of these community members do not realize that they are being poisoned on a daily basis. Many are getting asthma, cancer, and other illnesses due to contamination.

This is exactly the case with the Exide Battery Recycling Plant located in Vernon, CA – where over 100,000 residents have been poisoned for over three decades. CLEAN has formally asked the California Environmental Protection Agency – Cal-EPA and U.S. EPA for this polluter to be shut down. A grand jury will determine the fate of Exide Battery Recycling Plant. Where have the environmental groups been when it comes to polluters such as Exide – who were given a free pass to continually contaminate for over three decades?

Also, it is fairly easy to see that the top environmental national groups have virtually no Latinos, African-Americans or Asians as CEO, president or executive director. Many of these environmental groups claim diversity by having one or two minorities on their board of directors. And some have hired a few minorities to be on staff.

But, as the report notes, “Once hired, ethnic minorities are concentrated in the lower ranks.”

The environmental movement needs to catch up with the demographic changes that have taken place throughout the United States. Too often, environmental groups base their hiring on insider contacts and friendships. Many times, the human resources directors or the hiring committees already know the person they want to hire. Many times, the interviews are a sham. They are just to check off the box that minorities were interviewed but did not meet the qualifications.

The environmental movement needs to be held accountable. Foundations and philanthropists that fund green groups must push them to diversify.

Many minorities are highly qualified. They have the academic, life experience and work experience to lead these major environmental groups.

The insider mentality needs to change.


No more excuses.


Randy Jurado Ertll, executive director of the recently established non-profit California Latino Environmental Advocacy Network – CLEAN  www.cleannetwork.org.