If you are new to the concept of environmental justice, start here: Environmental justice is defined as 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” (EPA, 2022). Essentially, it recognizes that every human or non-human deserves to coexist safely without the threat of toxins creating disproportionate impact. Environmental justice issues affect communities throughout the world differently—from the Flint Water Crisis in 2014 to the Australia Wildfires in 2020—and the Global Climate Strike in 2021 showed us that climate concern is universal.
For me, environmental justice creates pathways to discuss and understand the experiences of people we may not agree with, understand or know. For this mission, we must unearth the ways systems of oppression hinder us from creating a just society. Environmental justice matters because businesses have an inherent social responsibility to contribute resources to marginalized populations. And committing to environmental justice is not just good practice, it’s good business: In a 2018 poll by Sustainable Brands, 90% of Gen Z consumers believe companies must take action on social and environmental issues, and 72% factor in a company’s Purpose when shopping.
From my experience, the institutions and systems we have in place today are anything but fair to people from historically marginalized communities. And while I believe corporations are interested in supporting those communities, the lack of understanding of intersectionality, the lack of diversity on boards and at the C-suite level, and the generational wealth imbalance (and the racial wealth gap) forces us to ask: How can companies help solve a problem without clarity of the problem? Here are three ways companies can begin to understand environmental justice and support the movement: