All of Sustain’s work is guided by values and principles of achieving a healthy, fair, humane and sustainable food system. Our alliance also has shared concerns that are highly relevant to the food system, but go beyond just food, farming and fishing, such as tackling climate change, restoring biodiversity, upholding human rights, and promoting economic prosperity and sustainable development that benefit everyone, not just a privileged few – at home and around the world.
Sustain staff, colleagues, alliance members and many others in the food system have a profound commitment to promoting equality, meaning that we want to promote diversity and inclusion across a wide range of characteristics. We recognise that there are entrenched and structural causes of inequality and want to play a part in tackling these, and to be helpful allies to those leading the way. In particular, we recognise the extent and depth of racial inequality and racial injustice in the food system and want to do what we can to help address this.
This page seeks to share what Sustain is doing to improve diversity and food justice. We want to be open and transparent about what we are doing, and be open to challenge. We also want to encourage momentum and innovation in our sector, and to participate in the sharing of good ideas about how to bring about change.
Reporting, transparency and accountability
As part of our Organisation Development Plan, from 2021, we report quarterly to Sustain’s Council of Trustees to tracks our team’s progress against our targets and ambitions over the next five years of our Sustain Strategy, and to report annually in our Annual Report (usually published towards the end of each calendar year). We also keep members of the Sustain alliance updated through our newsletter Digest and, where appropriate, through relevant project and campaign working parties and newsletters.
In May 2023, we published Sustain's latest progress on diversity and anti-racism, published as part of our commitment to transparency, sharing learning and being open to critique and ideas.
As part of our restructure during 2020, Sustain set up an internal diversity team. The team has ‘task and finish’ sub-groups taking action on the following themes:
- HR and other policies
- Supporting staff
- Projects, campaigns and networks
The core group meets bi-monthly to review progress and discuss priorities for the next quarter. It has terms of reference and priority actions in relation to targets set out in the Organisation Development Plan.
Looking for a DEI and/or anti-racism consultant? We have compiled this list to share the details of consultants that Sustain has had contact with (with their permission).
Our framework and some of our key principles and areas of work on supporting diversity, equalities and inclusion are set out below.
Spheres of influence
We have adopted a ‘spheres of influence model’ to guide our work to improve diversity, equalities and inclusion. This helps all of us to think through how we can change ourselves, as well as to use our privileged position to influence change more widely.
This approach recognises that we can take action as individuals and as colleagues, employers and decision-makers. As an alliance, we are also part of a powerful network where we can be allies and activists. We have challenged ourselves to think: We are already campaigners and change-makers – how can we use those skills, networks, and the privilege that we have to help make change happen, at a local, national and sometimes international level?
Spheres of influence: 'Ourselves'
Motivation comes from emotion – we have to know and care about the issues, and hear the voices of people who experience structural injustice. Sustain is making time for people to learn and to share, both formally and informally, and this is becoming a source of support, provocation and creativity. We are integrating unconscious bias training into our staff training programme; inviting speakers and activists to challenge us out of privileged ruts and old ways of thinking; we run a book club to explore radical ideas; we are looking at ways to gain better connections with, and appreciation of, organisations and pioneers seeking to bring about change. Our staff want to support the change, and are actively cultivating a team spirit around this, because we recognise that systems change takes camaraderie and hard work. Collaboration will help us maintain the motivation, determination, problem-solving attitude, organisational commitment and momentum needed.
Spheres of influence: 'Our organisation'
We have to get our own house in order. Sustain is implementing changes across a range of areas. We have:
- Set up a diversity working group internally. This meets quarterly to review progress and set priorities for the next quarter. This has four ‘task and finish’ groups on the following themes: Recruitment; HR and other policies; Campaigns and projects; Knowledge and skills.
- Allocated a diversity budget from our core reserves (and within project budgets where possible) to enable actions such as paying people from diverse backgrounds and those with lived experience - especially those on low income or from cash-strapped organisations - to lead or contribute to training sessions, webinars and communications work.
- Set out a plan of action to improve our recruitment processes and employment policies, seeking to attract greater diversity in applications from, and appointment of, people from diverse backgrounds. Read more detail about recruiting for diversity in the jobs section of the Sustain website.
- Reviewed our communications for diversity: imagery, language, approach, where we speak, how we speak, who we speak to, and to whom we provide opportunities to speak and be heard – recognising that having the access to platforms to speak is itself a privilege. Read more detail in Sustain's Diversity Style Guide.
Leadership for diversity
Sustain has a Council of Trustees that are elected from the Sustain alliance membership and a senior management team appointed to run the organisation and coordinate the alliance.
Sustain is a majority female-led organisation, and has been since its founding in 1999. Across the 20 years to 2019, there was always a healthy balance of gender representation, and we have always welcomed people from diverse backgrounds to take part, without prejudice, including people from a range of sectors, professional and ethnic backgrounds and people with a range of personal characteristics. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that across the first 20 years of Sustain, the leadership has been predominantly White and not very diverse in terms of other personal characteristics.
Sustain takes proactive steps to welcome greater diversity into our Council of Trustees, including supported role-share positions for younger people from diverse backgrounds to gain experience in charity leadership and governance, and to contribute their unique perspectives. In December 2022, we are delighted to report that two people in these role-shares have now become Trustees in their own right, and we welcome their expertise and contribution.
Sustain’s Council of Trustees (18 people filling 15 trustee places) are: two-thirds women; over one third Black people and people of colour, as well as having representation from people of Jewish, Muslim, Christian and non-theist heritage, and people with diverse identities related to gender and sexuality, as well as those with long-term health conditions or disabilities (correct in December 2022 - updated annually).
In the Sustain staff team, the people who we work with are Sustain-style leaders in their own right – cultivators of the growing and diverse movement for change. Over the next five years of our new strategy (from 2021), we will seek to make this more explicit in our recruitment, working practices and communications, as well as in opportunities for training and personal development. In doing so, we will also take special care to provide opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds and to help people overcome the barriers to involvement. This explicitly includes people from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds – in line with our published commitment to cultivating racial justice in the food system.
Sustain is a participant in The RACE Report, run by Hindu Climate Action, Nature Youth Connection and Education, South Asians for Sustainability and Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS-UK – a Sustain alliance member). We encourage Sustain alliance members to take part. This wil improve transparency and catalyse action on recruitment for diversity in the environmental sector.
We have hosted paid internships to promote opportunities for young people from diverse backgrounds – for them to gain experience in the third sector; and for us to be influenced by new voices and more diverse ways of thinking.
Further, we are working to broaden our network of project partners, freelance consultants and suppliers of goods and services to promote diversity through our acitvities, fundraising and procurement practices.
Spheres of influence: 'Networks we work with'
Our overall aim is for Sustain to cultivate opportunities for a wide range of people to be involved in and have their voices heard through Sustain’s work and our spheres of influence.
Diversity commitments are written into our new external Sustain Strategy (implemented from 2021) and our internal Organisation Development Plan (implemented from 2020, to be reviewed annually). Since our restructure during 2020 into ‘teams and themes’, we are working to improve the way we cultivate diversity across all of our priority areas and in specific projects and campaigns.
Each of our projects and campaigns are looking at how to cultivate greater diversity of representation and influence on activities, involvement and programme development. These will be documented on Sustain’s website, reported to project and campaign supporters and in our quarterly reports to the Council of Trustees and alliance members. This work covers areas such as Real Bread Campaign ambassadors, voices of diverse farmers and fishers, promoting diversity in community food growing, structural approaches to tackling food poverty, encouraging culturally appropriate food in services and involving people with lived experience.
Sustain recognises that certain groups and perspectives have been, and continue to be, underrepresented, both in our sector as a whole and specifically at events. Every speaker, presenter and trainer at our events is invited based on their expertise, knowledge or skills as relevant to the event and topic at hand. Sustain proactively seeks and invites speakers from diverse backgrounds, perspectives and lived experience. We also consistently ask members, partners and others in our sphere of influence to do the same. We actively help speakers to overcome barriers to participation.
We are also developing conversations about how we can better influence national (and sometimes international) policy to promote equalities and justice across the food system. This work covers areas such as food poverty, healthy and culturally appropriate food, access to land for food growing, fair trade, international trade agreements and the impact of domestic policy decisions on people in less wealthy countries, especially in relation to biodiversity loss and climate change.
Sustain will allocate budget and staff time to enable progress on the matters outlined above. We commit to continuous improvement, remaining open to change, and open to ideas, challenges and constructive criticism. We will monitor and report on our progress; learn by doing; and not be afraid to try things out or get things wrong. We will acknowledge and learn from our mistakes.