Deidre Sanders, Ph.D., author of, Ignoring environmental justice is risky business, talked in a lunch session seminar at Wharton business school.
Environmental Justice is not just a topic of hard data, it is also a field full of emotions and social perspective. Engagement with all stakeholders (community, business, and regulators) that can lead to solving an environmental issue such as pollution, conservation, protection. Historically, environmental justice has been a lopsided balance. Economy and wealth creation became more important than any other responsibility.
Environmental justice is not only an outcome but also a process and each stakeholder defines it differently. business often see environmental justice as following rules and regulations that regulators have place because the laws state what is legal and what is illegal and thus through following the rules, the business must have taken into account environmental justice. The community often sees environmental justice on a case by case process. For example just because a company is able to get a permit to build a dump in a town does it mean that the individuals in the town has a say in the process. Regulators’ must then balance the two sides.
One example of environmental justice is the battle between Chester County, PA and the company who built the 4th largest waste incinerator in Chester. This is a classic example of environmental justice between the community and the business. The problem started when the community was not involved when regulators award permits or when new regulations were proposed and passed. Often times, environmental justice deals with race. Different communities and different social groups have different interest. For example, look at China and its growth and environment in the past 10 years. Thus how can regulators, how can business, and how can communities go about with the issue?
Well the business case of environmental justice is to plan. Anticipate and develop a risk management plan not only for the construction but also operational phase. Ms. Sanders talk of the power plant that PG&E faced environmental justice issue. The power plant was built prior to any construction around the area. Environmental justice problem was not there in the first, but it came about when residential areas were built too close to the power plant. So whose fault is it? PG&E? the community? Or the regulators? All in all, the power plant was torn down, the area became “livable”, too much so that housing price went up and residents slowly were driven out because they were unable to afford the living cost.
Sanders ended the conversation with several challenges of environmental justice for all stakeholders. Market effects, lack of adequate public investment in the community, inability to assess proportionate responsibility for impacts, and proactive industry engagement. Ms. Sander ask the question that in smart growth, one of the key aspects is to stop sprawl by placing economic opportunities around where an individual live. So why were the people near the power plant of PG&E so angry about one of the best economic opportunity in the area? Is there a win-win opportunity?