Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Trash is the New Green-by Lauren Campbell-Kong

Green building has been a growing industry for the past ten years and many companies and organizations recognize the long term benefits, ranging from environmental to health to financial benefits. Business buildings also have one of the largest environmental impacts on our planet, destroying green space and creating heat island effects where they are built. They account for 70% of electricity use in the United States, 40% of all energy use and generate 39% of all GHG emissions.[1]

Thursday, February 21, 2013

So You Wanna Change the World?

(This is a belated Valentine's Day wish to my wife, Lauren Campbell Kong)

My wife gets rather frustrated when she volunteers for well intended organizations fighting for environmentalism and conservations. I can see her hair turning gray in real time faster than grass can grow in the spring. I try to do my best to help her through those rough times; mostly I can explain away the organizational inefficiencies by some magic of bureaucracy in place. But often I question if there is somewhere, out there, for her to feel at home; if there is somewhere in the world where she can comfortably grow her interest in helping make a difference in real and meaningful ways--not jut perpetuate some empty slogans and check off a box for another successful campaign unsuccessfully exhausted.

I can't blame her. Her interest is in behavioral changes and paradigm shifts. She will have me to blame for the latter philosophical bout; but as for behavioral changes, that is entirely her own ambition.

But changing behaviors isn't easy. It starts with someone caring and then another influenced. It's a communal event that transcends mere campaign efforts and mobilization of people with picket signs. From those behavioral changes, we see a fundamental shift in understanding; from there, with baby steps, we can hope for positive policy decisions in the long run. It's a very slow process; it involves a lot of upfront investment and compassion. Often well-meaning organizations lack both; they have so little resources to achieve and so little compassion to care for the broader systemic problems we face as individuals.  These organizations are about funding, membership, measurable impacts, and achieving bigger and bigger goals while ignoring the ever smaller and smaller individual.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Stupidity in Disguise

Dan Stone of the National Geographic Magazine recently wrote an article titled: Does China Have the Ingenuity to Solve Environmental Problems?

In his article, Mr. Stone claims that he is not too worried about all of the environmental ills we face because as he sees it: “the worse things get, the more incentive there is for some innovator to figure out a solution.”

To support his theory, Stone cites to one Chinese millionaire, Chen GuangBiao, who recently decided to sell “cans of clean air” for 5Yuan (about 80 cents) per can. Glorifying the "can of air" idea as ingenious, Stone names only a few drawbacks in passing: it’s not compressed air, so it does not deliver more than three solid breaths; it’s not the purest air so what you are buying will not reverse the impact of breathing in years of thick pollution; and the costs of producing cans and shipping them produces even more pollutions.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

2013 State of Green Business Report - "Profound Changes"

On Tuesday, GreenBiz.com released its sixth annual State of Green Business report. Unlike previous years, GreenBiz partnered with Trucost this year in composing this report. Trucost is a research firm focused on natural capital and sustainability metrics; together, they released the State of Green Business report with revamped indicators by which industry sustainable progress was assessed. GreenBiz claims that their new metrics are more comprehensive and are global in scope; and in its vigor, GreenBiz and Trucost considered companies’ natural capital costs, supply-chain impacts, and various measures of transparency and disclosure amongst other things.

In its release, the report noted a significant shift in the state of business in terms of sustainability. In a world of increased natural disasters, the report noted this year that business as usual simply isn’t sustainable anymore: floods in Thailand can cut off global supplies of computer disk drives for the good part of the year; record-low water level on the Mississippi can choke flow of commerce; and who can forget that a super storm can shut off the world’s financial center for weeks. In fairness, the report asks rhetorically:

“In that context, how should a company view climate change, renewable energy and resource efficiency? How should its shareholders view risk and resilience as it relates to the surety of their investments? And how should communities assess the responsibility of companies within their regions, in terms of the fair appropriation of local resources when they become scarce?”

The report notes that “sustainability” in light of our newly confronted challenges, takes on a new, poignant meaning: that it is now perhaps pressingly about aligning economics, environmental and social interests; and even more importantly is about taking on a strategic importance, linked to reducing supply-chain risk, thus ensuring business continuity during disruptions, continuing to operate in resource-stressed areas, maintaining reliable and cost-efficient energy supplies, and ensuring brand value and reputation continue in an ever more unpredictable and demanding global economy.

