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

Guest Blog By Nick Sorrentino, 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. The organization unites corporate and NGOs to address social and environmental issues with market-based solutions. 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 5 of a five-part series features comments by Nick Sorrentino, Director of Political Outreach —The Editor.

I must admit that I am usually loathe to discuss issues in terms of race, gender, class, etc. But in this case I will make an exception because Future 500 is an organization which is legitimately interested in actual diversity. I should know, though I am white, male, straight, and middle class, my political disposition places me in a very small camp within the environmental community. I am a libertarian.

No joke. I am rabidly free market. I believe that the government which governs least governs best.  I am for reducing the size and role of the state. But I am also an environmentalist.

I love hiking, and trees, and wild spaces, and clean air, and clean water. I think the clear cutting of rainforests is a tragedy. I am disgusted by the plastic mess in the Northern Pacific Gyre. I abhor waste. I am for recycling. I am for fuel efficiency. I am for indigenous people’s efforts to gain stewardship over  land which in many cases these peoples have owned for millennia. But I believe that property rights are the best way to address these issues, which places me, at times, at odds with some within the environmental community.

That’s OK. I like this position and I find that far more often than not, people are pretty open to hearing my critique. Many probably dismiss it quickly, but that’s OK, too. I feel that even if someone thinks I’m out to lunch I am often at least able shine a slightly different light on a topic. This often helps to move things forward.

At conferences and gatherings though, I am often the only free market person at the table and this is a shame. Despite what many of our environmental brethren think, there are plenty of market-oriented people who care about the environment. These freemarketeers might not like some of the methods held near and dear to the longstanding environmental community, but they too want a cleaner more “sustainable” planet. Sometimes these free market outsiders even have really great ideas, but right now, for the most part, their ideas are seldom heard. This should change.

One of the reasons I engage in the environmental political space is because I believe that if environmentalism is relegated solely to what we call the “Left” in this country,  we will have a huge problem on our hands when power  inevitably shifts. If there is no one on the “Right” to voice environmental concerns when the “Right” is in power, if there is no free market environmental constituency to answer to, we will all be worse off.

Diversity of opinion, of experience, of yes, ethnicity, of geographic origination, of communication styles, of on occasion, even political disposition, can be of immense value to any organization. So long as there is a shared spirit and goal, “real” diversity is a huge asset.  Indeed it may be what sets successful organizations apart from the less successful ones as the world becomes increasingly dynamic. Change happens and it is happening faster and faster. Diversity, real honest to goodness diversity, can help organizations cope with this dynamism.

Conclusion — Future 500 Staff

As we face ever more pressing challenges related to climate change, it’s imperative, not optional, that humanity unite to solve the problem.  Social isolation, whether via political affiliation, race, gender, or class, is simply a waste of time and, ultimately, gets us nowhere. By instead recognizing that we all share a common goal within the environmental community – that of improving and protecting the planet for generations to come – we can recognize the need to hear the various voices that, collectively, make for a much stronger, and more inclusive, environmental movement.

Nick Sorrentino is Director of Political Outreach, Future 500

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4