Green, But Mostly White: The Lack Of Diversity In The Environmental Movement, Part 1 of 5—Future 500

Guest Blog By Danna Pfahl, Future 500

Future 500 is a global nonprofit specializing in stakeholder engagement and building bridges between parties at odds—often corporations and NGOs, the political right and left, and others—to advance systemic solutions to urgent sustainability challenges. Recently, members of the Future 500 staff held a roundtable discussion about diversity—rather, the lack of it—in their industry. Participants were Shilpi Chhotray, Danna Pfahl, Marvin Smith, Nick Sorrentino and Brendon Steele. Part 1 of a five-part collective article features comments by Danna Pfahl, VP, Stakeholder Engagement—The Editor.

There have been a series of lively discussions recently around the Future 500 office that led to the creation of a collective article on the subject. The real spark can be traced back to our expansion as an organization over the past year, as we have been fortunate enough to hire five new full time staffers since July 2013. This is when I, as well as others involved in the hiring process, first started to notice how difficult it was to pull applicants that weren’t of a certain class, race, political party and education. A lack of diversity was something I had always noticed about the environmental community, but it was now staring me squarely in the face - in the form of 400 applicants.

In the Spring of 2014, I was fortunate enough to attend the Social Venture Network’s annual meeting. It was the first time I had seen a group of people working in the environmental sustainability arena discuss the lack-of-diversity issue in any real, constructive way.  It was refreshing and gave me the space I had been searching for.  

During the SVN event, the Donald Sterling controversy erupted, which (re) opened a national conversation about race in America. Directly after, I attended a meeting on climate, where I had to defend to another organization why we worked with Republicans on the issue. This conversation happened right before I boarded a plane to a prominent annual sustainability conference, in which my colleague Marvin (his story to follow), was one of only a handful of non-white participants in a room of about 600 people.

So, it’s fair to say that ‘diversity’ – whether it be referencing race, class, political, or gender, was on my mind. It was on my colleagues’ minds. It’s been on everyone’s minds in every meeting that I go to where we collectively look around the room and all think the same thing but don’t say it: the environmental community is mainly a white, middle class, liberal movement and it needs to expand to be truly effective.   

Marvin and I returned to the Future 500 office, where we started discussing this topic with the rest of the staff. Inevitably, discussion led to a debate about our industry and about our individual experiences within it. We wanted to share that conversation, in our own individual voices, to spark a larger conversation within the environmental movement. While we have differing perspectives and backgrounds, we ultimately believe that by putting the pieces together, we are stronger and much better equipped to tackle the daunting global environmental issues of our time.

Danna Pfahl is VP of Stakeholder Engagement, at Future 500. 

Read Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5