In this new sink-or-swim “sustainability” environment, businesses have to go well beyond the glamorous notion of “corporate responsibility” and “eco-efficiency.” In this new climate of business sustainability, companies have to view incrementalism as insufficient, ignorance as unacceptable, and unpredictability as the new norm. Under these circumstances, the report notes, our “old” rationale of corporate sustainable developments hasn’t gone away—“companies are still harnessing sustainability to cut costs, improve quality, engage employees, and all the rest—but the world of sustainable business made some slight but profound shifts in 2012.”

“As the global economy sputtered back to life, companies began to link their sustainability strategy to critical business activities. Today’s rationale might sound something like this: We do these things to insulate ourselves from turbulent times, adhere to customer requirements, ensure that communities where we operate will welcome us, and protect our reputation. They help us be resilient and ensure our survival amid disruptions.”

The report notes these profound shifts in ten important trends:

1. Natural Capital

With the Rio+20’s focus on natural capital, culminating with the signing of a Natural Capital Declaration by 39 global financial institutions — primarily from Europe and South America, but no major U.S. banks, we note that integrating natural capital isn’t just about buzz word campaigns. Rather, the underlying principles of natural capital include the idea that one species’ waste is another species’ food; that materials cycle endlessly through the web of life; that species live off current solar “income”; that resilience comes from diversity; and that everything is interconnected. Each of these can be translated into everyday business practices, as well as overall strategy—more than just a mere goodwill PR initiative.

2. Risk and Resilience

Given the recent super storms and natural disasters, risk and resilience are increasingly being added to companies’ sustainability vocabulary. And it’s not just the weather that is pressing this issue. Risk and resilience issues also surface from investor communities, from socially responsible investors to mainstream pension funds and university endowments, Wall Street stock analysts, and the regulatory agencies that oversee publicly traded companies. Increasingly, everyone is asking tough questions about resource constraints related to the availability of energy, water, and other resources; where the toxicity of products or manufacturing processes present perils all the way up the supply chain; and where climate shifts can disrupt the availability of raw materials and threaten the well-being of employees and customers.

3. Integrated Corporate Reporting

While freestanding sustainability reports have the preferred outreach by companies in the past, most of these reports haven’t been all that helpful. They contain too much information that is feel-good, extraneous to evaluating a company’s sustainability impacts and risks. Forward looking companies will see integrated reporting as an opportunity to communicate on and implement sustainable strategies and create value for shareholders over the long term while contributing to a sustainable society.

4. The Sharing Economy

In recent years, we saw an increase in popularity the sharing-economy business model based on providing access to goods and services rather than their outright ownership. This is done often through peer-to-peer networks. Think Zipcar and the likes, these companies are enabled by technology trends as well as some societal ones. Some incumbents are putting up fights, though, as they see potential loss of business. For example, taxi regulators in some U.S. cities want to shut down Uber, a mobile car-service start-up that enables people to find a black limo car ride simply by pressing a button on a mobile app. GPS-equipped drivers enable riders to see which car will pick them up and see exactly where that car is. While the incumbents may win in courts in the short run, but with increasing popularity and other market forces, it may be time for them to face the music.

5. Relocated Commerce

Dystopian of urbanization is becoming more apparent as we find big-box stores and fast-food chains practically wherever we travel around the planet. The consumers are pushing back. A confluence of forces is reversing these industrial trends. We find more often people are willing to revitalize local commerce and communities. There are growing networks to support local sustainability-minded businesses whose principal goal is to promote locally owned commerce. This transition is not just about building some sort of utopia; it’s more pragmatic, linked to risk and resilience in an age of uncertain climate and economic trends. Relocalization is seen as a strategy to build societies based on the local production of food, energy and goods, and the local development of currency, governance and culture. The main goals are to increase community energy security, to strengthen local economies, and to improve environmental conditions and social equity.

6. Machine 2 Machines Communication

We are seeing a rapid growth in machine to machine (M2M) communication technology. The report estimates 10 billion connected devices worldwide, while there are only 2.5 billion web-connected PC and phones. M2M is a key technology in managing consumption of electricity in response to supply conditions and demand response systems are critical to smart grids. M2M in effect improves efficiency, reliability, and economics of energy use. M2M can also help improve efficiency in everything from agriculture to health care to supply chains to traffic flow.

