Working towards a more diverse, inclusive and equitable environment sector


We know that we cannot address the climate and nature crises without also addressing injustice and inequity in the environment sector. In our third blog on our roadmap to improve Our Natural World, Danny Newton, a Project Officer in Our Natural World team, shares what we’ve been doing to support a more diverse, inclusive and equitable environment sector.

Does the statement, ‘Only 4.8% of environmental professionals identify as non-white British’ shock you? The environmental sector as a whole has been described by one of our partners, Craig Bennet of The Wildlife Trusts as being a ‘white, middle-class ghetto’; difficult for people who do not fit the mould to access, and limiting the chance they have to be part of a solution to the climate and biodiversity crises we are facing.

This problem was identified as early as 2017 by our partners at the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), alongside the think tank, Policy Exchange. Yet, little progress was made until the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA, brought the world’s attention to the depth of injustice that people experiencing racial inequity face. This brought both urgency and energy to the issue, which has helped to catalyse the environment sector to take action.

Below, we outline what we have been doing…

Recognising that we have been part of the problem

Firstly, we recognise that, as funders, we have been part of the problem. We are taking steps to change – this includes action we are taking within Esmée, as well as who and how we fund. We have more work to do on this ourselves and are committed to doing so. We are holding ourselves accountable by sharing our objectives on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and reporting on our progress.

An action plan for progress on DEI

The evidence from reports we have seen and from conversations with people and organisations with lived experience of racial inequity in the environment sector suggested that action is needed at a cross-sector and strategic level, as well as practical support for individuals and groups. Many organisations in the environment sector recognise this and are taking action.

So, in parallel with our own DEI work, we are working with Wildlife and Countryside Link who are coordinating a plan on DEI in the environment sector in England. This is co-funded by John Ellerman Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Natural England. The action plan is intended to find out what actions and initiatives environmental organisations can take to improve ethnic diversity within their organisations. This will result in a plan to diversity that the wider sector.

Improving transparency and accountability

To help ensure transparency and accountability on DEI in the sector, we are working with Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS UK) and Manu Maunganidze from The Diversity Trust to support a new transparency framework. This led to the development of the RACE Report (RACE stands for Race Action for the Climate Emergency), which works with organisations to help them go further and faster on diversity and inclusion. Founded by SOS UK, Hindu Climate Action, Nature Youth Connection and Education, South Asians for Sustainability, the initiative is based on an approach called Green 2.0, in the USA, that gives organisations a tool to submit their own diversity data, and look at how they compare across the sector.

Removing barriers to careers in the environment sector

At a practical level, we know that there are barriers for people who experience racial inequity to get into the environment sector. So, we’re pleased to have supported the Race for Nature programme run by Action for Conservation, SOS-UK, Generation Success, and Voyage Youth. The initiative uses the Government’s Kickstarter scheme and will result in 135 positions filled within environment sector organisations, with a total of 40 organisations offering placements. The focus must be on ensuring that young people participating in the scheme are well placed to secure permanent roles in the sector. There are early signs that several placements have already led to permanent posts.

We are now working with partners and other funders to see where we can build on this scheme and support a more permanent programme. We are also working with IEMA, to support colleagues experiencing racial inequity within the sector.

Listening and learning

We have tried to strike a balance between action now, and ensuring we are listening and understanding the complex range of DEI issues from people with lived experience. We supported our Involving Young People Collective to host a ‘hackathon’ to address the lack of diversity in the environment sector, primarily focusing on racial inequity. It featured contributions from Flock Together, May Project Gardens, Action for Conservation, John Ellerman Foundation, Cody Dock, Black2Nature, Mosaic Outdoors, Black Girls Hike and Sheffield Environment Movement.

We found it incredibly valuable to have a space to hold these important conversations and we’re grateful to our Involving Young People Collective and all those that took part, for their insights, ideas and honesty. It has helped us to increase our awareness of who is doing what, where, and also increase our understanding of the barriers that young people experiencing racial inequity face in getting a ‘foot in the door’ at environment organisations.

Before the event, some of those attending shared their initial thoughts about the issue and they’re worth a watch.

Supporting organisations led by and for communities experiencing racial inequity

We are committed to proactively identifying and engaging with environment organisations led by people experiencing racial inequity. The hackathon has helped to widen our network, and we are delighted to now be funding Black2Nature, May Project Gardens, and Sheffield Environment Movement. We were also able to use the publicity generated by the hackathon to make contact with the Council for Ethnic Minority Voluntary Organisations, who we went on to fund, and are in talks with others who are developing proposals for us.

Our new relationships have already taught us a lot about how we can improve our support, and we hope to keep learning and improving as our work together develops.

What more can we do?

We believe we have started to make progress but recognise that much more needs to be done to meet our commitments towards a more racially diverse and inclusive sector. We are looking forward to continuing this work in 2022 and beyond.

Whilst we have been prioritising racial equity in the sector, we understand that diversity, equity and inclusion is broader than this. We want to build our understanding through working with others, especially those with lived experience of the issues we’re trying to address.

We are particularly interested in work the cuts across our priorities in our other strategic aims: A Fairer Future and Creative, Confident Communities. For instance, we are also pleased to be supporting She Changes Climate who are working to secure fair gender representation in climate decision-making.

If you have ideas and opportunities to make progress on DEI in the environment movement, please get in touch.

Learn more


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