How to break the green ceiling in the U.S. environmental movement

Leaking Talent: How People of Color are Pushed out of Environmental Organizations  is the latest publication of Green 2.0 (formerly the Green Diversity Initiative), a U.S. NGO whose purpose is “to stimulate the demand for, and demonstrate the supply of, talented leaders of all backgrounds” in the mainstream environmental movement.

Leaking Talent reports on a 2018 survey which determined that, amongst the 40 largest green NGOs in the U.S., only 20% of the staff and 21% of the senior staff identified as “People of Color”.  The survey results for environmental foundations were similar:  25% of the staff and 4% of the senior staff identified as People of Color.  To determine the factors related to retention and promotion, the author examined qualitative and quantitative data from employees, their HR or diversity managers, and their CEOs. Results showed that  a focus on employee development and transparency in the promotion process had the most consistent impact on intent to stay for all employees. For top-level leaders, the strongest effect came from diversity and inclusion commitments stated in the organization’s mission, vision and values .

Green 2.0 established a baseline of data, and coined the term “green ceiling”  in 2014 with  The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations: Mainstream NGOs, Foundations & Government Agencies . That survey concluded that unconscious bias, discrimination, and insular recruiting were the top three barriers to hiring and retention in the mainstream movement. Other publications are:   Beyond Diversity: A Roadmap to Building an Inclusive Organization  (2017) , and in January 2019,  the 2017 Transparency Report Card was updated

Growth and diversity in the U.S.clean energy industry

Two new reports foresee employment growth in the U.S. renewable energy industry – despite the chilling effect of the tariffs on solar equipment imposed  by the Trump administration, as described in a Solar Energy Industry Association press release in December.   The first study, Clean Energy sweeps across rural America  (November 2018) by the Natural Resources Defence Council examines job growth in wind, solar, and energy efficiency in rural regions throughout the Midwest U.S., and finds that the number of clean energy jobs grew by 6 percent from 2015 to 2016 (a higher rate than the economic in general), to a total of  nearly 160,000 in 2017.  In 2017, in the rural parts of every midwestern state except North Dakota and Kansas, more people worked in clean energy than in the entire fossil fuel industry.  The report emphasizes the outsized impact of job opportunities in rural areas in which job growth is normally negligible or even negative. The report also profiles examples of  community solar programs operated by co-ops and investor-owned utilities.

A second report  models the impact of  replacing Colorado’s coal plants with a mix of wind and solar backed by battery storage and natural gas.  This report was prepared by consultants Vibrant Clean Energy and commissioned by energy developer Community Energy Inc., with a main focus on cost savings and carbon emissions.  However, it also forecasts job impacts under three scenarios (keeping coal plants to 2040, gradually retiring coal plants, and retiring all coal plants in 2025), and overall,  it forecasts a 52% increase in employment in the electricity industry.

The January 9 press release  quotes a representative from Community Energy Inc:  “The key to unlocking these benefits is to create a legal framework that enables utilities to voluntarily retire the coal plants. Otherwise, it could take years to negotiate or litigate utility cost recovery, replacement power costs and impact on local communities.” The full Coal Plant Retirement study is here .

Finally, the Solar Energy Industries Association issued a press release in early December, highlighting its 2018 initiatives to improve gender equity and diversity – including the creation of the Women’s Empowerment Initiative, which includes summits to increase women’s leadership and various industry opportunities.  In September 2018,  the SEIA signed a Memorandum of Understanding  to help the solar industry recruit and employ more students from the 101 Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  This will include hosting a national jobs fair, individual jobs fairs at the HBCU schools and bringing solar companies to campuses for recruitment.   A webinar series on diversity and inclusion is scheduled for SEIA member companies in 2019.