7. Sustainability and App Craziness

The has been a bloom of apps mirroring other technology trends: the sharing economy, the smart grid, machine-to-machine communications. The culmination is about data, Big Data: informing our decisions about how to achieve the most with the least while addressing everyone’s needs. But this isn’t just about automation or data collection, it’s also about innovation and collaboration. We are seeing a growing number of “hackathons” — where computer programmers, graphic designers, user-interface experts and others collaborate on software projects. Hackathons are being sponsored by cities, nonprofits and for-profits, and tend to have a specific focus. Some have sustainability as a key driver.

8. Materiality

There is growing trend that sustainability is being viewed by businesses, industries, and the legal community as material. Greenhouse gas emissions, toxic ingredients in products, and reliable access to water, energy, and raw materials are increasingly seen as material risk factors that warrant scrutiny by regulators. In 2010, the SEC issued guidance regarding companies’ responsibility to disclose material risks related to climate change. This placed sustainability directly into the realm of financial risk management, expanding the CFO’s role in ways that would have been hard to imagine even a few years ago.

9. Looking Pass the Goal

The report also noted a steady stream of companies trumpeting their over-achievements in recent years. While some companies set bold, audacious goals, when they have no clue as to how to achieve them; other companies are working with tenable objectives and methodologies and are achieving and accelerating. There seem to be something in the midst

10. Corporate Progress

And as sustainability becomes increasingly integrated into the corporate operations, companies are using designated sustainability officers less. Rather, sustainability has increasingly become the responsibility of all level of corporate stakeholders, from workers to managers to stockholders. On some level, this is cause to celebrate as sustainability is becoming the norm rather than the exception.

Monday, February 11, 2013

This Is What Insanity Looks Like

Scentless poisons
and fractured hearts,
Indulge your tasteless fragrance
while everything falls apart.
You trap yourself in this fume,
You remove yourself into your wealth
beyond your gloom.
The poor suffer
while you pretend your do not see,
The young are dying
while you pretend you do not hear;
It is your world of a fantasy,
With padded walls of your own fallacy.

You are no longer human, 
Just a toy, 
a hamster on a wheel; 
In the end, you are just crazy.


Recently Beijing’s air reached dangerous levels. On January 12, just a month before the Chinese New Year, Beijing saw a reading of 755 on the Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI is based on the recently revised US EPA standards measuring fine particle pollutions; it codes ranges of pollution to tell the public just how dangerous the air is.

According to the AQI, an index value of 0-50 means the air quality is good; from 51-100 means the air quality is moderate; 101-150 means the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups such as the very young and the elderly; 151-200 means the air is unhealthy and 201-300 means the air is very unhealthy; and finally, the index categorizes a reading between 301 – 500 as hazardous for everyone meaning that in a given 24 hour period, the air is measuring at a level of 301 to 500 microgram of fine particles per cubic meter (μg/m3, 24-hour average) and is detrimental to everyone’s health.

I’m not sure what category is beyond “hazardous” on the AQI but the word “lethal” comes to mind. As an Economist journalist living in Beijing puts this in further perspective for us:

“Apart from the AQI readings above 700, we were quite struck to see the readings for the smallest and most dangerous sort of particulate matter, called PM 2.5, which can enter deep into the respiratory system. These are named for the size, in microns, of the particles. A reading at a controversial monitoring station run by the American embassy showed a PM 2.5 level of 886 micrograms per cubic metre; Beijing’s own municipal monitoring centre acknowledged readings in excess of 700 micrograms.

For perspective on that set of figures, consider that the guideline values set by the World Health Organisation regard any air with more than 25 micrograms of PM 2.5 per cubic metre as being of unacceptable quality.”

Fast forward to Chinese New Year’s Eve, February 9, 2013. As usual, my wife and I traveled to Cincinnati to gather with my parents and my brother. We sat around all day to eat dumplings, fish with eyes, and many other delicious food my parents conjured up. We then corralled, mostly in an idle vegetative state, and we glued our attention to New Year’s celebration on TV curtsey of CCTV. I had grown up in Beijing during the 80s; one of our family’s favorite past times was watching the celebration on TV and at midnight, we would go outside and light up as many firecrackers and fireworks as possible to celebrate the passing of another lunar year. Since we moved the US, we gave up on our fireworks, but we still manage to watch other Chinese people, via satellite TV, go about their usual celebratory business and light up the Chinese skies with various luminous extravagances.

