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The Tufts Office of Sustainability is committed to embedding environmental justice into our work to uphold the right for all people to have access to a clean and safe environment.

Sustainability is centered around three pillars: environment, society, and economy. Our office recognizes the important of giving full weight to social sustainability in the work that we do by amplifying the voices of BIPOC and other marginalized communities, addressing the connections between environmental degradation and racial and social injustice, and working to rectify instances of inequity in sustainability, among other actions.

We, the members of the Tufts Office of Sustainability, have drafted Equity and Justice Commitments help to ground our work in environmental justice. These commitments provide consistent guidance in our efforts and help to align our office with Tufts’ goal to become an anti-racist institution. Working towards just sustainability is a critical part of our office’s mission to act as a resource, catalyst, and advocate for sustainability at Tufts.

Working in a primarily white field, our office recognizes the need to hold ourselves and each other accountable by making clear, well defined, and actionable SMART goals based on our equity and justice commitments. This means embedding justice and equity into the work we do and revisiting our goals and commitments annually to adapt and revise our approach in the ever-changing world.

Learning the Language: Important Definitions You Should Know

Sustainability:

“The ability to meet the needs of the present while enhancing the ability of future generations to meet their needs in a just and equitable manner.”  – Tufts Sustainability Council, 2022

Just Sustainabilities:

“The need to ensure a better quality of life for all, now and into the future, in a just and equitable manner, whilst living within the limits of supporting ecosystems.”  –Julian Agyeman, Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University.

Environmental Racism:

The practice wherein “public policies and industry practices disproportionately place the burden of pollution, waste, and the climate crisis on Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color... Pollution, waste, and risk of disaster are assigned to communities of color through intergenerational discrimination and political neglect.”    –Marie Beecham, racial and climate justice activist.

Environmental Justice (EJ):

“The principle that all people are entitled to equal environmental protection [and equal enforcement of environmental laws and regulation], regardless of race, color, or national origin. It’s the right to live and work and play in a clean environment.”–Robert Bullard, sociologist. 

Climate Justice:

Climate Justice recognizes the disproportionate impacts of climate change on low-income communities and communities of color around the world, the people and places least responsible for the problem. –University of California, Center for Climate Justice.

Intersectional Environmentalism:

“An inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. [It] identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and to the earth are interconnected. [It] brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and to the earth, to the forefront and does not minimize or silence social inequality. Intersectional Environmentalism advocates for justice for people [and] the planet.”–Leah Thomas, environmentalist.

Deep Dive Into These Concepts

Community Context

Sustainability and social justice are inextricably linked. Although climate change and environmental degradation are global issues, they do not impact all people and environments equally. Low-income people, people of color, and women, are disproportionately affected by environmental injustice. Poorer populations, who are majority people of color, are experiencing the brunt of the negative effects of climate change, but are often at the same time the least industrialized and have therefore contributed the least amount of carbon emissions, the root cause of climate change.

There are multiple communities near Tufts that are disproportionately affected by climate change and environmental degradation. Only 5 miles away from our Medford/Somerville campus, climate change is causing severe impacts in Chelsea, MA. Air pollution caused by traffic from the many distribution centers in Chelsea makes cases of COVID-19 more dangerous than in other cities, and scientists consider the flood risk levels high. Furthermore, because of the proportionally large Latine and low-income populations in Chelsea, the city serves as an example of how environmental injustice hurts people of color and other disadvantaged groups. The goal of environmental justice work is to acknowledge these systems of power and take institutionalized discrimination into account when addressing climate change and environmental issues.

Intersectional Environmentalism

In 1989, Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” as a way to consider how race, gender, sexual orientation, and other personal identities simultaneously influence the human experience. Specifically the concept examines how discrimination against personal identities (such as racism or sexism) can overlap in individuals and groups that have multiple marginalized identities.

This concept of intersectionality has been adapted by environmentalist Leah Thomas, who discusses “intersectional environmentalism,” or the idea that personal and cultural identities impact people’s environmental experiences and privileges. In practice, intersectional environmentalism considers the historical and ongoing structural discrimination against BIPOC, women, people with disabilities, low income, and LGBTQ+ communities when examining how the degradation of people and out planet are connected.

