World being held up by many hands

The Intersection of Environmental Justice and Social Justice

Dear Sam,

What does sustainability have to do with social justice?



Hi Janet,

Sustainability Sam here! Let’s talk about what makes up sustainability. Most often we think about environmental protection. However it is made up of three pillars; social equity, economic viability, and environmental protection. In other words, people, profit, and planet. The past two months have been especially difficult and telling of the state of social inequity within our community and world at large. Social equity is often pushed to the fringe of conversations surrounding sustainability. 

Sustainability is an important topic as communities grow and evolve. The social equity pillar must be included when discussing sustainability, otherwise the voices of some groups of residents will go unheard and consequently unanswered. When planning for sustainable growth, for instance, conversations need to happen and measures must be taken to offset the effects of limiting the supply of housing or increasing land and housing costs. Without this, marginalized communities get pushed out of resource-rich parts of a city and into areas with fewer community and environmental resources. 

Historically, the voices not being heard in Minneapolis have been those with disabilities, seniors, Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), and residents with financial challenges. As a result,  these communities are found to be disproportionately exposed to pollution and environmental hazards even though they tend to create less pollution as their housing and transportation carbon footprint are often lower. Consider the location of our waste transfer stations and the garbage incinerator in our own city. Or, think about how the inequitable distribution of green spaces and tree canopy create heat islands in some parts of our city. These are examples of environmental racism and they demonstrate how social equity has been left out of or ignored in city planning and sustainability conversations of the past. They illustrate how sustainability and social justice need to go hand-in-hand to create environmental justice.

Sustainability is a global issue that touches all themes of the social justice dialogue that are currently circulating, dialogues that include gender and racial inequality, economic development, food insecurity, and homelessness. As a community, we have been redefining our values surrounding sustainability. We’ve seen that income inequality, racial tension, and lack of community resources are not sustainable and inevitably creates social unrest. As a neighborhood association, Tangletown is taking strides toward education surrounding these issues and will continue to do the work toward protecting the environment and the people within it, throughout greater Minneapolis. 

Here are a few places to start if you would like to learn more about sustainability and environmental justice:


Sustainability Sam