Sustainability is about more than energy efficiency or planting trees; it’s about making sure that all people today and in the future can thrive. As we plan and prepare for a changing climate, we must consider and incorporate the human and societal elements of sustainability into our work. Social sustainability encompasses topics such as human health, access to resources, and environmental justice.
What is environmental justice?
Environmental justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.”
Communities of color and low-income communities experience disproportionate impacts of pollution and environmental degradation. For example, 68% of Black Americans live within 30 miles of coal fired power plants, putting them at higher risk for respiratory illnesses, asthma, and premature death. These systematic environmental injustices are often referred to as environmental racism.
Similarly, while climate change impacts people globally, not everyone is affected in the same ways. Climate change, like pollution and environmental degradation, disproportionately impacts communities of color and low-income communities, in addition to persons with disabilities, women, and children.
How can I learn more? How can I get involved?
Utilize the toolkit below to learn more and share what you’ve learned with others. We also encourage you to engage with campus departments and organizations who host events and provide resources related to equity and social justice.
Lead Contamination in Flint, Michigan
-As Water Problems Grew, Officials Belittled Complaints from Flint
-The Flint Water Crisis: Systemic Racism Through the Lens of Flint
Louisiana’s Cancer Alley
-Cancer Alley: Big Industry, Big Problems
-Cancer Alley Residents Haven't Given Up the Fight Against Polluters
The Urban Heat Island Effect and Tree Canopies
-The Inequality of Urban Tree Cover
-Racist Housing Practices Linked to Hotter Neighborhoods Today
-Poor City Neighborhoods Are Often Much Hotter Than Wealthy Ones
Water Resources in Indigenous Communities
-What to Know About the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests
-Many Native American Can’t Get Clean Water, Report Finds
Recommended Books and Podcasts
- Read Up on the Links Between Racism and the Environment
- EcoJustice Radio: Weekly podcast from SoCal 350 Climate Action
- Green Dreamer: Podcast on intersectional sustainability
- Living Downstream: Justice-focused podcast produced with NPR
- An American Ascent
Follows the first Black expedition to climb Denali, North America's highest peak, and legacy of inclusion in the outdoor community that the nine climbers seek to build.
An investigation of pollution from natural gas hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), including a Pennsylvania town where residents report being able to light their drinking water on fire.
- Here's to Flint
Examines the determined efforts of Flint residents, activists, and researchers to learn the truth about the city’s lead-contaminated drinking water.
- Mossville: When Great Trees Fall
With over a dozen petrochemical plants surrounding their town, residents of Mossville must decide whether to live in a chemical war zone or abandon land that has been in their families for generations.
- RISE: STANDING ROCK
Highlights the injustice of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Sioux Tribe’s resistance at Standing Rock in North Dakota.
- The Story of Stuff
A short, animated documentary about the life cycle of material goods that highlights the connections between environmental, social, and economic issues in our society.
Spotlights the ongoing struggle for clean air in the US since the passage of the Clean Air Act over fifty years ago.
Building Bridges Across the River
“Provides residents east of the Anacostia River access to the best-in-class facilities, programs and partnerships in arts and culture, economic opportunity, education, recreation, health and well-being.”
Develops community solar projects for economic empowerment.
Aims to center equity, justice, and inclusion in all projects and initiatives.
Soul Trak Outdoors
DC-based nonprofit that “connects communities of color to outdoor spaces while also building a coalition of diverse outdoor leaders.”
Ward 8 Woods
A grassroots nonprofit that aims to restore and beautify more than 500 acres of forest in DC’s Ward 8.
“Building a stronger movement for climate and environmental justice in the District of Columbia.”
Educating yourself about environmental justice is an essential first step to addressing injustice in your own community. Once you understand the concept of environmental justice and how systematic racism impacts the health and wellbeing of communities, consider: How can I view pollution, environmental degradation, and climate change through the lens of environmental justice? How can I actively practice anti-racism in my own life?