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Who’s an Environmentalist?

Center for Diversity & EnvironmentWho do you picture when you hear “environmentalist?”

Someone fit and wholesome, wearing earthy clothes and hiking boots?  A young man?  A young white man?

Marcelo Bonta wants you to imagine another — more inclusive — image.  He is executive director of the Center for Diversity & the Environment and founder of the National Environmental Professionals of Color.

Bonta’s mission is to change the complexion of the environmental community.  At this week’s annual member meeting of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, he appealed to the audience to step back, look around and listen.  What, he asked, can each of us do to transform institutional cultures to be intentionally inclusive instead of unintentionally exclusive?

People of Color Care More about the Environment
Why does diversity and inclusion matter in the environmental movement?  Of course there’s an overriding moral imperative and there’s the well-documented demographic changes in the U.S. population, but there’s also the business case:  engaging people of color and other diverse individuals in the movement dramatically increases the chance of success.

Bonta cited research that indicates that people of color support environmental issues at substantially higher rates than white populations.  Plus, voters of color support greater financial investments (including from their own pockets) in conservation.

So getting everyone engaged in the conversation and working together will broaden the base, build critical mass and enrich the movement.

Bringing Whole Selves Benefits the Cause
To attract diverse constituents and foster inclusivity, Bonta advocates a holistic approach . . . creating organizational cultures that encourage individuals to bring their whole selves to their work to protect the environment.

Remember who you originally imagined as an environmentalist?  Sometimes the picture looks like this:

Are  John Griffith and his California Conservation Corps crew members afraid to bring all their talents to their work?

Maybe Minnesota environmentalists aren’t ready to break out their dance moves, but Marcelo Bonta hopes they’re ready to break into some diversity moves that will bridge differences and create a welcoming, integrated atmosphere for all communities — from Native mining activists, to Hmong farmers, to African American  urban teens, to . . . everyone who cares about conservation and environmental protection, justice and health.

Bonta advocates intentional leadership, ongoing learning and listening, informed action, and a balance of head and heart to create new multicultural pictures of “environmentalists.”  Here’s to seeing that picture in Minnesota.

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