Sustainability, social justice go hand-in-hand

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Two words often used together in conversation are sustainability and social justice. People talk about the environment degrading and a need for social justice through better access to nutritious food, sanitation and peace for all.

But what do these two topics have to do with each other? The short answer is everything.

Sustainability looks at the formation of a better world by the interdependence of three separate, but closely connected areas — the environment, economy and society.

Essentially, environmental sustainability looks at how we care for our planet and the resources it provides. Social sustainability looks at diversity, equity and ensuring everyone has access to basic human needs.

You need to have both to achieve both. For example, environmental degradation can decrease water quality, which, in turn, makes it harder for people to have access to clean water.

It goes the other way, too. Take an example from the book “Sustainability Principles and Practice” by Margaret Robertson. The book follows a family living in the forest, struggling to feed their children. If they chopped down a plot of trees and grew soy beans they could sell the beans and make money to feed their family.

Chopping down the trees degrades the environment and makes it harder for the family to grow crops in the long run. However, if there is a way to protect the forest while providing monetary resources for the family, both environmental and social sustainability would be met.

While the relationship can be difficult to wrap your head around, it is vitally important. So, next time you hear the words social justice or sustainability, consider how they are related and how they affect each other.

Jennifer McLaughlin is the SDSU sustainability specialist and can be reached at jennifer.mclaughlin@sdstate.edu.

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