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Why diversity matters when it comes to sustainability

Article by Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah

Posted: July 13, 2022

Environmental sustainability impacts everyone – after all, we all share the same planet. What impact can many different voices have on ensuring environmental sustainability?

Diversity by definition means many different perspectives. This adds value to any discussion about sustainability, ensuring that a broad range of views, opinions and concerns are taken into account. 

People from different backgrounds and experiences have different depths of knowledge to draw on, which can help to enrich the cause of sustainability. A lack of diversity means a missed opportunity for people to contribute their skills and voices to the sustainability movement.



The diversity problem


Diversity in sustainability isn’t isolated to a specific country, or even sector. 

For example, according to 2018 statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Black people make up only 5% of the environmental sciences and geosciences workforce, with Latinx close behind at 4.8% and Asian people  0.7%.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, only 4.8% of environment professionals identify as Asian, Black or another minority ethnic in the UK, according to research by The Race Report . In comparison, the average is 12.6% across other professions. 

These statistics are significant. Diverse representation in sustainability is the only way to make sure initiatives are successful. Taking a closer look at the problem, and taking active steps to address a lack of diversity, should be part of any sustainability project or organisation. 

This lack of diversity is all the more confronting when considering that the impacts of climate change disproportionately affects marginalised communities; essentially the people most impacted currently have the smallest share of voice. 

Reflected in this lack of representation is the fact that sustainability isn’t purely about the environment. To care for the world around us, we also need to care for the people in it. It’s only through holistic approaches that support the wellbeing of both people and the planet that sustainability initiatives will succeed.


The power of diversity lies in different perspectives



Diversity by definition means many different perspectives. 

A lack of diversity means a missed opportunity for people to contribute their skills and voices to the sustainability movement.

Indigienous groups, for example, often have a deeper understanding of their natural environments and how to care for the natural world. Making sure their voices are included in discussions around environmental sustainability is crucial. According to IUCN, land managed by Indigenous communities emit at least 73% less carbon than land under the management of other groups. Ignoring the contributions of Indigenous people in sustainability is a massive oversight.

Diversity also increases collaboration, which is essential to the success of sustainability initiatives. Most sustainability projects have a complex number of stakeholders, from non-profit organisations to individuals and communities. Partnerships are an important part of progress, at local, national and international level. Diversity plays an important role in making sure effective partnerships succeed.


How can diversity in sustainability be addressed?  


On an industry wide level, The RACE Report is tackling the issue through transparency and data collection, publishing racial diversity data on environmental and sustainability organisations so their progress is visible. Having a clearer view of the status of diversity across organisations means The RACE Report can also share best practices on achieving racial equity in organisations. 

Understanding, acknowledging and dismantling the barriers people of colour face within the sustainability sector is an important step in making sure people from more diverse backgrounds find positions within relevant organisations. 

On an organisational level, supporting diversity requires organisations to take a closer look at their own operating structures, to identify where they can do better, and carry out constant enquiry into how they can best support diversity. This could mean taking action such as hiring more diversely, and considering how they interact with partner organisations or local communities where they are active. 

And finally, on an individual level, everyone passionate about sustainability or working in this field can learn more about how to make initiatives more diverse. The Outdoorist Oath is a great place to start, with a learning community dedicated to “planet, inclusion, and adventure”.


How is GVI putting diversity first in sustainable volunteering programs and internships? 



Diversity is a consideration for any sustainability internships or volunteer programs, if these programs are to achieve any positive change. 

GVI has clearly outlined ethical commitments which guide how we interact with local leaders and communities on our bases. The first of these is a commitment to locally led programs. That means GVI collaborates with local leaders to achieve more effective outcomes, with the goal of enabling local communities and partner organisations to manage their projects without GVI’s support. 

We know local leaders will be able to represent their communities best and be responsible for ensuring solutions are long lasting. Diversity in leadership is an essential part of empowering local communities, and steering clear of short-term solutions that overlook the needs of a community. 

As a volunteer or intern, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about these principles of sustainable development during your program. So, whether supporting women’s empowerment or wildlife conservation, part of your experience will be understanding how to responsibly care not just for our natural world, but also for  individuals and communities.   


Choose an internship or volunteering program with GVI to learn more about sustainability initiatives in action and how locally led projects can affect real change. 

Disclaimer: These images were taken before Covid-19


By Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah is a freelance writer from New Zealand with a passion for outdoor adventure and sustainable travel. She has been writing about travel for more than five years and her work has appeared in print and digital publications including National Geographic Travel, Conde Nast Travel, Business Insider, Atlas Obscura and more. You can see more of her work at petrinadarrah.com.
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