December 2012

Prepared by Manuel Pastor, Madeline Wander, and Mirabai Auer

Please note: reports dated earlier than June 2020 were published under our previous names: the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) or the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (CSII).

This brief is one in a series that PolicyLink and the University of Southern California Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) assembled for the federal Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI), an interagency effort coordinated by the U.S. EPA, the U.S Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The series is intended to support a learning community of regional and local governments focused on integrating equity (economic, social, and environmental) into plans and projects.

In this brief, we explain why addressing the inequitable distribution of environmental and health burdens and benefits—that is, why working to achieve environmental justice—is a key to creating sustainable regions. New research shows that where toxic exposure is worse for some, it is worse for all, meaning that environmental inequality can erode overall environmental quality. In this sense, environmental justice and regional sustainability go hand-in-hand.

We then explain how local and regional planners can work to achieve environmental justice in their regions. First, we show how to measure environmental justice by introducing the idea of “cumulative impacts,” which gives a full picture of community burden and emphasizes the importance of evaluating both health risks and social vulnerability. Second, we focus on the centrality of community engagement in addressing environmental justice through program and policy development. Finally, we introduce “climate justice” as a next frontier for environmental justice struggles and sustainability planning.

Read our other publications by research area

    Immigrant Integration & Racial Justice

    Our work on immigrant integration and racial justice brings together three emphases: scholarship that draws on academic theory and rigorous research, data that provides information structured to highlight the process of immigrant integration over time, and engagement that seeks to create new dialogues with government, community organizers, business and civic leaders, immigrants and the voting public to advance immigrant integration and racial equity.

    Economic Inclusion & Climate Equity

    In the area of economic inclusion, we at ERI advance academic theory and practical applications linking economic growth, environmental quality, and civic health with bridging of racial and other gaps; produce accessible and actionable data and analysis through the data tools; and establish research partnerships to deepen and advance the dialogue, planning, and actions around racial equity, environmental justice, and the built environment.

    Social Movements & Governing Power

    ERI’s work in the area of governing power includes: conducting cross-disciplinary studies of today’s social movements, supporting learning and strategizing efforts to advance dialogues among organizers, funders, intermediaries, evaluators, and academics, and developing research-based social change frameworks and tools to inform—and be informed by—real-world, real-time efforts towards a vision of deep change.

    Publications Directory

    In 2020, the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) and the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (CSII) merged to form the USC Equity Research Institute (ERI).

    The full list of publications published under our previous and current names can be found in our publications directory.

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