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Finding a path toward diversity in sustainability

“Equity, diversity, and inclusion in the sustainability movement—that’s the only way I see forward,” said Marcelo Bonta, founder and executive director of the Center for Diversity and the Environment, at Portland State University last week.

Speaking candidly about his own experience working in the environmental field as a man of Filipino descent, Bonta addressed issues around the lack of diversity in the U.S. environmental movement. After graduating with degrees from Yale and Tufts, Bonta found that he was the only person of color working for a national wildlife conservation group. Aside from discussing his personal and professional struggles that resulted, Bonta urged the audience to consider why this lack of diversity is an issue for everyone, and why it is increasingly becoming one that the environmental movement must make a fierce effort to address.   

Consider this:

  • In 2011, more than 50 percent of all babies born in the U.S. were babies of color.
  • In 2019, it’s projected that more than 50 percent of all children in the U.S. will be people of color.
  • In 2043, it’s projected that more than 50 percent of the entire U.S. population will be people of color. 

What’s more, polls show that people of color support environmental issues at overwhelmingly higher rates than white people. So why are environmental organizations so lacking in diversity? Why do people of color often feel alienated from a movement that supposedly works towards the things many of them support? 

The answers to these questions aren’t simple, and they are laced with the residues of historically oppressive institutional norms, something Bonta calls an “unintentionally exclusive culture.”

As Bonta puts it: “The lack of diversity in the environmental movement is no one’s fault—but it is everyone’s responsibility.”

Watch Bonta’s talk at PSU here:


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