Professionals from across the environment and sustainability sector came together in London for the Diverse Sustainability Initiative’s (DSI) first in-person meeting on Wednesday 22 November. IEMA's Digital Journalist Tom Pashby reports.

The half-day event gave members of the People of Colour and LGBTQIA+ networks, as well as diversity, equity/equality, and inclusion (DEI) workers, the opportunity to hear from experts on how to drive forward diversity in the sector.

IEMA launched the Diverse Sustainability Initiative in March 2021, soon after Sarah Mukherjee MBE was appointed as IEMA’s CEO.

Sarah Mukherjee MBE, CEO at IEMA, said: “There was a survey in 2017 that demonstrated that sustainability was the second least diverse profession in the UK economy, second only to farming. It’s a terminal existential threat.

“It's a really fragile consensus we have at the moment around climate change. If we don’t engage with diverse audiences and communities, that consensus could go and that would be the end of climate action in this country if we're not careful.”

Leading legal practice Bates Wells hosted the eventand Kyle Hefford, a solicitor from the firm’s employment team, introduced the day and explained to the delegates how the law can be used to promote equality.

Attendees were offered the opportunity to attend a session on safer organisational spaces and anti-oppressive practices. Coach Lou Chiu introduced concepts such as systemic oppression and provided a space for participants to reflect on the practical implications of improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Francesca Boyd, knowledge exchange leader at the ecosystems knowledge network, said: “Although we're a very small organisation in terms of our internal staff, it's really important that we are considering the diversity of the roles models we put forward when we represent the sector in the activities and events that we host.

“Everybody in our organisation is really on board. Everybody's really positive. But we don't necessarily have the language or the processes or the knowledge to fully engage with it yet.”

Despite the DSI having only existed for a couple of years, people from across the environment and sustainability sector are finding out about its work via a multitude of channels, such as its networks for marginalised communities.

Speaking at the event, Kedijah Eaves-O’Connor, project manager at SOS-UK, said: “What brought me here today was the opportunity to be able to network with people who are very passionate about sustainability.

“It was also because of being offered the opportunity to learn about how to embed practices which promote diversity in our ways of working, as well as being able to be amongst people, like people of colour, who are in similar positions to myself.”

The purpose of the networks within the DSI is to provide people from marginalised communities a space that they can use to connect with other people in similar positions and to inform the work of the DSI with corporate partners.

Kim Jassal, 33, climate change consultant at Arup, said: “It can weigh you down after a while feeling like the issues that you're experiencing, are yours and yours alone. And that's simply not true.

“The ability to have access to DSI’s People of Colour network is almost like a new form of empowerment.”

IEMA formally created the DSI, but people who aren’t yet IEMA members can join its networks as individuals. DSI corporate partners work closely to learn and act on improving diversity in the environment and sustainability community.

When asked about what made her decide to attend the day, Patricia Izebhor, project manager at SOS-UK, said: “Definitely the name IEMA was something that I recognised made the DSI worth looking into. My Masters was linked to IEMA so that’s how I came across it.

“My workplace helps us to get a membership with IEMA, so when I was sent the event, I was like ‘Okay, this is cool. It's definitely something I'm down to hear more about’.”

While there are significant areas of work focused on improving policies and processes to create environments where diverse employee communities can thrive, there are also philosophical challenges.

Jasmine Dhaliwal, 23, policy advisor at Green Alliance, said: “I think another barrier in the environmental movement is that it’s traditionally from a conservation perspective and conservation at the beginning was very colonial and was erasing people from landscapes. There are still some environmentalists who wouldn’t see race and climate as linked.

“I think there needs to be a shift in the ethos of the environmental movement of like, what are you saving? How are these things related in a more explicit discussion around intersectionality which I think happens a bit more in like social movements.”

If you would like to find out more about IEMA’s Diverse Sustainability Initiative, you can visit the website here.


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