Shruti Bhatnagar

Shruti Bhatnagar
Kensington, Maryland
Nominating committee candidate
Member Since
Volunteer Environmental activist and organizer
Sierra Club Leadership Positions
  • Volunteer Co-Lead Federal Organizing Program; Conservation Policy (2022-)
  • Maryland Chapter: Nominations Chair (2022)
  • Committees: Conservation (2020-2021); Growing for Change Equity Taskforce (2020-); Legislative, Transportation, Energy (2020-)
  • Montgomery County Group: Chair (2019-2022)
  • Membership Chair (2019-2022)
  • Committees: Land-Use, Transportation (2019-2022); Political (2019-2021); Energy (2020-2022); Forest Conservation (2021-2022)
Other Leadership Positions
  • Board, Maryland Legislative Coalition for Women (2019-) 
  • Director, South Asians for America, Maryland (2021-) 
  • Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (2021-)
  • Parent Teacher Association BOD (2008-2016)

I joined the Sierra Club to fight climate change so that my children and future generations will be guaranteed a livable planet and have the fundamental right to clean air and clean water. And because I believe in the power of grassroots organizing, I knew I could make a difference as a volunteer leader.

Growing up in New Delhi, India, which has some of the worst air pollution in the world, I saw the harms caused by polluted air, as my mother suffered from bronchitis and asthma. We were a family with a modest income, and we didn't always have access to health care.  My family experienced the injustices of environmental degradation—how the people who do the least to cause pollution are often the ones who suffer from it the most.

The movement to tackle the climate crisis must be interlinked to the movement to end racism and income inequality. I am excited about the transformation that is happening in the Sierra Club to become a more inclusive organization because building a broader climate movement is essential to addressing the climate crisis.

My 30 years of leadership experience is based on the values of active listening, collaboration, and inclusive partnerships. As your elected board member, I will work to ensure Sierra Club chapters and groups have the resources they need to build a stronger, more inclusive, and just climate movement engaging those who have been most impacted by climate change. I will be a strong ally to our grassroots activists so that they are heard and included in the decision-making process and feel safe, welcome, and valued.

As a community organizer, I have worked on numerous campaigns, trained, and mobilized hundreds of volunteers and voters. As a Sierra Club volunteer leader, I have successfully advocated for bold systemic changes at the county, state, and federal level for a just and equitable transition to 100% clean, renewable energy. I have also worked to ensure the protection of our wild spaces, and to implement good transportation and land use policies.

I would be honored to receive your vote. Together we can build a strong environmental movement, rooted in equity and justice, that uplifts the power and leadership of our grassroots volunteers.

Endorsed by:

Directors: Cheyenne Branscum, Allison Chin, Cynthia Hoyle, Marion Klaus, Meghan Sahli-Wells, Ross Macfarlane; 

Past Directors: Mike O’Brien, Susana Reyes, Oliver Bernstein, Susan Merrow, Margrete Strand Rangnes, Robin Mann and Lisa Renstrom

Sierra Club members: Doug Fetterly, Chris Applegate and Jamie Raskin

Sierra Club staff: Bob Bingaman, Kacey Carpenter, George Chavez, Peter Chung, Miranda Ehrlich, Robin Everett, Leslie Fields, Megan Fitzgerald, Courtney Hight, Alicia Juarez, Rachel Mandelbaum, Lindsey Mendelson, Melinda  Pierce, Stacey Boll Salman, Anita Singha, Arianna Trujillo-Wesler, Chelsea Watson, Tishan Weerasooriya, Martin Witchger, Morissa Zuckerman

Election Forum Responses

Candidates were asked ten questions to give voters more information about relevant issues. You can view the responses of all candidates to a question by clicking on the individual questions below.

Question 1

Question 1

How do you practice anti-racism?

Anti-racism is a way of life and journey. As an Asian Indian American woman of color, who has experienced racism, bias, and discrimination, I continue to learn and educate myself to better understand the history of African Americans and Indigenous people, have participated in Diversity, Equity & inclusion workshops and incorporate that perspective to make a difference.

As Maryland Chapter’s Growing for Change equity task force member, I collaborate with team members to coordinate educational sessions and facilitate conversations among Sierra Club leaders for learning and understanding racism, white privilege, and various forms of bias, in order to build and refine the equity lens.

I have worked with colleagues to build coalitions with BIPOC and interfaith communities to strengthen our legislative work, support more equitable policies and work towards environmental justice. I helped to develop and successfully implement a grants program for Maryland projects that connect environmental sustainability to social and economic justice.

