The Importance of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Outdoor Recreation and Climate Advocacy


Teresa Baker is the founder of the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge and, as she puts it, “an all-around troublemaker.” Teresa grew up on a horse ranch where her love for the outdoors first started. She spent her childhood hiking and camping which fostered a deep appreciation for the outdoors as well as a motivation to protect them. 

She joined Protect Our Winters (POW) executive director, Mario Molina, for a discussion surrounding diversity in the outdoors this week on Instagram live. For 25 minutes, Baker highlighted how improved representation in the outdoors is a crucial component of effective climate action, in addition to simply promoting a more diverse and equitable community.

Having spent so much time exploring America’s public lands, Baker acknowledged that she didn’t see many people of color visiting America’s national parks, forests and open spaces; she didn’t see people of color in company advertisements, retail posters or social media posts, either. Generally speaking, the surface level image of the outdoor industry was a sea of white faces. 

She began her work to increase diversity in the outdoors as the founder of the African American Nature and Parks Experience, where she worked to engage communities of color in outdoor spaces through events and partnerships with various outdoor organizations. 

In 2018, Baker conceptualized the CEO Diversity Pledge as a part of her In Solidarity Project. The Pledge was a direct response to a lack of diversity in the outdoors from the brand and retail standpoint. Baker joined forces with Chris Perkins, a masters candidate at the Yale School of the Environment and Yale School of Management, about creating an accountability framework for outdoor CEOs, to help develop a plan to increase diversity in hiring practices, workplace training and marketing campaigns. 

Baker and Perkins launched the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge at the Outdoor Retailer Show in July 2018, where they trekked across the show floor speaking with brands, making them aware of the Pledge and offering to help them commit to doing the necessary diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work. In its first year, 32 companies and 9 non-profits signed on to The Pledge. Currently, 177 organizations have signed on to the Pledge.

What is the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge?

The Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge advances representation for people of color in the outdoor industry by connecting leading brands with inclusion advocates. Through tactical relationship-building focused on support, empathy and understanding, the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge helps move the outdoor industry toward authentic inclusion and increased representation in executive leadership, media and marketing teams and athlete and ambassador groups. 

By signing the Outdoor Industry CEO Diversity Pledge, companies are committing to creating a set of actions to hire and support a diverse workforce and executive leadership, implement representative marketing and advertising, support more representative athlete and ambassador teams and work with other organizations to help with their journey toward inclusive representation. 

To hold themselves accountable, signing the Pledge is also a commitment to reporting progress with The Pledge Steering Committee to evaluate progress toward implementing diversity, equity and inclusion into the brand.

“Right now people of color are not represented on boards or in leadership roles,” says Baker. “This is a way to get everyone involved so that we can have more people at the table fighting for these outdoor spaces.”

The Importance of DEI in environmental and climate advocacy

Not only are DEI investments vital in changing traditional narratives surrounding participation in outdoor recreation and installing a more inclusive landscape for the outdoors, but better representation is also key toward protecting our landscapes.

“If we create space for underrepresented communities to join in on marketing campaigns and such we create a space for people to fall in love with these spaces,” says Baker. “Climate change is real and affecting us in ways we’re not even aware of and we need more people to help us fight this. The more people we can engage in DEI efforts, the more people we can get to advocate for environmental protection and climate change. People overlook that. My first priority is finding ways to protect these outdoor spaces.” 

Molina brought up an important point that the Congressional Black Caucus, historically, has been the most reliable group in Congress when it came to advocating for the environment. Baker noted how important it is to bring the behind-the-scenes work being done by organizations like the Congressional Black Caucus to the forefront.

“They’re behind the scenes doing kickass work around these issues and we need to have our faces seen and voices heard and what better way than collaborating with organizations such as POW to get the collective message out,” says Baker. “Not only does DEI matter as far as sustainability in the outdoor recreation world but also matters of environmental protection. We need to work together and collaborate so all audiences see each other.” 

In short, the Outdoor CEO Diversity pledge isn’t meant to be a call-out or shaming device. It’s about calling everyone in, coming together and collaborating, to foster connections between companies and organizations so no entity is doing the work alone. In the same way collaboration and diverse viewpoints are imperative when making decisions on a ski tour, a backpacking trip or multi-pitch climb, they’re a crucial component of turning discussions into actions with tangible outcomes.

Note: Protect Our Winters is proudly committed to taking the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge and holding itself and its partners accountable for installing a more inclusive landscape at the intersection of outdoor recreation and climate advocacy.

Imperfect Advocacy

Like POW, the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge embraces the idea of progress over perfection. If we wait around for a perfect moment to act on climate, racial inequity and the intersection of the two, we’ll simply run out of time. 

As with any outdoor activity, it’s about setting aside your fears of failure and taking the plunge. Do you remember the first time you hit the Hollywood line under the lift at your local ski area? It took a lot of courage to point your tips downhill and succumb to gravity. But now, it’s probably second nature. Baker hopes the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge can have a similar effect once companies take that first step. 

“For those companies that say they don’t know how to go about things, if you love skiing, hiking, climbing, you better find a way to get over your fears, because all of the spaces we enjoy are in danger right now, and if we don’t act sooner rather than later we won’t have those places for much longer,” says Baker. “We need to start where we are. We are all imperfect and can’t wait for perfection to act. A good way to start is through public conversation around matters of DEI and the environment.”

For more information on the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge, click here.