Environmental Justice

"Environmental justice" can be defined as “The principle that all people are entitled to equal environmental protection [and equal enforcement of environmental laws and regulation], regardless of race, color, or national origin. It’s the right to live and work and play in a clean environment.”–Robert Bullard, sociologist.

Many people point to the 1982 protests in Warren County, North Carolina, as an important starting point for the environmental justice movement. Warren County was a predominately African-American community where a hazardous waste landfill was set to be located. The protests in Warren County were not the first, nor the only, early examples of the environmental justice movement, but the activism that took place there is often considered to have sparked a broader discussion of equitable environmental protection. In 1987, the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice published the landmark “Toxic Wastes and Race” report, which provided important empirical evidence regarding the way environmental racism influenced decisions about where hazardous waste sited should be located. Additionally, the concept of environmental justice was elaborated and specified in the Principles of Environmental Justice, written at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit held on October 24-27, 1991, in Washington DC. Using the words of Dana Allen at that meeting in 1991, environmental justice continues to be about protecting and supporting the places where we all “live, work and play” in a just and equitable way.

Just Sustainability

Tufts Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Julian Agyeman Ph.D. FRSA FRGS, works at the intersection of social justice and environmental sustainability by attempting to depoliticize the idea of intersectional environmentalism. Professor Agyeman coined the term “just sustainabilities” as “the ability of people as individuals and communities to have a good quality of life and well-being in a just and equitable manner while living within the limits of supporting ecosystems.” Working with “just sustainabilities” in mind makes justice inherent within any topics of sustainability.

Equity and Justice Commitments

Integrating social justice and sustainability is not the work of one person; it needs to be embedded into all programs and practices. Below are the commitments we have agreed upon to guide our work as an Office:

  1. We commit to encouraging and providing education, training, time, and resources to develop the connections between justice, equity, and sustainability. Using our own lived experiences as a guide post, staff will engage in this work in a way that makes the most sense for their own personal growth.
  2. We commit to embedding equity and justice into the work we do as an office. This means including equity and justice in our office mission, vision, culture, hiring and other practices. 
  3. We commit to embedding equity and justice into the work we do in our individual roles and responsibilities. This means including equity and justice in our communications and programs. 
  4. We commit to continuous evaluation, measurement and reporting of our progress towards these commitments and goals, in service of accountability. We will meet on a regular basis to discuss goals and our progress. We will also solicit feedback from our university partners.
FY23 Annual SMART Goals

Recognizing the need for actionable and measurable goals, our office has created SMART goals based on our commitments to pursue during FY23.

  1. Senior staff will collectively participate in at least 6 hours of professional development directly connected to equity and justice.
  2. Create a vision and mission statement for our office that incorporates equity and justice as a core component.
  3. Assess current engagement with “just sustainability” in our Eco Reps and Eco-Ambassadors curriculum. Update curriculum where appropriate.
  4. Create a guide to inclusive language for our communications and ensure that our website and videos meet accessibility standards.
  5. Senior still will collectively attend at least 6 events hosted by another office on campus related to justice and equity that is not centering the environment.
  6. Review hiring practices and policies for inclusivity. Get feedback from HR specialist on these documents.
  7. Senior staff will meet in December for an accountability check-in. All staff will meet at the end of the academic year to report out on progress.
Next Steps

Senior staff will meet in December to check in on progress towards our annual goals and plan for completing them by the end of the fiscal year. Our entire staff will then meet at the end of the academic year to review our office’s progress and plan for the next fiscal year’s annual SMART goals. Progress on our annual goals will be updated on our website twice a year.

Help Improve Our Work

The Tufts OOS Equity and Justice Plan is a living document open to change based on community feedback. We want to hear your thoughts, opinions, additions, and revisions so that we can build a plan that is most representative of the Tufts community and its values. After reviewing our plan, Tufts Community members are invited to submit feedback through our anonymous Qualtrics survey or email us at sustainabilityoffice@tufts.edu for more personal and in-depth discussions. We appreciate your commitment to helping Tufts OOS uphold the values of environmental justice!