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Progress Toward Our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Goals

January 20th, 2022

In early 2020, Upstate Forever published our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Statement. This statement laid out the steps our board, leadership, and staff would take in the years to come to ensure that Upstate Forever’s work to protect our region’s critical lands, waters, and unique character represented and served the full breadth of the Upstate community.  

As we start a new year and chart the course for Upstate Forever’s strategic plan that will guide our team’s work from 2023-2028, we wanted to share some of the work behind our words. Below is a status update regarding the goals for diversity, equity and inclusion set forth in 2020. 


Our commitment to diversity, equity & inclusion 

Upstate Forever’s mission is to protect critical lands, waters, and the unique character of the Upstate region. We envision a future that is healthy, vibrant, and prosperous. To realize that vision, we know it is vitally important and essential to our core values that we engage the diverse community we serve. 

1. To develop and advance long-lasting, equitable solutions for balanced growth and natural resource protection, our leadership is committed to working intentionally to engage a broader base of Upstate residents in the coming years.  

Efforts toward this goal include, but are not limited to: 

  • In 2021, UF co-hosted two virtual events focused on the intersection of racial equity, land policy, and environmental justice. These events resulted in a partnership, led by Sustaining Way, to pursue on an effort to pursue EPA environmental justice funding to support Greenville’s New Washington Heights Community.

  • Formed a coalition among conservation partners and Indigenous and minority leaders to advance legislation that would establish limits for toxic drinking water contaminants that often plague communities of color and underserved areas in SC. 

  • Advocated against and organized response to energy utilities’ proposed rate hikes that would have placed inordinate burdens on low-income communities. 

  • Collaborated on projects related to energy burden through SC Connected in Crisis, a group working to elevate stories of energy insecurity. This group also worked to mobilize the PSC to address energy poverty among SC residents to lower energy bills and increase efficiency and access to clean energy. 

  • Actively working to expand participation in our Citizens Planning Academy, an educational course designed to help Greenville community members understand and engage in local planning and land use policy. The class of Fall 2021 was the most diverse yet: Approximately half of participants identified as Caucasion or White and the other half as African American or Black, Hispanic or Latinx, Asian or Pacific Islander, Native American, or another racial or ethnic identity. 

  • Worked with partners to launch Impact Greenville, a coalition working to shape public policy at the intersection of affordable housing, transit, and land use. 

  • Our Land Conservation team is actively seeking to provide information and protect properties owned by people of color, especially by leveraging available funding to help maintain their working farms forever. 

  • Working with partners in source water protection areas to provide financial assistance to low-income homeowners to fix failing septic systems. 

  • Contracted with The Avarna Group — a consulting group working at the nexus of DEI and conservation — to conduct an audit of our organization’s communications materials. We are working to integrate their recommendations to ensure that the language and photography on Upstate Forever’s website, social media, publications, and other materials represent all who have a stake in our work — a group diverse in race and ethnicity, age, gender, ability, access to nature, and more. 

2. We will build staff knowledge and capacity related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We will frequently ask ourselves — who is impacted by this work, and how is their voice represented in the conservation and advocacy solutions we seek? We will amplify the stories of underrepresented stakeholders in the conservation movement — especially people of color.

Efforts toward this goal include, but are not limited to: 

  • UF staff participated in a training with Dr. Nika White in 2019, and a virtual DEI training in spring of 2020. Staff now rotate the responsibility of sharing DEI resources on a monthly basis. A staff-wide discussion of these resources is facilitated at monthly meetings. 

  • Our Communications team is actively working to amplify voices of diverse leaders in the conservation movement — both at the local level and more broadly. 

3. Finally, we will take deliberate steps to build authentic community partnerships and cultivate new leaders at all levels of our organization — from our membership to our staff to our board — to ensure that we better represent the community we serve. 

Efforts toward this goal include, but are not limited to:

  • We have implemented revisions to UF’s recruiting and hiring processes to attract a broader applicant pool and mitigate bias in the hiring process. Our staff is now making edits to the employee handbook to institutionalize these diversity, equity & inclusion best practices for recruitment, interviewing, and hiring. 

  • The Board Nominating and Governance Committee is actively seeking recommendations for community members well suited for board service who would also expand board diversity. 


This work is ongoing and we want to listen and learn from members of the Upstate community. Please contact lhallo@upstateforever.org with questions and comments. 

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