As a founding member of a non-profit started in 2016 to combat hate crime and promote inclusiveness, I led the outreach efforts to build a strong coalition of organizations, faith leaders, community groups and individuals committed to stand against hate, bigotry, and racism, providing rapid response to community-wide hate incidents and supporting victims.

Finally, as a strong advocate for voting rights & campaign reforms, I have led voter engagement and voter protection efforts to increase participation of under-represented and communities of color.

Blog on Juneteenth 2020 and Freedom to Vote Act Oct 24, 2021

Question 2

Question 2

How do you think we can better retain more staff and volunteers, and recruit and retain them into higher levels within the organization, who are from marginalized communities or who are otherwise underrepresented?

It’s important that everyone feels welcome and valued. Understanding of diverse cultures can help build bridges and connections to diverse communities. Intentional outreach efforts to engage underrepresented communities requires meeting people where they are and is necessary to increase community engagement. Creating opportunities to engage people, who may be working multiple jobs and have other limitations, can increase participation.

Representation matters. Electing, empowering and supporting people from diverse communities to leadership positions is also critical. When the leadership represents the diversity of our community, it encourages more people from those communities to participate and stay engaged.

As a Sierra Club board member, I would work to ensure we are

  • Creating a more welcoming, inclusive, and safe working environment

  • Making everyone feel valued and appreciated

  • Providing resources, training, and empowering individuals with diverse skills

  • Reducing bureaucracy, addressing the issues / concerns in a timely manner to protect individuals from harm

  • Engaging and strengthening allyship with organizations whose membership represent communities that have been marginalized and are under-represented.

  • Creating opportunities for long time volunteers and staff, who have valuable institutional knowledge, to mentor, train and onboard new volunteers that have diverse skills to create robust teams, help build capacity and future leadership.

Question 3

Question 3

What environmental issues are pressing in your community, and how do they intersect with economic, environmental, and racial justice? What tensions at work make the problem so difficult to solve?

My community, and communities across the country, are facing an affordable housing crisis that is affecting folks at many levels including, low-to-moderate income renters, people of color, seniors, young people, and people with disabilities. People are forced to live farther away from jobs. Public-school teachers, fire fighters, police personnel and other front-line workers can’t afford to rent or buy a home where they work. Homelessness is an issue. Longer commutes and inadequate public transit options contribute to traffic congestion, increasing greenhouse gas emission and affecting people’s quality of life. Analysis shows that gaps in the housing market have contributed to racial disparities in homeownership leading to a much lower percentage of the Black homeownership rate in Maryland.

Moving towards 100% clean energy in the transportation sector, building electrification and community solar, forest conservation, zero waste (banning single use plastics, closing the incinerator), water quality issues, strengthening storm water permits, protecting endangered species and wildlife corridors are also priorities.

Flooding incidents in some neighborhoods and explosions in apartment buildings due to gas leaks are examples of how some of these issues intersect and disproportionately affect overburdened communities.

Volunteering on issue teams I have seen divisiveness within the environmental community from diverse perspectives on issues. I have led organizing and advocacy efforts, worked with coalitions, organized forums on various issues: missing middle housing, transit equity, building energy performance standards, forest conservation, rainscapes program etc. to engage the community in advocacy, presented testimonies on behalf of our group at public hearings and written op-ed’s.

Question 4

Question 4

What equity issues do you believe Sierra Club is overlooking and needs to engage on?

An area where I believe we need to strengthen our efforts is to engage with BIPOC communities, build capacity to provide more support, training, and other resources for chapters to be successful in building a stronger, more inclusive, and just climate movement.

Question 5

Question 5

We have competing fundraising priorities between National and the Chapters. How do you recommend we address this tension?

Supporting the needs of all our chapters and National organization, should be a collective effort and needs a cohesive approach by engaging all stakeholders to develop a better understanding of goals and strategies, build consensus, and find creative solutions for success.

Growing up in a family with limited resources has taught me to conserve and find creative problem-solving solutions. I have successfully led fundraising initiatives in my professional career and for various campaigns. I will use that experience, while being inclusive of the diverse perspectives, seek feedback from chapters, campaigns, and advancement staff, and lean on the expertise of grassroots leaders to support the success of fundraising goals. It’s also important to grow a bigger tent by bringing in more people to grow our resources and build resources. There’s no one size fits all solution. Understanding of the needs from all chapters and various campaigns will help towards succeeding in this goal.

Question 6

Question 6

The Sierra Club is a vast and complex organization by any standards, and it is unusual in that both staff and volunteers are central to the mission of the Club and its day-to-day operations. Tell a story about a time you navigated or attempted to reform a bureaucratic system, and what you learned from the experience.

In 2018 as a first-time candidate for public office using the new public finance law for my campaign, I experienced bureaucracy while trying to resolve a glitch in the system. Trying to figure out which department was responsible for handling some of the concerns and identifying people who might be able to resolve the issue, understanding the process involved in reporting and getting a response was a big challenge.

Communicating with several different agencies and departments who were also learning about the new law that was being implemented for the first time was a challenge. The legal and technical terms were challenging. My campaign did not have the sufficient resources to hire legal services or staff. The length of time it took to get a response from agencies was frustrating. It was a competitive race with 33 candidates, and I was not able to get the desired results.

Among the many lessons I learned, one of them was how these complex systems can be barriers to success and the importance of reducing the technical jargon to better understand technical issues. After the election cycle, I used my experience to advocate for a better policy so it would not be a barrier for other candidates in future elections.


Question 7

Question 7

Tell us about a time you managed or navigated a conflict within Sierra Club?

I understand that not everyone will always agree, and difference of opinion can lead to conflicts. I have learned that taking the time to have one-on-one open communication to listen and understand the perspective of the other person is helpful in clarifying a situation or developing a better understanding of their perspective. Being respectful to others and building trust is important. Creating a safe space where everyone can share their thoughts and making everyone feel heard and valued is important. It can also help to seek intervention and lean on experts trained on conflict resolution to navigate a situation and diffuse stress.

As a Group Chair, I had to manage conversations when there was a difference of opinion among team members on a new idea or approach. I took the time to have conversations with team members individually, to listen and understand their concern and shared my perspective on how a different approach might help us in our goals. In the end we usually were able to reach an agreement on a good path forward together.

I believe that by working together as a team, showing mutual respect, being inclusive and making everyone feel valuable can make it easier to navigate conflict, reach mutual agreement and help us move forward towards a common goal.

Question 8

Question 8

Please describe your successes and failures regarding your work within your community as an agent of social and political change -- specifically those supporting environmental justice goals.  What did you learn from them and how has your philosophy about how to create change evolved because of your experiences?

Most recently, I worked with the Land Use and Transportation Committee to advocate for an update to the Montgomery County general plan called Thrive 2050. This legislation promotes smart growth policies to address climate change issues by creating more affordable housing in walkable-bikeable neighborhoods near public transit, The new plan was proposed as the first update to the General Plan in nearly 60 years to meet the evolving needs and changing demographics of the County.

This complex plan includes many sections to reach an outcome of racial, equity and social justice, environmental resilience, and economic competitiveness. The proposal attracted strong opinions from various groups and stakeholders. There were opposing views on how the policy might affect neighborhoods and residents. Community engagement was a critical part and much needed for everyone to be well informed about the proposal and to gather feedback.

The policy passed after more than two years of advocacy. During this time there were several challenging situations to navigate diverse perspectives and intersecting issues.

Change is difficult and affects everyone differently. Having access to information, open communication, opportunities to engage diverse communities in discussions and learning from different perspectives can be valuable and helpful to pass equitable policies.

I believe that we need everyone to fight climate change and work collectively to pass policies that will benefit our entire community.

Question 9

Question 9

What is your experience with the political process, including campaigns, elections, and the legislative process? How do you think Sierra Club can build its political power?

In my experience, we need to bring in more diverse perspectives and engage our members in our political endorsement process. Successful campaigns, election activities need strong grassroots organizing and communication to elevate messaging. We need to build the capacity of our groups and chapters, recruit, offer training and retain volunteers with different skills. Working in collaboration with other stakeholders and forming coalitions, to be more inclusive, we can build political power.

As the Volunteer Co-lead for the Federal Organizing Program I have learned the difference it can make. My recent blog in the Sierra Magazine mentions the power of grassroots organizing. I believe we have a potential to make a greater difference by supporting our chapters to build a stronger grassroots movement.

Question 10

Question 10

Tell us what you have learned about yourself – your strengths, weaknesses, and values – through your involvement in the Sierra Club?

My breadth of experience working in various sectors and lived experiences has given me a diverse perspective. My values are centered around equity and justice.

I am a keen listener and lifelong learner, I believe in leading by example, working in collaboration, being inclusive of diverse perspectives and increasing our power through coalition building. This has helped me learn from many long-time experienced leaders and various issue leads within the Sierra Club, support their efforts, and empowered me to advocate on issues I deeply care about to fight climate change and make a difference.