This year, due to the exceedingly bad air quality, many environmentalists came out on TV to protest the tradition. There is weight in their criticisms: Proportionally, for every 270 grams of black powder used, 132 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) are created. The ratio of CO2 emission per volume used is then 0.4889 (132/270).

I’ve not yet found any numbers suggesting the total volume of fireworks set off during recent Chinese New Year’s celebrations, but I’m sure it’s an astronomical number. Global Times has documented the environmental impacts from 2012:  

"After an hours-long fireworks spree on the eve of the Lunar New Year in 2012, the density of PM2.5 increased sharply to 1,593 micrograms per cubic meter at one downtown monitoring station, or 1.5 times higher than this year's most polluted day in Beijing."

The debate on fireworks is a bitterly divided one in China. As one Beijing CCTV journalist pointed out that setting off fireworks is a folk tradition that goes back thousands of years (dating to 200BC). Even though Beijing has put out a fireworks ban for 15 days leading up to the New Year ’s Day, many children and adults alike will likely find a way to set off a few and welcome the new year. I can’t blame them. If I were still living in Beijing, I would be so wrapped up in the coming of a new year that I would cherish the rebellious spirit upon hearing firecrackers going off in some remote places of the Beijing streets.

But I would feel perversely guilty. After all, the government is trying to do what it can but it’s the individuals that must do more. And while it’s a balancing act to retain the tradition of celebration with modern anxieties, it is more of a quest for pertinence to educate the individuals so that they are making the right choices. This matter goes beyond fireworks and New Year’s celebrations; it goes beyond just few days of indulgence. What about the cars on the road in Beijing that are spewing noxious gases? What about the heavy dependencies on coal and other polluting energy productions? What about the idea that getting rich is good no matter what the cost?

Tienanmen Square Jumbo Screen Displaying Clear Skies
In many ways, the Chinese people brought this onto themselves and this is not just about fireworks; the government blindly allowed this to happen with its liberal market force policies: developments, consumptions, heavy industries, and yes, even providing a false sense of security.

A while ago, I wrote an article (published by the European Journal of Law Reforms) on how it is that China can curb its problems. The article focused on China and its many environmental and social problems, but the main focus of the article was a call to understanding—that the Chinese people must be the ones to undertake the responsibility to cure China of its ills. The sparseness of legal enforcements in China is not due to some inherent government failure; the corruption is not due to some systemic problems in government. Rather the people allows it, cherishes it, and above all, strives to be the one who will break the law, be the corrupt official, and make a billion in the process of their ascend to the pit of human indignity.

"In other words, this is what civilization is, destroying life while creating a toxic mimic of life and then worshiping its creations."  - Generation Alpha friend Premadasi (curtsey of facebook).

To this I say: this is what civilization has become, but not what it is necessarily doomed to repeat; civilization is defined on the ground that virtues and formalities of humankind is what makes a person a Person; Personhood then cures the ills of laws of nations; the process of curing those laws will lead a People to its morals; and it is upon those morals can a nation build and govern--仁 礼 誠 人 | 人 必 治 法 | 法 修 其 德 | 德 必 治 國.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

EPA Releases Report on Smart-Growth, Environmental Justice, and Equitable Developments

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released a one of a kind sustainability report promoting fair treatment and meaningful involvement of low-income, minority and tribal communities to encourage smart-growth, people-focused community building, and place-focused economic development strategies.

The report cites three pillars of its approach: environmental justice, smart growth, and equitable development.

Environmental Justice

Approaching environmental justice, the EPA reiterates its policy that “no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental, or commercial operations and policies.” [1] The EPA also resonates the idea that the “public should have opportunities to participate in decisions that could affect their environment and their health, their contributions should be taken into account by regulatory agencies, and decision-makers should seek and facilitate the engagement of those potentially affected by their decisions.”[2]

Under the authorities of Executive Order 12898 and the EPA’s Plan EJ 2014, the Agency’s overarching strategy for advancing environmental justice, the EPA together with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and 17 other federal agencies, are working with community stakeholders to develop and implement environmental justice strategies. Together, they aim to strengthen community access to federal resources, integrate environmental justice into programs, policies, and activities across the federal government.[3]

