Diversity in the environmental movement: why it matters

While marching with other protesters on Burnaby Mountain last month, I couldn’t help but feel disconcerted. Out of the hundred people that were at the terminal, maybe 20 of us were people of colour or Indigenous.

The environmental movement is woefully homogenous. A study by the University of Michigan found the percentage of staff who are members of ethnic minorities in the almost 300 American environmental institutions they studied is less than 16%. In addition, staff members of colour often hold lower positions and rarely rise to positions of power. A David Suzuki report concluded Canada’s environmental movement also faces diversity issues.

We cannot afford to exclude people of colour, however unintentional the exclusion. In addition to the desire to uphold ideals of diversity, there is a practical need for the movement to be diverse. In five major B.C. cities, visible minorities are now the majority. By 2036, Statistics Canada forecasts the number of Canadians who are visible minorities could double to 16.3 million.

What can environmental organisations do to change the status quo? Firstly, implement the Rooney Rule: interview at least one person of colour for every position, including senior leadership positions. Secondly, review the available resources on engaging communities of colour; the David Suzuki Foundation published a report last year that serves as a good starting point. Thirdly, just start. The Ancient Forest Alliance, for example, has started holding tours in Mandarin of Stanley Park. Not everyone is an ‘environmentalist’, but everyone has a stake in environmental issues.