Getting Past the Whiteness of Green

Getting Past the Whiteness of Green

If you look around, green is very white. But to build a genuine sustainable society and business world, green must include every color of the rainbow. That's the main message that I gleaned from listening to two distinct speakers across the country from each other during the past weeks.

Dolores Huerta gave an impassioned speech at the Green Festival on Sunday, and Majora Carter presented the closing keynote address at the Net Impact Conference the prior weekend; both speeches reframed diversity and left audiences on their feet.

Systems Thinking

"We are all Homo sapiens and we all come from Africa," roared Dolores Huerta, the social and environmental justice leader who co-founded the United Farm Workers, at Sunday's Green Festival. "That means we're all Africans of different shades and colors." Whether you identify as an African or not, Huerta's message is clear: we are all in the same boat.

Climate change is color blind and it affects all of us. A climate change refugee from Darfur and the CEO of multinational corporation may not have much in common, but they both live on the same planet and within one ecosystem. Just as systems thinking can be applied to product design, supply chain management and business strategy, it should also be used to understand how all humans can interact and work together.

Huerta calls this WMT -- weaving movements together. During her speech, she commented that many movements -- such as the peace, green, labor, LGBTQ, and women's rights movements -- work in silos and must come together.

"If we don't come together, we're all going to lose," she said.

Investing In A Green Economy

What do a homegirl and hillbilly have in common? When it's Majora Carter, the founder of Sustainable South Bronx, and a white woman from the Appalachian South fighting to protect mountaintops from coal mining -- a whole lot.

In her closing keynote address at the 2010 Net Impact Conference, Carter spoke about many compelling issues, including the need to develop urban micro-businesses and recraft the nonprofit sector as an incubator for local business. Speaking to an audience of MBA students and professionals at the University of Michigan, she also promoted the work that can be achieved when people from diverse backgrounds come together in diverse communities to achieve the same goal.

Carter's collaboration with Judy Bonds of the Coal River Mountain Watch is one case in point. Carter has joined forces with Bonds, a winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, on a campaign against mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. Diversity is no longer just a black-and-white issue: in terms of sustainability, diversity is about including everyone in the conversation and collaborating to build a more sustainable world.

In her speech, Carter also elaborated on how investing in underdeveloped, poor communities can revitalize local economies and create job opportunities where there otherwise might not be any. What's the business value in Investing in underdeveloped communities? The potential is enormous, said Carter.

"If we would have invested in all communities equally, just as we have [invested] in wealthy ones, we would have had a green economy a long time ago," she told the attentive audience.

Business Value

At the Net Impact Conference, I also sat in on a panel about "Diversity as a Strategic Advantage," in which diversity directors from FedEx, KPMG and Teach for America discussed how diversity can enhance a company's bottom line.

But first, just as Huerta and Carter did, the panelists redefined diversity to include everyone. Diversity is not about exclusion, separation or prioritization -- it's about including everyone, because the more perspectives are at the table, the better the outcome will be.

One panelist noted that women- and minority-owned businesses are the fastest growing segments and a vital part of our nation's economic recovery. If more attention is paid to these businesses, think of the benefits to all. "Every experience needs to be at the table," explained Tori Carroll, KPMG Associate Director of Diversity and Corporate Responsibility. "Different critical thinking skills, languages, perspectives, cultures -- all of that needs to be at the table; otherwise businesses are missing something and will lose out. Diversity adds value to every organization."

Bottom line: everyone counts, and green is for all.

Top photos courtesy Net Impact and RowdyKittens; inset image via Utne, by James Chase, courtesy of Coal River Mountain Watch.