Smart Growth 

Under Smart Growth, the report describes how low-income, minority, and tribal communities can employ strategies to clean up and reinvest in existing neighborhoods; provide affordable housing and transportation; and improve access to jobs, services, parks and stores. It also provides practitioners with concrete ideas on how they can better meet the needs of low-income residents as they promote development or redevelopment in underserved communities. To this end, the report enumerates 10 Smart Growth principles[4] based on the experiences of communities around the country:

  • Mix land use: by mixing housing, shops, offices, schools, and other compatible land use in the same community, the residents are able to walk, bike, or take public transit thus drive shorter distances and lowering their transportation costs; (according to the report, low-income areas and underprivileged individuals tend to spend a larger portion of their income on transportation—up to 30%, as opposed to privileged and wealthy individuals who may spend only 9% of their income on transportation); 
  • Compact building design: green and compact building design principles preserves open space and uses land and resources in efficient and effective ways to create communities that are transit friendly, reduces pollution thus improving water quality, and encourage healthier lifestyles;
  • Affordable housing and range of housing opportunities: by providing quality and affordable housing options in new and re-development communities, people of all income levels, household size, and stages of life will be able to live near jobs, public transit, and services thus encourages inclusion and diversity, promotes new opportunities, and allows for innovation to occur naturally;
  • Walkable communities: increasing walkability of communities encourages active lifestyles, reduces transportation cost and pollution, and helps reduce obesity, diabetes, and other preventable diseases;
  • Strong sense of community: preservation of community history and culture encourages economic vitality and long-term sustainment of quality of life;
  • Open-space, farm-land, natural landscape, and critical environmental areas: preserving these types of natural and working lands support land-based economy that are critical for regional and national economies; the vegetation in these natural areas also helps protect environmental public health by filtering pollutants from the air and water;
  • Direct development in existing communities: by investing in communities that are blighted, investing dollars will go to addressing environmental and health hazards in the most critical areas; it will also bring new jobs and services for residents while conserving investment by utilizing already existing infrastructure;
  • Variety of transportation choices: by building a balanced transportation system that incorporates different means of travel—buses, rail, walkways, bike lanes, and carpool lanes—residents will have more options for getting around; this will encourage responsible behavior and reduce air pollution as well as related health problems; this will also increase mobility for low-income individuals thus providing more job and service opportunities;
  • Predicable, fair, and cost effective development decisions: by making development processes clear and by working with the private sector and all stakeholders, municipalities can make smart growth economically viable and attractive to private investors and developers;
  • Stakeholder collaboration: by encouraging all stakeholders to participate in the decision making process, development will create great places to live and work, thus increase a community’s sense of ownership and empowerment; this will invariably lead to smarter growth patterns from both the private and the public sector; involving all stakeholders will also encourage inclusive innovation, and by involving all parties early, the implemented innovation will have a better chance of succeeding according to the community’s vision and goals.
Equitable Development 

The EPA report vitalizes the idea that development should be about creating healthy, vibrant, and sustainable communities where residents of all incomes, races, and ethnicities have access to opportunities, services, and amenities they need to thrive. The strategic focus is on helping low income, minority, tribal, and overburdened communities participate in and benefit from decisions that shape their neighborhoods and regions.[5]

The concept of equitable development is a culmination of environmental justice and smart growth: it emphasizes that everyone should be protected from environmental hazards and be able to enjoy equal access to environmental, health, economic, and social necessities such as clean air and water, adequate infrastructure, jobs, and involvement in decision-making. Equitable development incorporates people-focused strategies with placed-focused strategies. People-focused efforts are centered around supporting and empowering residents of a community within the context of their own; there is an emphasis on job training and placement, business development, homeless initiatives, education, health, and wellness programs, financial literacy programs, and revitalization efforts taken by the residents. Place-focused efforts focus on stabilizing and improving infrastructure and environment, developing fair housing initiatives, and initiating pollution cleanups to reduce economic disparities, bring new opportunities, and improve the overall quality of life. Equitable development also calls for a regional perspective in order to reduce health and economic inequalities and improve outcomes for low-income communities while building healthy urban regions.

More Details 

The report also notes some of the challenges and sets out some case studies around the country showcasing their success. These case studies include:
  • designing safe streets for all users
  • cleaning and reusing contaminated properties
  • reducing exposure to facilities with potential environmental concerns
  • fixing existing infrastructure before investing in new projects
  • preserving affordable housing
I highly encourage you to read through the report if you have the time. Otherwise, we will be addressing some of the issues in this report in the future posts. So sign up to follow this blog and stay tuned.

