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The year of diversity in environmental groups takes off

In writing about the state of the environmental movement in 2014, Brentin Mock declared 2015 as The Year of Diversity for green orgs. Seems we are off to a good start. Mock writes:

On Jan. 1, the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the larger green groups in the nation, welcomed Rhea Suh as its new president. The daughter of Korean immigrants, Suh is among the first non-whites, and one of only a small handful of women, to serve as chief executive of a mainstream environmental group in the U.S.

He also got to interview Suh to find out firsthand what she might be about in her new position.

Brentin Mock

Brentin Mock

So, about the National Park Service and its poor showing with diversity. I’ve written a lot about this, asking whether the issue is about just bringing inner-city kids to the outdoors, or if there is a structural, systemic racial prejudice that’s not being addressed.


Rhea Suh

I think it’s both, and not only for the Park Service, but also for the big environmental organizations. There is a need to ensure that the programs that we’re creating and delivering are programs that are relevant and pertain to the lives of all Americans. At NRDC, it’s how do we show we’re fighting battles for equity and justice at all levels. But more than that, I think organizations like the Park Service have a hard time looking outside of their ranks, and whether you label that as institutional racism or subconscious bias, the reality is these organizations are regenerating themselves. It’s very hard to go outside of the people who you know and are related to.

I didn’t grow up with [NRDC]. I wasn’t of the culture of the organization. I have different sector experiences. But [NRDC] said, “We want somebody with different perspectives to come in here because we think that’s going to make our organization stronger.” You don’t see that happening in a lot of organizations, particularly in senior-level positions. That is pushing it. That’s taking a risk. That’s taking a leap of faith. Again, this is about a long-term strategy of how we actually win, and organizations have to take more of those risks to get there.

He goes on to ask probing and thoughtful questions about race and the environmentalist movement. Check out the whole interview: NRDC’s new president get serious about diversity.


Author: Peterson Toscano

Peterson Toscano is a quirky queer Quaker concerned about Climate Change. His website is

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