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  • Writer's pictureBrady Hummel

Inclusive Nature Alliance Phase 1 Research Summary

Updated: Nov 24, 2021

[The Inclusive Nature Alliance was a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission was to bring the environmental community together. The Alliance was building a broad-based movement to change the narrative and culture of the broad community working towards that collective mission of environmental stewardship to be more inclusive, representative, and more effective. Unfortunately, the Alliance dissolved in August 2021.]

Summary & Key Takeaways

From April to December 2020, the Inclusive Nature Alliance leadership team, in order to inform our strategy development, conducted an extensive and holistic review of existing literature and research in the following areas as they relate to our mission and strategy:

  • the changing demographics of the United States;

  • the history of the mainstream environmental community and its relation to under-represented groups;

  • the experiences in and contributions of under-represented groups to the environmental community;

  • the growing anti-racism literature;

  • definitions of terms and approaches relevant to the environmental community;

  • the higher education landscape as it relates to affordability and the environmental community;

  • social movement theory and existing environmental movement organizations;

  • alliance and nonprofit management best practices;

  • fundraising and development best practices; and

  • effective social movement communication best practices.

We recognize that, as the Inclusive Nature Alliance continues to grow and develop, additional research areas and resources will inevitably be added and incorporated into our work. This research summary will serve as a primer for those coming onboard to get up-to-speed on the research that’s already been completed and to facilitate additional research to complement what has already been completed.

Below are the key takeaways from each of those Phase 1 research areas, as of the end of December 2020.


Key Takeaways

  • The natural resource management field is overwhelmingly white and male.

  • Between now and 2060, the U.S. population will grow in all racial categories, but not equally: the Black population will grow by a factor of 0.5x, the multiracial population will grow by a factor of 2x, and the Hispanic/Latinx and Asian populations both will double.

  • Younger generations (Millennials and Gen Z) are more diverse - half are non-white and 1 in 4 are Hispanic/Latinx - and more are pursuing higher education than previous generations.

  • People from all gender and ethnic backgrounds identify as LGBTQ all across the U.S., and more young people identify as LGBTQ than previous generations. Yet, they are more likely to be unemployed, uninsured, food insecure, and low income than those who don’t identify as LGBTQ.

  • People with disabilities are more prevalent than we normally assume: 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. live with a disability, 1 in 4 women have a disability, and 2 in 5 Non-Hispanic American Indians/Alaska Natives have a disability.



Key Takeaways

  • There is no singular universal experience of the environment.

  • There is a documented history (and continuation today) of structural violence to under-represented groups via the environment/environmental community - through land seizures, desecration of sacred/homelands, disregarding of sovereignty/treaty rights, revisionist history and demonization, land management that intentionally fragments existing ecosystems - though it’s been ignored, silenced, and/or erased in the mainstream narrative.

  • Mainstream research/media portrays under-represented groups as monoliths without acknowledging the differences in experience and nuances within each of those groups - e.g. “Native Americans” as a whole, rather than tribe by tribe.

  • Many of the key environmental writers/activists and organizations through American history were racist.

  • For the first time, there has finally been a broad alignment around climate action both in the public and private sectors in recent years. Yet, there is still tension between the classical mainstream of the environmental community (read: white middle-/upper-class men) and environmental justice principles.



Key Takeaways

  • Under-representation/lack of diversity in the environmental community has been widely and openly acknowledged since the 1970s.

  • Under-represented groups are not inherently less interested in the environment. There have been both structural (e.g. segregated National Parks) and cultural factors (e.g. environmental community seen as a “white thing”) throughout history that have contributed to the lack of diversity in the environmental movement from under-represented groups.

  • Aspects of American culture - like racism/discrimination, rugged individualism, toxic masculinity, heteronormativity/homophobia - have all contributed to excluding BIPOC, LGBTQ people, women, people with disabilities, and other under-represented groups from being able to see themselves as belonging to and being able to contribute to the environmental community.

  • In order for individual organizations and the environmental community as a whole to become more inclusive and representative, there needs to be a culture change from expecting people who are different from the mainstream to eventually conform to the predominant culture (read: white, male, middle-/upper-class), to accepting, valuing, and utilizing people who are different from the mainstream and their unique contributions. Institutions need to change, not the under-represented groups.

  • There is an increasing demand for talented people in the environmental community to respond to the threats of climate change, and we can’t ignore under-represented groups without risking falling short of that demand - and our ability to steward our natural resources.

  • Organizations need to be more effective at recruiting and retaining people from under-represented groups. This comes from seeing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as being in-line and necessary for their mission and implementing new structures and procedures to combat bias and discrimination.

  • More BIPOC say they would feel more included in the environmental community if the definition of “environmentalist” was broadened and the narrative of the environmental community were more inclusive of their historical and contemporary contributions.

  • “Environmental community” is a more appropriate moniker than “environmental movement” because the current structure is not centered around bottom-up organizing.

  • To create a unified and inclusive environmental community, there needs to be a broader set of values, more attention needs to be paid to equity issues, achievements of under-represented groups need to be included, and a more holistic historical narrative needs to be shared. The disparities in DEI won’t be properly addressed until the environmental community tackles systemic and institutional racism.

  • There are existing plans, tools, and strategies for how organizations can become more inclusive that can be adapted for those in the environmental community with the support of DEI consultants (to align with best practices) and each other (to share knowledge).



Key Takeaways

  • The benefits of a more diverse organization and community have long been evident, and many in the environmental community believe in diversity. Yet, there’s a wide spectrum of how effective initiatives to promote and increase diversity have been - from some seeing it just as a marketing strategy, to those who are actually making significant progress.

  • It’s not enough for organizations to just be “not racist;” they need to be actively anti-racist. Similarly, it’s not enough for organizations to just be performative allies to under-represented groups; they need to be committed to the work of getting proximate, building relationships with, and uplifting and centering under-represented groups, while also doing the uncomfortable work of challenging assumptions and the status quo in their own life and circles.

  • Every individual and organization has biases and blindspots. We can overcome them with awareness, information, and a continuous, conscious effort to minimize or eliminate them in our work.

  • Uniting the environmental community cannot simply be about what we have in common; it also has to champion the differences amongst us.

  • Identity is inherently intersectional, so any initiatives to build a more inclusive and representative environmental community must also be intersectional.

  • All environmental activism must include and center Indigenous voices and their concerns in order to be effective.



Key Takeaways

  • The words and language we use are critically important to either building up an inclusive community, or excluding those who diverge from the mainstream.

  • “Wilderness” has been socially constructed because almost every inch of land on Earth has had human contact. Yet the legal definition of “wilderness” posits an “unpeopled landscape” - whitewashing and erasing the history of Indigenous peoples.

  • Queer ecology breaks the duality in our perspective on nature - “natural and unnatural”, “alive and not alive”, “human and not human.” The idea of “natural” arises from human perspectives on nature, not “nature” itself. Shattering that duality and seeing nature along a continuum allows us to broaden our definition of what it means to be in the environmental community and who is included.

  • Throughout history, queerness has been seen both as an example of “going against nature” and a byproduct of the negative effects of urbanization and environmental degradation. Yet, in the natural world, homosexuality is prevalent and not a biological malady.

  • “Our culture sets Nature as the highest bar for decorum, while simultaneously giving Nature our lowest standard of respect.”

  • Under-represented groups throughout the years have outlined environmental justice principles and shared their lived experiences in an effort to provide a roadmap for how to create a more inclusive and representative environmental community. We need to center those from under-represented groups in that effort and fully embrace the work that’s already been done - no matter how much that might make some uncomfortable or challenge the status quo.

  • Disability is a multi-dimensional experience and can be either visible or invisible. Disability rights and accommodations are essential to any definition of diversity, and the environmental community has historically had a major blind spot on recognizing and including people with disabilities.



Key Takeaways

  • Promoting greater access to post-secondary education opportunities for under-represented groups is essential to developing a more diverse, representative, and qualified talent pipeline for the environmental community.

  • Affordability is a major barrier to access to educational opportunities, both for postsecondary students but also for programs targeting younger students. Scholarships and financial support are essential to promoting greater access for under-represented groups.

  • There is no one-size-fits-all education solution for everyone, though, so we need to support programs that specifically target under-represented groups like Tribal Colleges and Universities, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, community colleges, trade schools, and others.

  • Leadership development and mentorship programs play a critical role in supporting people from under-represented groups through their education and into their career in the environmental community.


Social Movements & Institutional Change

Key Takeaways

  • There are existing organizations working towards a more holistic and representative environmental community, but all mostly within individual silos. There’s an opening for an organization to break down those silos and bring them all together to significantly move the needle, supporting all of their individual efforts while mobilizing them under a unified vision.

  • There is a deep literature on social movements and how they can make substantial change, which we can leverage to inform our strategy and initiatives.

  • Key components of any successful social movement aimed at institutional and cultural change include: a unifying vision, storytelling that reframes the narrative, genuine buy-in and support from all stakeholders, a long-term time horizon and commitment, a critical economic/social/political analysis informed by research, effective governance, pragmatic policy recommendations, a scalable infrastructure, and an intersectional and collaborative mindset.

  • Measuring the success and progress of social movements hinges on a holistic, nuanced, and transparent metrics infrastructure that captures both process and outcomes measures.


Alliance & Nonprofit Management

Key Takeaways

  • Organizations need to work together across silos and leverage their collective resources and power through alliances in order to move the needle on transformational institutional and cultural change.

  • Trust- and relationship-building is a critical component for any alliance. We need to intentionally and deliberately build that strong relationship web among our members and stakeholders before moving on big initiatives, and we need to continue to build and strengthen it throughout the life of the Alliance.

  • Key components of successful alliances include: focusing less on defining a “business plan” and more on how the partners will work together, leveraging differences to create value instead of trying to eliminate or ignore them, going beyond formal governance structures to encourage collaboration, and spending as much time on managing internal stakeholders as on managing external partner relationships.

  • Securing buy-in from top leadership is essential, but the governance structure of an alliance needs to touch upon multiple different points along organizational hierarchies - from executive sponsors, to middle managers, to the tactical execution and support staff - and allows for both interface among alliance members and intraface within individual organizations.

  • An effective alliance governance structure needs to balance both the democratic representation of each of the alliance members, so that decisions are made together and fairly, with a clearly-defined hierarchy in order to avoid bottlenecks and streamline decisions that don’t need universal input to be made quickly and efficiently.

  • An advisory board can generate enormous value to a nonprofit alliance, through strategic insight, engaging a broader representation of stakeholders, and extending the existing network to new potential partners/donors/members/audience members. Effectively managing an advisory board - giving a defined direction and role with clear expectations and a roadmap for making progress - is essential to maximizing that value; just bringing people onboard is not enough to fully leverage an advisory board.



Key Takeaways

  • There are resources - grants, legal aid, fiscal sponsorship, etc. - available to nonprofits to help them legally form and start-up. We don’t have to figure out and do it all on our own.

  • IRS 501(c) designation is retroactive to the date of formation as long as the exemption application is submitted within 27 months. So, we can begin raising seed funding before receiving our official IRS recognition, and those donations will still be tax-deductible.

  • Board members play an important and essential role in fundraising and development, both through financial contributions themselves and in doing outside fundraising on behalf of the organization. In order to maximize the fundraising potential of a board, they need to be well-prepared, informed, and passionate - all with the work of staff to continuously support them and set them up for success.

  • Peer-to-peer fundraising can be a component of a broader fundraising and development plan. While most organizations don’t raise the majority of their funds through P2P fundraising, there is incredible value in providing individual supporters an opportunity to deepen their relationship with an organization by carrying the torch for them in their own networks and communities.


Effective Communication

Key Takeaways

  • Storytelling can be a powerful tool to build community by allowing all of us reflect and understand our own lives and the lives of others, connecting our shared experiences and learning from our differences.

  • Many DEI and social justice topics can get caught up in the mainstream discussion in the abstract and lose their real meaning. Grounding our communications both in the human stories behind the high-level topics and in reducing the jargon and tropes to the clearest, most concise, and clearest frames and terms will maximize the impact and resonance of our communications initiatives.

  • Intersectionality - how race, class, gender, and other individual characteristics intersect with one another and overlap - is an insightful concept when talking about social justice and identity. However, it’s become a politically-charged word: the political right interprets the intersectionality as “the new caste system placing nonwhite, non-heterosexual people on top.” In order to communicate with those on the political right, we need to find a way to still talk about the compounding components of identity and their relationships to structural socio-cultural components without using the (unfortunately) “polarizing” language of traditional intersectionality.

  • In a similar way, “diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)” has become a buzzword among both the political right and left, and a lot of discussion about diversity receives a negative knee-jerk response from many on both sides - on the right, as a threat to the mainstream culture; on the left, as face-saving performative allyship that doesn’t actually address inequality. We need to find new ways to communicate about diversity and the experiences of under-represented groups that break through those knee-jerk reactions.


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