On Equity and Justice Within the Environmental Community, Part II

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In Part I of this discussion, I shared thoughts on equity and justice rooted in access to power, resources, and opportunity. This grounding enables the environmental community to build collective power for just and equitable change. In Part II, I share brief thoughts on specific actions environmental organizations must take to drive this change.

To deepen equity and justice in the environmental community means changing organizational culture and shifting programmatic activity to expand access to both the decision-making power structures that govern environmental policy, as well as access to the resources and opportunities that come from a healthy environment. Environmental organizations must acknowledge the barriers to this access for marginalized communities (and their own role in maintaining that status quo), and pledge to use their resources and capabilities to dismantle those barriers.

To drive this systemic change, environmental organizations must:

  • Publicly commit to tackling racist systems and to addressing inequities within their own organizations.
  • Review their internal practices to create organizations that reflect America, hiring experts and advocates that represent the communities they seek to engage.
  • Establish internal systems to understand the equity and justice implications of their work, to identify instances where their policies have failed to expand access to power and resources, and to create strategies that will remedy those instances.
  • Build power by supporting people and communities, particularly those marginalized communities that have traditionally lacked access to decision-making power and resources.
  • Engage in co-design and co-implementation of goals and strategies with marginalized communities, utilizing resources to support their efforts.
  • Create metrics that capture progress against the issues as described above and a process for reviewing them with their organization’s senior leadership and board.

These actions are initial steps in reconciling the chasm between mainstream environmental organizations and those groups focused on equity and justice in the environmental policy arena. Hiring a few people of color for entry-level positions and opening one or two board seats are baby steps that must be followed by real action. We must embrace new voices and concepts of what environmental action can look like. 

Environmental organizations must reimagine their program frameworks to understand the racist impacts of past and current policies on marginalized communities and work with these communities to design new policies that expand access to decision making power structures and to the resources, benefits, and opportunities resulting from those decisions.

Part of my decision to partner with Nature for Justice is rooted in our common view that diversity is necessary to develop the creative solutions we need to address our greatest issues. Those solutions will reflect a broad set of values and perspectives that create not only strong environmental outcomes, but also accelerate our journey towards a more just and equitable society.

The environmental community has a long way to go to being powerful partners in the fight to dismantle systemic racism in the society at large and its impacts in environmental policy. As we embark upon this journey, all of us will make mistakes, learn from those errors, and emerge as better partners each time. We must actively and continuously look for ways to broaden our work, diversify our teams, improve our approach, and use our skills and resources to further justice, equity, and a healthy environment.

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