Diversity Rules at the Sierra Club

By Michael Alexander

Bio-Diversity, nature's key to sustainability, may now be reaching the internal culture of the environmental movement. 

Last week, Aaron Mair was elected as president of the Sierra Club, one of the nation’s largest and oldest environmental organizations. Mair will be the organization’s first African American president in its 123 year history.

Mair, a 31-year veteran of environmental activism, has dedicated his life’s work to civil rights and urban environmental advocacy. Mair served as the former chair of the 41,000-member New York State Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter and was the recipient of the EPA’s Citizen Environmentalist Activist Award.

His extensive experience includes working as an epidemiological disease mapping expert at the New York State Department of Health. Between 1984 and 1994 Mair led an historic grassroots-organized, environmental justice effort that led to the shutdown of the Albany-New York State Waste to Energy Recovery System (A.N.S.W.E.R.S.) that was negatively impacting the health of his family and inner-city African American residents. The $1.6 million settlement was one of the largest for a minority community in the state’s history.  Mr. Mair donated all proceeds to the Arbor Hill community in Albany, New York. Additionally, Mr. Mair’s critique in a successful lawsuit against the City of Albany highlighted the disproportionate use of eminent domain on property owned by people of color and was cited in environmental committee hearings held by the House of Representatives.

Mair speaking at an event in Albany, NY

Mair’s appointment comes at a time of heightened focus on diversity among mainstream environmental organizations. The 2014 release of the “Diversity in Environmental Institutions” report, commissioned by Green 2.0 , a Washington, D.C. organization working to advance diversity in the mainstream environmental movement, was written by Professor Dorceta Taylor.  The report found that although people of color now account for almost 40% of the U.S. population, they have not broken the 16% “green ceiling” in mainstream environmental organizations, the foundations that fund them, and governmental agencies. When looking deeper into the executive leadership of mainstream environmental NGOs, the report found that people of color only represent 5% of total board members, and only 12% of leadership positions.

"I am certain that with Mair in this role, the ‘green ceiling’ will continue to crack,” stated Green 2.0 Founder Robert Raben.


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