Skip to content

Sustainability for All

2014 January 23

By Deeohn Ferris

Untitled-2In many of our communities, if sustainability is going to be sustainable, our nation’s green economy and the investments that flow from those policies must reflect the undeniable fact that all communities are not at the same starting point.  In far too many of our neighborhoods, people who are raising families and working hard to make ends meet face a combination of environmental, social and economic challenges that result in grave hardship.  If the race to sustainability is a race to the top, some of our communities can take the elevator.  Others only have stairs, and some of them have asthma too!

Regarding what’s going on locally and on-the-ground, equitable development is the central point from where the hard issues within sustainability must be dealt with up front.   The real on-ramp to sustainability means recognizing and addressing the inter-relationship of the challenges in our communities. Negative environmental impacts, disproportionate impacts, vacant properties, brownfields, health disparities, blight — these conditions are ubiquitous in neighborhoods where people of color and people with low incomes and less wealth live, work, learn, worship, and play.  Achieving equitable and sustainable development means thoroughly rebuilding our communities – not just the bricks and mortar – but really rebuilding the country’s social and economic fabric.

Untitled-2Thus, to make a fairer starting line for all in our country, we need to recognize opportunities to support the communities that have the greatest proportion of pollution and public health problems. For example, minimizing health disparities by deliberately providing fairer access for health care in low income and minority communities would save these residents billions of dollars in averted medical costs and gained productivity. Ameliorating such persistent inequities is critical for bringing about stability in communities—increasing fair access to housing choices, better schools, better jobs, sustained economic growth – and thus improving their overall ability to achieve community sustainability.

All across the country, dedicated folks are working to address these disparities.  But people of color and low-and-moderate income populations are still struggling for opportunity. Reversing this unfortunate trend necessitates a national transition to sustainability and the emerging green economy, which provides important new ways to tackle community revitalization as well as opportunities to do so in an equitable manner. Some examples of green economy priorities and tools that could address these disparities include:

  • Ensuring the right to a clean, safe environment for everyone.
  • Establishing inclusive decision making structures that provide resources and facilitate community engagement in planning and investments.
  • Making certain that decision-making is democratic, transparent and fair.
  • Distributing the economic and health benefits of energy conservation through green housing and retrofits.
  • Creating jobs that are safe, green and upwardly mobile.
  • Emphasizing workforce preparedness, development, and training.
  • Providing financial and other incentives that encourage entrepreneurship and local ownership of renewable energy and renewable energy technologies.
  • Guaranteeing that there are sufficient transportation options, including affordable public transit that gets people to jobs.
  • And ensuring the highest quality education and food security for all of our children.

Untitled-3Which neighborhoods are built and rebuilt and how they are built and rebuilt have far-reaching consequences in the race towards sustainability. Prioritizing historically disadvantaged and distressed communities to engage and benefit from sustainability outcomes is an investment in the future.  I believe everyone in our nation should have the same opportunity to flourish.  But achieving such a lofty goal requires community sustainability with conscious linkages to social and economic equity goals, green economy tools and environmental justice.

About the author: Deeohn Ferris is President of Sustainable Community Development Group, a not-for-profit national research and policy innovator dedicated to advancing sustainability and public health through equitable neighborhood development, smart growth and the green economy.  She is a former EPA enforcement lawyer, now a renowned provider of equitable development expertise and technical assistance that tackles sustainability in communities of color and low wealth neighborhoods.   Deeohn was on the ground floor of drafting the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 and the first Chair of NEJAC’s Enforcement Subcommittee.   

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

5 Responses leave one →
  1. Bouchakour permalink
    January 23, 2014

    Hello everyone,
    That’s the point, entirely agree.
    Regards

  2. Kim Tristani permalink
    January 23, 2014

    Excellent points that gave me a lot to think about when it comes to redevelopment. I think many people make the assumption that sustainability will naturally be a positive in all communities and fail to realize that there are factors that could actually cause additional harms, to those who have faced persistent inequities. Thank you for sharing this very powerful blog with all of us.

    Kim

  3. Robert permalink
    January 25, 2014

    Ms. Ferris,

    I don’t think I have heard anyone sum it up better than when you shared that, “If the race to sustainability is a race to the top, some of our communities can take the elevator and others only have the stairs”. As I began to look deeper into environmental justice and equitable development, I began to understand that many communities are struggling to just get to the starting line of the race, while others have the resources and access to be much further along. I hope that development in the future will consider the green priorities and tools you highlighted.

    Robert

  4. Mike Ellerbrock permalink
    January 28, 2014

    Very well said … I especially appreciate Deeohn’s inclusion of the critical need for access to quality education and nutrition. Too often we focus on ameliorating the back-end problems of sustainability, without addressing front-end strategies for prevention. Thanks!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Sustainability for All | twitter.com/flew72

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS