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Social Sustainability

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. 

Environmental Justice Toolkit

Recommended Books and Podcasts

Related Documentaries
In addition to the documentaries listed below, check out what’s currently streaming from the DC Environmental Film Festival and AU’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking.

  • 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. 
  • Gasland
    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.
    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.
  • Unbreathable
    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.

Sierra Club
Aims to center equity, justice, and inclusion in all projects and initiatives.

Solar United Neighbors
A nonprofit that helps people go solar, join together, and fight for their energy rights.

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.

350 DC
“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?

Did You Know?

In addition to hosting related events, the Office of Sustainability includes the UN Sustainable Development GoalsSustainable DC goals, and Resilient DC goals in our sustainability planning.

Sustainability Plan

Your Feedback

Thoughts on the toolkit? Know of additional resources that should be included?

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