Environmental Justice

A group of people holding up blue objects.

What is Environmental Justice?

Environmental justice is the right of all people and communities to equal environmental protection under the law and equal involvement in environmental decision-making processes. It is the right to "live, work, and play in communities that are safe, healthy, and free of life-threatening conditions."

Whether by conscious design or institutional neglect, commercial, industrial, and governmental policies or actions have resulted in the disproportionate exposure of poor communities and people of color to environmental hazards and environmental health burdens. The environmental justice movement seeks to promote economic alternatives that contribute to the development of environmentally safe livelihoods for all and address systemic environmental injustices. 

Delegates to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit held in 1991 drafted and adopted The Principles of Environmental Justice, which have served as a defining document for the environmental justice movement. 

Environmental Justice Toolkit*

How does the EPA define environmental justice?

The Environmental Protection Agency defines EJ in the following way:

"Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Environmental justice will be achieved when everyone enjoys:

  • the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and
  • equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work."

Critiques of the EPA’s definition of Environmental Justice

Some activist circles in the environmental justice movement take issue with aspects of the EPA’s definition. They note that, in their eyes, the goal is not to have the same degree of protection from health hazards, but to build a system that does not accept health hazards as a byproduct of operation. In other words, the goal is not to redistribute environmental harms, but to abolish them. 

Our Home? What is Home?: Student Environmental Justice Stories by Gabriella Robinson

  • Minnesota: Line 3 Pipeline ft. Gabriela Batinich
  • Hawai'i: Protecting Mauna Kea, ft. Jaina Galves
  • Hawai'i: Food Injustice, ft. Taylor McKenzie
  • North Carolina: Floods and Hurricane Matthew, ft. Trisha Brownlee 

Environmental injustice in some of SU students' hometowns:

Climate Justice Definition

While climate change impacts people globally, not everyone is affected in the same ways. Climate change, like pollution and environmental degradation, disproportionately impacts communities of color and low-income communities, in addition to persons with disabilities, women, and children.

Overall, climate injustice addresses the fact that certain populations and countries: 

  • Are the least responsible for yet the most affected by the climate crisis
  • Have less capacity and resources to deal with the impacts of the climate crisis
  • Will have to deal with the environmental, social, health, economic and cultural consequences of the climate crisis for generations to come
  • Have less representation than others in environmental decision-making spaces from the local to the international level 


Seattle U and Environmental Justice

  • SeattleU's Strategic Directions 2020-2025: Envision the university as “a leader in environmental sustainability that is socially just, recognizing the centrality of environmental justice to our mission and value and infusing the science, economics and ethics of this issue in our programs, operations, and investments.”
  • The President’s Committee for Sustainability has developed four priorities to support this vision. Read the full at: Sustainability Strategic Priorities 2020-2025
  • Laudato Si' Action Platform: Seattle U has committed to put concrete action behind the goals outlined by Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si': On Care for Our Common Home. Dr. Jeanette Rodriguez, Director of SU's Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture (ICTC), has been appointed chair of SU’s Laudato Si Action Platform Steering Committee. The committee will lead the efforts towards the following goals of Laudato Sí: Respond to the Cry of the Earth; Respond to the Cry of the Poor; Foster Ecological Economics; Adopt a Sustainable Lifestyle; Offer Ecological Education; Develop Ecological Spirituality; Support Local Communities.
  • Divestment and Socially Responsible Investments: In September 2018, Seattle U committed to fully divest the marketable portion of its endowment from any investments in companies owning fossil fuel reserves by June 30, 2023.
  • Fair Trade Designated Campus: Seattle University was the first University in the Pacific Northwest to earn the title of Fair Trade Designated University.
  • Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability (CEJS). In 2013, CEJS was created with the mission to inspire care for our communities through the research and practice of social, economic and environmental justice.
  • Center for Indian Law and Policy: The SU Law School's Center for Indian Law and Policy provides services, information, and education to Indian people, tribal leaders, students, and attorneys.
  • Access to Justice Institute (Law School): The Access to Justice Institute serves as the law school's social justice hub.
  • Indigenous People's Institute: IPI supports Native student success at Seattle University and raises awareness about issues of importance to local and global Indigenous peoples. Through on-campus events and activities that include the broader community, IPI seeks accountability to Coast Salish and Urban Native peoples and the lands we now share. 


