Zero Waste Humboldt: Diversity Benefits Environmental Organizations

by Margaret Gainer

One of the defining characteristics of northern California’s Redwood Coast is the strong environmental awareness that has become a part of the region’s culture. For such a remote, rural area, there are a surprising number of organizations working for a wide variety of environmental causes. An opportunity for many of these organizations is to increase the diversity of their board and membership. 

In 2014, Green 2.0 — a group of leaders at the center of diversity, inclusion, and equity within the environmental movement — commissioned a groundbreaking report, “The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations,” by Dorceta Taylor, professor of Environmental Sociology at the University of Michigan. Taylor’s ongoing research indicates lack of transparency in reporting racial make-up in environmental organizations, and of the organizations that report, an average of 80% of board members are white. These statistics consistently show that lack of diversity in the environmental movement is an ongoing problem. 

Increasing board diversity and cultural perspectives is important to environmental causes for many reasons. From heat waves to flooding, across the U.S. climate change disproportionately harms communities of color. Environmental organizations can strengthen their outreach to all parts of the community and be more successful in achieving their goals when they are more effective at increasing diversity in their boards of directors and memberships.  When individuals from many different backgrounds are represented in environmental organizations’ leadership, their diverse cultural perspectives contribute to improved decision-making, planning, and policy development.  Widespread support and longstanding relationships with Indigenous, Latinx, Black, and Asian communities strengthen environmental organizations’ ability to achieve change.  

To address this issue, it is essential that environmental organizations’ boards educate themselves and their staffs on recruiting, orienting, and training to achieve the benefits of diversity. This means following practices and procedures such as unconscious bias training for employees and volunteers, transparency about pay and promotions, and setting long-term diversity development goals to create leadership opportunities for people of color.  In a 2018 interview with Yale Environment 360, Taylor advised environmental groups to: “Stop being afraid of people of color. Meet them, interact with them, cultivate them, identify students early, and start recruiting them.”

For Zero Waste Humboldt, its overarching mission to achieve ‘0’ waste involves everyone in a long-term cultural shift. Its top priority of proactive Waste Prevention at the point-of-purchase, and replacing over-consumption with quality of life, relates to everyone in Humboldt County. It is the only organization on the Redwood Coast that solely specializes in waste reduction solutions.

Since incorporating in 2014, Zero Waste Humboldt has committed to diversity on its board and staff. Zero Waste Humboldt currently has two open positions on its Board of Directors. 

ZWH is reaching out to people of color in Humboldt County who are passionate about reducing waste, want to learn more about Zero Waste methods and policies, and have experience in business, community organizing, fundraising, or nonprofit governance. To learn more, please email the ZWH board development committee at zerowastehumboldt@gmail.com.