Green groups know they have a diversity problem. Less than a fifth of the staff at the major environmental lobbies are minorities, a figure that critics and insiders admit can skew their priorities. With minority communities facing more-immediate and stronger impacts from pollution and climate change, insiders and critics say it's more important than ever to shake up the voices within the movement.
"We're doing work that we need to do to make the environmental movement more reflective of our country writ large, and that has many aspects," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. "Part of it is making sure our leadership reflects the population, part of it is making sure our campaigns reflect demands, and part of it is speaking out on issues where there's an overlap in the mission of our organizations and the interests of the community."
The first steps are emerging in the form of simple solidarity. As hundreds of thousands march across the nation, hold die-ins, and speak out for social justice after the grand jury decisions in the deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York, green groups are stepping outside their traditional bounds to weigh in.
The Sierra Club's Facebook page—amid pictures of national parks and entreaties to stop the Keystone XL pipeline—featured a pair of statements, the latter a picture and note expressing "solidarity with the organizations who are protesting and demanding justice in the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and every other victim of injustice." Friends of the Earth blacked out its Twitter profile picture and replaced its background with a picture featuring the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Incoming Natural Resources Defense Council President Rhea Suh wrote in her first blog post for NRDC that the group could not abide "another injustice afflicting communities of color."