Sustain and social justice

Jennifer McLaughlin, Columnist

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Two buzz words are often heard in conversations – sustainability and social justice. People talk about the environment degrading and a need for social justice in the means of 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: everything. 

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

In short, environmental sustainability looks at how we care for our planet and the resources it provides. Social sustainability looks at diversity, equity and ensuring all have access to basic human needs. 

You need to have both to achieve both. 

For example, environmental degradation can decrease water quality. That, in turn, makes it harder for people to have access to clean water, a basic human need. 

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

Chopping down the trees degrades the environment and then makes it harder for the family to grow crops in the long term. However, if there is a way to protect the forest while providing monetary resources for the family, both the environment and the family’s needs 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.