  • Sustainable Student Action (SSA):  SSA is an environmental justice group that engages in political education, student organizing, direct action, and solidarity efforts. Their framework for understanding and addressing the complicated issue of climate change includes analyses of the science behind greenhouse gas emissions, the interplay of environmental racism and ecological degradation, economic systems that contribute to climate change, and is rooted in democratic rather than hierarchical leadership development. 

  • Environmental Law Society: The primary goal of the ELS is to promote environmental awareness and activism, with a focus on achieving sustainability and environmental justice at SU and in the greater legal community, by organizing speakers, forums, and activities that give students and professionals a chance to interact in a more relaxed atmosphere.

  • Justice and Sustainability Clubs: Visit for a list of justice and sustainability-focused student clubs at Seattle U.
  • Alumni Sustainability Coalition: Are you an SU alumni wanting to make sustainable changes? Interested in how sustainability is connected to different issues? DM @su.sustainability.co on Instagram to join!

  • SU Center for Community Engagement: The Sundborg Center for Community Engagement (CCE) connects classroom, campus and community to promote a more just and humane world.  

There are many opportunities at Seattle University to engage in meaningful work relating to environmental justice abroad. Check out the following SU organizations for involvement opportunities:

SU students, faculty and staff have been involved in 58 global service projects over the years.

John August Swanson creates masterful pieces illustrating climate change and environmental justice. His work can be found around campus.

Seattle University student Mandy Rusch communicates the issues of homelessness through art. Her work has been featured by The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and the Project on Family Homelessness.

Andrew Morrison's work can be seen in Cherry Street Market. His murals consist of Chief Sealth, Princess Angelina, Vi Hilbert, Billy Frank Jr., and contemporary Native American people and activists. 

Your Next Steps: Take Action

Educating oneself about environmental justice is a first step to address injustice in our communities. While education is important, it's crucial to translate what we learn into tangible actions. Explore here how you can get involved, organize, and take action on environmental justice and sustainability. See more ideas for how your can GET INVOLVED at SU. 

350 Seattle
Works toward climate justice by organizing people to make deep system change: resisting fossil fuels; building momentum for healthy alternatives; and fostering resilient, just, and welcoming communities

Duwamish Alive Coalition 
Collaborates with community, municipalities, non-profits and businesses within the Duwamish River Watershed to preserve and enhance habitat for people and wildlife, towards improving the health of the Puget Sound.

Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition 
Beyond monitoring the cleanup of Seattle’s Duwamish River, we're a voice for the nearby community, which is negatively affected by the environmental, social, and economic impacts of pollution.

Earth Ministry
Transforms faith into action for the well-being of communities and the environment. 

Front and Centered 
(Formerly Communities of Color for Climate Justice) is a statewide coalition of organizations and groups rooted in communities of color and people with lower incomes. They build power and capacity for a Just Transition that centers equity. Front and Centered has a list of its coalition partners on its website.

Got Green
Organizes for environmental, racial, and economic justice as a South Seattle-based grassroots organization led by people of color and low income people. 
Puget Sound Sage
Combines research, innovative public policy and organizing to ensure all people have an affordable place to live, a good job, a clean environment, and access to public transportation.

View more environmental organizations in the community. 

Vote for climate! Visit vote.org to register to vote, make a plan to vote, and research your ballot. 


Federal Register
The official daily publication for various rules, proposed rules and notices of federal agencies and organizations, as well as executive orders and other presidential documents. This is also a site open for public comment on such rules. 

Community Guide to EJ and NEPA Methods
Provides information for communities who want to assure that their environmental justice (EJ) issues are adequately considered when there is a Federal agency action that may involve environmental impacts on minority populations, low-income populations, and/or Indian tribes and indigenous communities. 



See CEJS' student clubs page and visit ConnectSU for more information. 


The resources on this page were compiled by CEJS as examples of groups and initiatives working toward environmental justice. Seattle University is not affiliated with any of the groups and expressly disclaims all responsibility for any content provided and all liability that may arise out of participation in any organization, program, or activity.

Contact Us

Center for Environmental Justice & Sustainability

901 12th Avenue, Bannan Center BANN#480