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We Talked to Black Designers and Business Owners About What It’s Like to Be Black in the Green Movement

We Talked to Black Designers and Business Owners About What It’s Like to Be Black in the Green Movement


As climate change becomes an ever-important and increasingly visible issue not just in politics but in most aspects of our lives, it is important to interrogate whose voices are being heard in the movement. As conversations about sustainability in our daily lives, and specifically our homes, become more common, who gets to be considered the authority?

The notion that environmentalism and sustainability are synonymous with being well-educated, affluent, and white is a long-prevailing stereotype. This bias was addressed in a 2018 report that discussed how this stereotype has shaped the public’s perception of the Black and POC community’s overall concern for environmental issues. 

When it comes to large-scale discussions of climate change in America, environmental racism is frequently left out of the conversation. Dominique Drakeford, a sustainable style consultant, influencer, and social justice activist speaks on this issue when she says, “The fact that environmental racism and BLM has never been discussed in mainstream sustainability spaces means to me that it was never talking about sustainably to begin with. Sustainability was always just a polished version of colonial discourse.”

With this in mind, we talked with Black sustainability influencers and business owners about their experiences in the green community.

Johanna Howard, the founder of Johanna Howard Home, spoke candidly with us about the assumptions she’s noticed surrounding people of color and green living. “So ‘sustainability’ as a concept is presented as being a very white enterprise. Either it is assumed that people of color aren’t interested in or able to afford sustainable goods,” she says. 

“Sustainability is about doing more with less, and that is what Black people do on a daily basis. So there are many more Black product designers, interior designers, and Black-owned companies using principles of sustainability than the industry is aware of,” Johanna adds.

The struggle to find a seat at the sustainability table has been a struggle for many Black and POC folks. Angela Richardson is the founder of PUR Home, a sustainable and nontoxic line of household cleaning products. “The biggest challenge I experience as a WOC is constantly proving myself to others in the industry. As the household cleaners industry is male-dominated, I find that I am expected to be overly knowledgeable about the industry; it’s a tireless job and an additional hurdle to educate consumers about the PUR Home story and prove that PUR Home is a worthy brand competitor,” she shares.

A lot of the capacity for change within the movement is hinged on its gatekeepers, many of whom are white. Byron and Dexter Peart are the two co-creators behind Goodee, a marketplace for ethical and sustainable products. Both spoke on the need for those in positions of power to empathize with the experiences of people of color and making it a priority to provide equal opportunities for them. “What we always recommend is to listen, learn, and discover the stories,” expresses Byron. But it isn’t enough to simply listen. “Hire and promote people of color to significant roles in your team, organization, or supply chain. People of color are under-recognized for their intellect, talent, and hard work,” Dexter adds.

The mainstream environmentalist movement is now returning to sustainable practices that BIPOC communities have been adhering to for centuries. The practice of controlled burning is something that many Indigenous communities practiced in order to manage and shape the natural landscape until the practice was banned by numerous state officials in the early 1900s. Now with wildfires devastating the land surrounding California, many are looking to Indigenous communities with knowledge of controlled burning in order to solve this pressing matter. There’s inherent sustainability in soul food, where we find the practice of utilizing all of the animal parts in its dishes as a form of zero-waste cooking.

The issue of diversity within the sustainability community is an ongoing matter and the dialogue surrounding equity should be a priority. This means understanding the racist ideology rooted inside the modern environmentalist movement and working to dismantle it. It means supporting platforms that uplift BIPOC inside the sustainability community like Intersectional Environmentalist and Sustainable Brooklyn. When we create a community that has a true desire to listen and learn from marginalized voices, only then can we say we are on the right track to inclusivity and a sustainable future for all. 



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