This article covers the key points intersectional environmentalists make about the overlap between environmentalism and systemic inequity.
“Intersectional environmentalism” is a term that you can expect to hear a lot more of in the coming years. If you’re not familiar, it’s a term that was likely coined by Leah Thomas (but inspired by Kimberlé Crenshaw) to describe environmentalism that takes into account a variety of perspectives and experiences.
Here’s how Thomas defines it: “This is an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected.”
What does that mean in practice? There are two key points intersectional environmentalists make about the overlap between environmentalism and systemic inequity.
First, minority and low-income communities are more likely to be exposed to the impacts of climate change and other environmental disasters. Studies have found that black, brown, and low-income communities have a more difficult time accessing natural spaces and clear air and water. They’re also more likely to live in food deserts (areas without access to fresh food) and more likely to experience negative health effects from environmental sources.
Second, minority and low-income voices are often left out of sustainability and environmentalist discussions. Despite being the very communities that will be affected first and hit hardest by environmental hazards, they’re not given a seat at the table to play a role in shaping solutions. A study by the Green Diversity Initiative found that only 12% of employees and leadership personnel within environmental nonprofits, government environmental agencies, and foundations were people of color.
A study by the Green Diversity Initiative found that only 12% of employees and leadership personnel within environmental nonprofits, government environmental agencies, and foundations were people of color.
With that in mind, here are a few recommended actions that businesses should consider in order to practice intersectional environmentalism.
1. Understand your existing sustainability practices.
Begin by taking inventory of any existing sustainability practices that your company engages with or supports. While you likely had the best intentions when taking these actions, consider them now from an intersectionality lens. Who might you unintentionally be harming by attempting to support the environment? Do your actions put marginalized communities at risk or make assumptions about accessibility? If so, it’s time to rethink them to minimize the unintended consequences.
2. Expand your sustainability discussions.
Next, take a closer look at who you’re inviting to the table when discussing sustainability and your brand’s choices and processes. If your table lacks diversity—and most do—take steps to introduce new voices to the discussion. Are there others within your company or community who might be able to lend an alternate perspective that you haven’t considered? If so, make sure there are opportunities for them to get involved or share their thoughts.
3. Listen to your customers.
As mentioned above, the majority of today’s consumer base wants to support brands that do right by intersectional environmentalism. If you’re getting feedback that you’re falling short in certain areas, take those comments seriously and take action to correct your shortcomings. Make sure to monitor your social media comments, “contact us” submissions, and other feedback channels so you don’t miss these important communications.
4. Be willing to learn more every day.
The intersectional environmentalism movement is just getting started, and chances are, you’ll never be an expert on the subject. Understand the limitations of your current knowledge, and adopt a spirit of curiosity and humility as you learn more. And while you’re at it, make sure you’re getting information from a variety of legitimate sources. The more diversity you can infuse into your learning, the better.
What does this mean for today’s brands? First, it’s important to understand that consumers are pushing brands to consider intersectional environmentalism. In addition to the moral or ethical benefits of acting in alignment with intersectional environmentalist ideals, it turns out that it’s also good for business. An overwhelming majority (71%) of people say brands that make strong commitments to equality and social justice can sway their purchase decisions.
We hope this has been a helpful—albeit brief—overview of the intersection environmentalism space. To learn more, check out Intersectional Environmentalism, a nonprofit founded by Leah Thomas to further this important cause. In the meantime, check out the following action items you can implement in your own business and marketing efforts today.
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