Top Environmental Agencies Release Diversity Data

04/23/2015 02:45 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2015

On April 22, 2015, which marked the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, Green 2.0, an initiative dedicated to increasing racial diversity across mainstream environmental agencies, released the names of over 25 of America's leading environmental advocacy organizations that voluntarily submitted their diversity data to GuideStar.

Among the organizations that had shared their employee and board diversity information are Environmental Defense Fund, the National Audubon Society and the Conservation Fund.

Other groups, such as the Pew Charitable Fund, Resources Legacy Fund and Conservation International, have not done so. In fact, 18 of the nation's largest mainstream environmental advocacy organizations have so far declined to disclose their diversity numbers to GuideStar, a site that aims to bring more transparency by providing data on thousands of nonprofits.


"I commend the organizations and foundations that have committed to openness and transparency on diversity and submitted their diversity data," U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) told reporters on a press call Wednesday. "However, it is troubling that some green organizations and the foundations that support them have not taken this initial step towards a more diverse sector."

Grijalva stressed that diversifying green organizations and foundations would make them "more effective in addressing current and future environmental challenges."

While many acknowledged the lack of diversity, few have expressed any urgency to address it, according to a study commissioned by Green 2.0. Nor did anyone seem to have a game plan. "Although people of color are now almost 40 percent of the U.S. population, they have not broken the 16-percent 'green ceiling' in mainstream environmental organizations and foundations," noted Robert Raben, the founder and president of The Raben Group and Green 2.0.


The report found that, on average, minorities make up less than 5 percent of "mainstream" environmental organizations' boards, despite the fact that people of color support environmental protection at a higher rate than whites, according to Raben. However, these organizations "are not adequately reaching out to organizations representing people of color communities," he said.

The diversity data collected on GuideStar will be held up like a mirror to various organizations, said Jacob Harold, the president and CEO of Guidestar.

Denis Hayes, who was national organizer of the first Earth Day and is now the president of the Bullitt Foundation, encouraged other organizations to participate in this effort. "We are all most likely to improve the things that we measure," he said.

"At its birth, the environmental movement was a big tent, welcoming to all who shared its basic commitment to a healthy, resilient, equitable, peaceful future," he added. "We need to return to those roots."

Hayes is among the few philanthropy leaders who have already made their information available on their GuideStar profile. People of color represent 50 percent of the staff of the Bullitt Foundation, and 27 percent of its board.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and philanthropist advocate Tom Steyer are among those who are calling for other environmental organizations to submit their diversity information.

Kris Sarri, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Department of the Interior, said the nation will need to draw on talents of the next generation to deal with pressing environmental challenges. "Diversity is critical," she noted. The millennial generation "is the most diverse population in our history," but they also are "the most disconnected from natural world," she said.

Green 2.0 is calling on other large foundations and organizations to step up and submit their own data. "We urge the organizations and foundations who have not submitted data to submit in the next two months," Raben said. "Tracking data is a basic first step, whether you are trying to solve climate disruption or diversity."

"We celebrate today's progress, but we have work to do, and we haven't truly won until this movement is truly diverse and inclusive," he added.

Green 2.0's partnership with GuideStar and D5, a coalition dedicated to expanding diversity in the philanthropic sphere, is a first-of-its-kind effort to collect diversity data from NGOs and foundations on a national scale.

Andrew Lam is the author of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora, which won the 2006 PEN Open Book Award, and East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres. He's an editor and co-founder of New America Media, an association of over 2,000 ethnic media outlets.