Dismantling decades of environmental injustice that disproportionally affects generations of poor people and communities of color is the mission of a growing number of organizations, companies, communities and individuals determined to advance environmental justice.
However, building lasting solutions for environmental justice is a multifaceted and complex undertaking that requires addressing the roots of racial injustice while empowering Black, Indigenous and people of color professionals to accelerate the journey to a clean economy.
That work is evolving. One-year-old nonprofit GreenBiz.org, for example, will this year launch its first two programs — workforce development and community building.
“Rooted in diversity, equity and inclusion, these programs will serve as a lever to help more Black and brown professionals step into positions of influence and ensure that they’re present in decision-making rooms as we steer our companies towards serving and supporting frontline communities of color wrestling with the generational impacts of environmental injustice,” Jarami Bond, strategic consultant to Greenbiz.org, shared late week during a GreenBiz22 keynote.
Since kicking off the soft launch of Greenbiz.org during GreenBiz21, and inviting companies, foundations and organizations to join it as GreenBiz.org creates new narratives for the BIPOC sustainability community, Bond last week announced initial funders include LinkedIn, United Airlines and Google.
Working for racial equity and cultivating cultures of inclusivity in companies and beyond, has been, and continues to be, a long journey for many. For others, the imperative to begin thinking about diversity and inclusion was fueled more recently by external events such as high-profile police killings of black men, protests for racial injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Rooted in diversity, equity and inclusion, these programs will serve as a lever to help more Black and brown professionals step into positions of influence and ensure that they’re present in decision-making rooms as we steer our companies towards serving.
The challenge in combating racism is advancing from social movements to structural change.
PwC had a diversity professional in the C-suite for a couple of decades, but the 2017 launch of the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion initiative, an effort to get CEOs to take action to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace, is driving change at scale.
Today, more than 2,000 CEOs have pledged to host candid conversations around D&I, implement and expand D&I education, engage their boards on their D&I strategies and share leading practices with each other.
More recently, in October 2020, PwC launched a fellowship, CEO Action for Racial Equity, a business-led initiative driving racial equality in the public policy arena.
Kim Thompson, PwC principal and fellow at the CEO Action for Racial Equity, works full-time on racial equity issues relating to education, public safety, economic empowerment, and healthcare. “Specifically, we’re looking at policies and corporate engagement strategies that will seek to end systemic racism,” she said, during the GreenBiz keynote session.
Both CEO Action initiatives at PwC serve as models for the work that Jorge Fontanez, CEO of B Lab, is doing. B Lab is a global movement that certifies B Corporations, companies that meet high standards of social, environmental and government standards.
Today, 4,500 B Corporations are working to advance racial equity and inclusivity in companies and communities. “Our vision of the future is to create an inclusive, equitable and regenerative economic system,” Fontanez shared at GreenBiz22. “We have an opportunity to elevate racial equity within our companies as well as in our communities and society at large and elevate it with an urgency to the level of climate.”
From pledges and commitments to accountability
Organizations such as B Labs, GreenBiz.org and the CEO Action initiatives understand the importance of impacting communities and business through infrastructure that encourages the sharing of best practices at the local level.
“The greater number of people who join CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion and CEO Action for Racial Equality the more diverse the input we get from people with different specialties and expertise and the more impact we can have on racial equity,” Thompson said.
The session participants agreed that building productive, diverse and inclusive workplaces is more than a hiring numbers game and must include building organizational cultures that are poised for inclusivity where black professionals can holistically thrive.
“You can have a pledge and you can say that you will do something but unless you actually do it, it doesn’t mean a whole lot. Which is why one of the pledges that CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion companies agree to do is to have a conversation with its board about how it is holding itself accountable. Outlining a strategy for D&I is another,” Thompson said.
Accountability is one of three anchors that secures the work of B Labs. The other two are: How the company focuses its efforts on achieving racial equity and justice, and how it can shift power and distribute leadership. “These are important tenets to open up a conversation because commitments are fleeting and we don’t have the frameworks — yet — to create what is required to hold companies accountable for how we make progress,” Fontanez said.
You can have a pledge and you can say that you will do something but unless you actually do it, it doesn’t mean a whole lot.
Furthermore, the commitment of any individual business is only as good as the relationships that are cultivated on the ground in the communities where that business operates. “So, your JEDI [justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion] strategy should be informed by those communities and people who should be impacted more positively by the change you’re trying to effect,” Fontanez said, expanding on his concept of justice.
Beyond the C-suite
C-suite commitment is a must to advance DE&I and environmental justice, but it doesn’t stop there. Other stakeholders include employees, clients, customers and investors. An SEC proposal expected in 2022 will address human capital metrics that will likely include a mandate that public companies disclose diversity and inclusion demographics — reinforcing investor interest that’s already driving voluntary employer disclosures.
Regarding employee stakeholders, the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer reports that societal leadership is a core function of business. When considering a job, 60 percent of employees want their CEO to speak out on controversial issues they care about, and 80 percent of the general population want CEOs to be personally visible when discussing public policy with external stakeholders or work their company has done to benefit society.
As for the making the business case for racial equality, W.K. Kellogg Foundation research reported in 2018, found that the U.S. stands to realize an $8 trillion gain in GDP by closing the racial equality gap.
For company leaders, the challenge is how to draw that down to an individual level. “For some of the data we’re looking for, it may not exist. But we should look for where the data does exist, and how to create and build a muscle for measuring the S in ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) in better and more transformative ways that we can also share with others,” Fontanez said.
B Lab works with PolicyLink, a partner working with the Corporate Racial Equity Alliance, that offers an open source toolkit — the CEO Blueprint for Racial Equity — to guide businesses in analyzing their impact on racial equity.
Change is coming and business leaders have an opportunity to get it front of it.
February 21, 2022 at 04:15PM