University of Vermont


Diversity in the Environmental Movement

by Mieko A. Ozeki, M.S., A.L.M, Former Sustainability Projects Coordinator

Over the past year, discussions on diversity in the campus sustainability movement have been raised by my colleagues. Admittedly, I did not pay close attention to the diversity of environmental organizations nor professionals in the campus sustainability field. I took for granted, as a person of color, that my role as a sustainability professional is an exception rather than the norm. At a few conferences and online, a few of my colleagues have been calling attention to the fact that white people play a dominant role and the "pink elephant in the room" is that people of color are rarely invited to the the table.

In higher education, student and campus community activism has brought diversity, equity, and sustainability to the forefront on college campuses. This spurred the creation of diversity offices and later sustainability offices in the 1990s and 2000s. Officer positions were created to address these issues on campus. Some may view the creation of these offices as a stand alone accomplishment whereby an institution can say they are addressing diversity and sustainability specifically. But the campus sustainability movement is at the point it needs to reconnect the environment with diverse populations. After all, sustainability is about human beings flourishing within Earth's systems and being part of just communities. 

At the upcoming AASHE 2012 Conference, diversity and equity in the campus sustainability movement is at the forefront of this year's proceedings. Recently, I listened to an excellent webinar discussion, hosted by Orion Magazine, "Bringing Cultural Diversity to the Environmental Movement: a Discussion". One of the panelists was Marcelo Bonta, Executive Director of the Center for Diversity & the Environment and Senior ELP Fellow, who spoke about the lack of people of color in environmental organizations. This discussion pushed me to explore this issue further and so here are a few resources:

  • Bringing Cultural Diversity to the Environmental Movement: a Discussion: The population of the United States, and that of many countries, is becoming more ethnically diverse every day. However, the environmental movement has had limited success bringing that diversity into its ranks, despite the fact that people of color greatly support environmental efforts. Orion hosted a roundtable discussion on how that reality can be reversed, with powerful implications for the movement as a whole. Featured guests included Marcelo Bonta of the Center for Diversity and the Environment, Ginny McGinn of the Center for Whole Communities, and Monica Smiley of Tualatin Riverkeepers.