Environmental Justice Is Social Justice

07 September 2022


Golin’s “Justice for All Survey” examines perceptions among U.S. consumers and C-suite executives on environmental justice, and the responsibility of businesses to make a difference.

Climate change and environmental justice are inextricably linked. Numerous studies have shown how climate change disproportionately weighs on people of color and low-income communities. Black Americans are 75 percent more likely than white people to live near facilities that produce excessive levels of noise, odor, traffic, and related emissions that can cause health issues. Additionally, Black communities are more likely than white to be near oil refineries and petrochemical plants and experience greater exposure to toxic emissions that can create higher rates of heart disease, cancer, and asthma.

Greater education is needed for both the public and corporate leaders. More than half of the 1,500 individuals surveyed in Golin’s recent study said they were familiar with the term “environmental justice.” However, when pressed, just 33% could accurately describe the term and 25% could not define it at all. Among 150 C-suite executives surveyed, 48% said environmental justice is about justice simply for the environment or they believe the environmental justice movement is part of a drumbeat to sue corporations for their environmental footprint.

“Despite significant scientific study on the issue, there is a lack of awareness and even less conversation among global corporates and C-suite leaders on the role business needs to play in charting solutions,” said Laura Sutphen, Managing Director of Social Purpose and Sustainability at Golin. “To date, Corporate America’s commitment to environmental justice has been missing. We set out to understand how much consumers knew about environmental justice, what Americans expected from corporates, and the role C-suite leaders believed their brand has to play in addressing the issue. When we guide C-suite leaders to marry their diversity commitments with their sustainability goals, we will see impact at scale that benefits communities of color and the planet.”

While the executives who do recognize what environmental justice is agree that their companies would take action, they remain pessimistic about generating genuine results. About half say they don’t think corporate investments will produce outcomes for minority and low-income communities.

“Environmental justice is about responsibility for addressing a systemic problem that the average American doesn’t realize exists,” said Sutphen. “At Golin, our intersectional team combines social and planet impact with inclusive communications expertise to ensure that business leaders understand how all three are interconnected and impact the communities where they do business. If we want to help organizations meet their goals, we need to agree that we can’t address climate change without tackling environmental justice.”

Review complete survey results here.

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