More information about the report: http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/equitable_development_report.htm

More information about the Office of Environmental Justice: http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice

More information about the Office of Sustainable Communities: http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth


[1] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Justice, available at http://www.epa.gov/compliance/ej.

[2] Id.

[3] Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898, (EJ MOU), available at http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/resources/publications/interagency/ej-mou-2011-08.pdf.

[4] Smart Growth Network, Why Smart Growth? available at http://www.smartgrowth.org/why.php.

[5] PolicyLink, Equitable Development Toolkit, available at http://www.policylink.org/site/c.lkIXLbMNJrE/b.5136575/k.39A1/Equitable_Development_Toolkit.htm.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Education and Fairness, Fear the Possible

We are living now, not in the delicious intoxication induced by the early successes of science, but in a rather grisly morning-after, when it has become apparent that what triumphant science has done hitherto is to improve the means for achieving unimproved or actually deteriorated ends.

--Aldous (Leonard) Huxley, Literature and Science (1963)

Thomas Kuhn once famously said that science is shaped by the prevailing values and norms in specific social and historical contexts.[1] We’ve experienced momentous scientific progress in the last few decades. We put men on the moon and machines on Mars; we cured incurable diseases and we catapulted ourselves into the modern age with the advent of industrial and informational revolutions. Yet our prevailing values and norms seem blind. We march forward with our air polluted, water contaminated, and land depleted. Now, we sit quietly waiting for the world to end; we sit silent waiting for our children to carry the burden.

What selfish creatures are we?

One educator and scholar noted this phenomenon in her quest for better environmental education (EE). Ms. Anna Gahl Cole in her 2007 article wrote: “environmental education is traditionally found in schools as an add-on to science curriculum . . . [and in order] for my students to understand environmental processes and systems, we had to first come to terms with the human histories that contextualize, shape, and define those systems.” To do this, and thus allowing us to define problems in our environmental educations, Ms. Cole reasoned that we must employ “alternative methodologies and ways of understanding how people experience and understand their environment.”[2]

In response to this call for alternative methodologies through multidisciplinary lenses of critical pedagogy, Ms. Cole pleas for a revisit to the environmental justice movement and place-based education. This is to put emphasis on localized and relevant educations that will make impacts in children’s lives as opposed to creating an irreconcilable difference between teaching children mere science yet giving them the prevailing norms that have done us harm in the first place.

With that in mind, we shift our focus on environmental education. We note that while traditional EE programs develop understanding of the environment through science, inspire individuals to take personal responsibility for environmental preservation and restoration, and solicit collective responses to shift policy decisions, environmental justice education (EJE) fosters a critical understanding of the environment within the context of human political and social actions thereby making science based education, and the policy decision making process based on that education, meaningful to the locality.

Under EJE initiatives, educators thus have a unique role in coaching environmental justice to students as relevant to their locality thus empowering them to act accordingly and intrinsically. Mere EE programs often create the dichotomy of us/them phenomenon, making students in poor and depleted areas feel what they have learned is irrelevant to their circumstances, thus making their pro environmental actions extrinsic to their education and motivation. This is because they have not been taught to see environmental impacts with their own conditions; they have not been taught environmental justice as relevant to them locally and how it is related globally. Yet some of the areas most impacted by environmental and social injustice are the same ones requiring the most policy shift towards sustainable goals; and by empowering students who live in these areas of both environmental and social injustice, the educators’ aim is to build strong communities of resistance and planning to change our current market models that depletes and exploits, thus avoiding problem shifting perpetuating the same knotty prevailing social and value norms to some other less privileged place.

The objective under the EJE model, therefore, is to empower students to understand and exercise their own individual rights in relation to their global community; the notion of environmental justice, then, must be incorporated into the curriculum and embedded into the wider scientific literacy programs so encapsulates the environmental studies. In essence, educators have to educate students of environmental progress and justice that it is their right to have access to open space, clean air and water, nutritious food as opposed to making them believe they’re supposed to be living with only a small park with a basketball court with no nets and fast food around the corner. Educators will have to stop convincing them that the only way to escape their condition is to accept the prevailing social and value norms so indoctrinated into their scientific programs and get ahead by any means necessary. Educators have to convince them that they have to take up ownership in their own environments and make a difference for themselves in meaningful ways in the greater context of global scarcity. More importantly, educators will have to convince their students to see the injustice done in relation to the interconnectedness of their conditions, avail themselves to the veil of ignorance and emerge with a fresh perspective of what is to be undone. Failing to do so, we would simply shift the problems around; one area’s pollution is migrated to the next poorer neighborhood and one country’s over consumption and human injustice shifted to the next country’s developing complications.

The EJE model thus requires both a scientific literacy as well as an embedded social literacy. Scientific literacy is the “knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision-making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity."[3] Social literacy involves the need to focus on the living process of a community in context of the broader global development incentives. To put it simply: “think globally and act locally”; the educators must help students investigate their social context, local issues of injustice, impacts of developments and modernization—essentially incorporating the issue of environment, human rights, and economic incentives into one fundamentally sound EJE curriculum within the global context.

Something else to consider: EJE model is not only urgently required in poorer neighborhoods, but is also immediately necessary in the apparently rich and well-to-do areas. Often times we forget that individuals, and even small communities, are not aware of their conditions and relative disadvantage at the hands of global over consumption and over development. Living in a million dollar home does not immunize one from polluted air blown from neighboring areas and having a higher standard of living does not prevent global scarcity issues from reaching into their water supplies. At the end of the day, whether rich or poor, we all seem to face the same set of global problems distributed unevenly into disparate communities. John Rawls[4] noted this in his discourse on “Justice as Fairness” that as the result of our original position, we are behind a “veil of ignorance” and are completely unaware of our relative status among peers. Thus no individual has the distinct advantage in establishing the requisite principles of “justice”; and since everyone lacks the relative advantage, the few malintended individuals are able to establish norms and prevailing values behind such veil without ever acknowledging the effect.

EJE is therefore a globally required model and ought to be introduced locally with a keen eye on the complexity of our modern societies. Everyone is obligated to undertake this task and unveil their own ignorance. To proceed, we are reminded by the Dalai Lama that

“We have to think and see how we can fundamentally change our education system so that we can train people to develop warm-heartedness early on in order to create a healthier society. I don’t mean we need to change the whole system, just improve it. We need to encourage an understanding that inner peace comes from relying on human values like, love, compassion, tolerance and honesty, and that peace in the world relies on individuals finding inner peace. The power of the environmental justice movement lies in grassroots neighborhood organizations that have worked for change. Therefore, a focus of this work is empowering individuals in urban environments to build communities that stand for environmental justice.”


[1] THE STRUCTURE OF SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS, University of Chicago Press; 3rd edition (December 15, 1996).

[2] Cole, A. G., Expanding the Field: Revisiting Environmental Education Principles Through Multidisciplinary Frameworks, 38.2 The Journal of Environmental Education 35-44 (2007).

[3] National Academy of Sciences, 2007, para. 14.

[4] See COLLECTED PAPERS: JOHN RAWLS (Samuel Freeman ed., 1999).

Other resources:

The US EPA defines environmental justice as

“fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, culture, education, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

The EPA further defines “fair treatment” to mean that “no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies”; and “meaningful involvement” to mean that “people have an opportunity to participate in decisions about activities that may affect their environment and/or health; the public’s contribution can influence the regulatory agency’s decision; their concerns will be considered in the decision making process; and the decision makers seek out and facilitate the involvement of those potentially affected.”

The first national study on environmental racism was published by the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice in 1987 titled: “Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States.” The study provided data that matched waste facility sites to demographics demonstrating a strong pattern of environmental racism. (Environmental racism “refers to any policy, practice, or directive that differentially affects or disadvantages--whether intended or unintended--individuals, groups, or communities because of their race or color.”)

Executive Order 12898, "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-income Populations" (2/94) requires certain federal agencies, including HUD, to consider how federally-assisted projects may have disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority and low-income populations.

The Department of Education’s draft on Environmental Justice (EJ) strategy focuses on healthy learning environments for students, energy-efficient school facilities, sustainability education and environmental literacy, and energy efficiency in the Department’s facilities. This draft EJ strategy is the Department’s plan to address environmental justice concerns and increase access to environmental benefits through the Department’s policies, programs, and activities. The Department is committed to meeting the goals of Executive Order 12898, and in August of 2011, several federal agencies signed the “Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898” (EJ MOU), which committed each agency to, among other things, finalizing an EJ strategy and releasing annual implementation reports.