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Diversity Progress Within Environmental Ranks Slows, Report Says

December 13, 2022

December 13, 2022

Green 2.0 Team

By Dean Scott. Read at Bloomberg Law.

Environmental groups are showing mixed progress on diversity with gains at the staff level overshadowed by few inroads for people of color among senior management and top executive positions, according to a new watchdog report.

Environmental groups on average had 100 people of color among full-time staff, up from 75 in 2017, and the percentage of non-White staff has increased from about 25% to 36.5% over the same period, according to an annual survey released Tuesday by Green 2.0, a group that collects the data on racial and ethnic diversity within the environmental sector.

But progress in senior ranks has slowed. The average number of senior staff additions for people of color declined from three to two between 2021 and 2022, and the number of nonwhite board members was unchanged, according to the report.

The group surveyed 80 nongovernmental organizations for the 2022 Transparency Report Card, with 68 responding, including four that weren’t surveyed but opted to volunteer data.

Environmental organizations have been under fire in recent years from activists for their preponderance of White staff and leadership. But there’s been little diversity progress among the ranks of CEOs and executive directors: 69% of top executives for the surveyed groups are White, followed by Asian at 14.1%, and Black or African American at 8.5% of leaders.

The diversity among top leadership and senior staff remains “incredibly problematic” and is particularly evident at the CEO level, where Hispanic and Latinx executives are “grossly underrepresented” at just 2.8% of total leadership, said Adriane Alicea, Green 2.0’s deputy director. The survey used the term Latinx, a gender-neutral reference to those from, or whose ancestors were from, a Spanish-speaking land or culture or from Latin America.

The green groups on average added 21 people of color to their staffs between 2017 and 2022, the report said. But White workers still make up 59.5% of staff positions, followed by 11% of workers identifying as Hispanic or Latino; 9.9% Black or African American; and 7.2% Asian.

The proportion of Black workers on staff is well below the overall US Black population of 12.4% recorded in the 2020 Census. The share of Hispanic or Latino workers employed at green groups compared to their makeup of US population—18.7%—is even lower.

The 2022 survey also recorded a slight decrease in Black or African American staff, from 10.8% in last year’s report to 9.9% this year. American Indian and Alaska Native staff account for 2.2% of staff, followed by Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander staff at 0.4%—but those numbers are slightly better than their representation in the overall US population.

Progress at Foundations

Getting foundations—which provide a key role in funding environmental organizations and environmental action—to participate in the annual survey has been a long-running struggle for the diversity advocacy group. Only 20 of the 50 foundations surveyed responded, well below the response rate for green groups, though it was the highest number of foundations to ever participate.

Foundations employ a largely White workforce at 56.6%, followed by Asian at 12.9%, Black or African American at 11.7%, and Hispanic/Latino at 9.8%, the report said. Hispanic and Latino staff are significantly underrepresented compared to their 18.7% baseline of current US population, the report said.

CEOs and other foundation leaders are predominantly White, at 70%, while 20% identified as people of color and data was missing for the remaining 10%.

Senior staff at foundations also remain predominantly White, though more diverse than top leadership: 54.1% are White, and 35.2% are people of color, with more than 11% failing to report data.

Board members from the foundations reporting for the survey are predominantly White at 65%, followed by those identifying as Black or African American at 9.8%, Hispanic or Latino at 7.5%, or Asian at 5.2%. Data wasn’t reported for the remaining 11%. There were no American Indian or Alaska Native, Middle Eastern or North African, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander groups represented on boards for any of the 20 foundations surveyed.

Groups participating in the survey include the Center of Biological Diversity, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace USA, League of Conservation Voters, National Wildlife Federation, Ocean Conservancy, Sierra Club, US Climate Action Network, and the World Resources Institute.

Foundations surveyed included the Barr Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Libra Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, and Kresge Foundation.

The Sierra Club has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg Law is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at