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Environmental Justice As Part of Your ESG Policy

Please welcome Angela Jiang, a devoted staff member of Sustainability Leadership, who is our guest blogger for this month’s post on Environmental Justice Policy for Corporate Responsibility.

What is Environmental Justice (EJ)?
The Principles of Environmental Justice.

The definition of EJ is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, colour, national origin or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies (EPA, 2020).

  • Fair treatment refers to no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies
  • Meaningful involvement refers to people all having equal opportunity to participate in decisions about activities that may affect their environment and/or health
    • The public’s contribution can influence the regulatory agency’s decision
    • Community concerns will be considered in the decision-making process; and;
    • Decision makers will seek out and facilitate the involvement of these potentially affected.

The 17 principles of Environmental Justice was drafted and adopted in October 1991 at the National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. It is a document that guides the movement of Environmental Justice. 

What’s the difference between Environmental Justice and Environmental Assessments?

Environmental Assessments are conducted to identify, predict and evaluate the potential environmental effects of a proposed project. This process happens before decisions about a proposed project are made (Government of Canada, 2021). While this is standard procedure for many companies, environmental assessment approvals often lack environmental justice, where social implications are not considered when evaluating EAs. In Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), a proposed project or development takes into account socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts. However, this only evaluates infrastructure impacts but not in a company’s operations or supply chain. 

Additionally, an Environmental Justice policy is a public-facing advocacy to advance policies that support the development of healthy and sustainable communities, which goes beyond conducting government mandated EAs. Therefore, the Environmental Justice lens needs to be built into all components of the value chain. Decisions on business operations should consider the extent to which the distribution of environmental hazards and benefits is equitable. 

Environmental Justice policy goes hand-in-hand to further measurable ESG goals and as strategies for market differentiation. To ensure that the company is fostering a healthy, equitable and inclusive environment both internally and externally.

Why do we, as a business, need Environmental Justice?

Across Canada, low-income persons and communities deal with a disproportionate burden of adverse health and environmental impacts from contaminants discharged into air, land and water. In larger cities, people in poorer communities were exposed to higher concentrations of airborne pollutants than those in affluent areas. Chronic exposure to multiple pollutants of toxic substances have been linked to poor health outcomes within affected communities (Lindgren, 2019)

Businesses are leaders in climate action and are stepping up to fight for racial equity. The intersection of climate change and people is that business has a role to play in addressing the structural inequity that causes low-income populations and communities of colour to bear the brunt of the climate crisis (Harris, 2020). Business action, supported by government regulations, investments and incentives is critical to transition to net-zero emissions by 2050 worldwide. Committing to a net-zero economy will require innovation and investments but also a systematic transition in business operations to sustain the broader society. By promoting and being part of a fair, just and inclusive transition will alleviate or eliminate existing disparities in environmental, social and economic opportunities and outcomes (Harris, 2020). 

Environmental Justice policy can build resiliency from heightened scrutiny from regulators, investors, employees and customers who are seeking greater transparency from industry (Redd, Halliday and Glickstein, 2021). Companies that promote a just and equitable world gain a competitive advantage because they are better positioned to anticipate and respond to changes in the economic, social, environmental and regulatory landscape. Active engagement in Environmental Justice issues can help companies attract and retain talent, as employees demand their employers consider the social and environmental impacts of their operations. Businesses that are actively engaged in EJ issues can create shared value, achieving economic gains by addressing social issues that are core to their business (COV, n.d)

Best Practice Examples.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG & E) – a utility company that provides natural gas and electricity to northern California. They drafted and implemented its Environmental Justice Policy which establishes clear guidelines on how they work cooperatively with communities. PG&E employs a full-time Environmental Justice Program Manager who trains and educates employees about EJ and the company’s policy  through a multi-year training program, manages operations and facilities to minimize impacts on nearby communities, integrates EJ considerations into reviews of new sources of power generation, invests in renewable energy and alternative fuels and take responsibility for impacts related to historic operations. (Wilson, 2019). 

Mars is a food and beverage industry that operates its value chain around the world, with well-known products such as Juicy Fruit gum, Snickers and Mars chocolate bars. The company, which has been in operation for over 100 years, is a principle-led business that focuses on building a healthy planet, people and nourishing wellbeing. See their 2020 scorecard here

While the company does not have a specific Environmental Justice policy implemented, Mars is working towards net-zero operations, respecting human rights in the cocoa supply chain, addressing gender inequality and empowerment, and protecting children and women in communities in the agriculture sector of countries around the world. (Mars, 2021).

How to implement Environmental Justice into your business?

Your organization may already have policies implemented that encompasses environmental justice principles, such as social responsibility, sustainable development goals (SDG), or good neighbour policies. EJ can be built into ESG reporting to further the advancement of transparency and corporate responsibility. 

Begin by evaluating your business and its operations, going beyond your physical office space and the communities in your vicinity. Consider how your operations may contribute to disproportionate impacts elsewhere within their value chain. Begin by taking a look at your Inclusion and Diversity policy, find out how you can implement Environmental Justice from that policy into your organization. An example of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Policy can be found here

For example, a company that produces consumer goods and receives its shipment of products from overseas in heavy freight and transportation corridors, how are those shipments affecting the communities in those countries who are disproportionately impacted by the pollution associated with that shipment.

By assessing these impacts and considering how they might be minimized, and partnering with vendors and suppliers, this may present opportunities to enhance the company’s engagement with EJ communities and improve the health within them. 

Implementing Environmental Justice principles can be built on top of your company’s sustainable procurement strategy. More information can be seen in our previous blog posts here

Environmental Justice in your Community.

The Canadian Commission for UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) highlights 5 main tools to aid in Environmental Justice which are linked here and broken down below.

You can also consider sending a virtual letter to the government (McMaster Student Union Diversity Services, n.d) to support the following legal initiatives:

  1. Modernize CEPA (Canadia Environmental Protection Act) to align with the 21st century. This act is designed to protect those living in Canada from environmental harms. However, it has not been updated in more than 20 years and therefore, needs to be refined to reflect our current demographic and environmental changes. Check out www.support.ecojustice.ca for more details.
  2. Support bill c-230: a national strategy to redress environmental racism. This bill is asking the Minister of Environment and Climate to develop a strategy that includes collecting information regarding environmental hazards, negative health outcomes and its link to race and socioeconomic status. This bill was forwarded to a second reading, when the debate will continue in March 2021. Check out www.enrichproject.org/billc-230/  for more information
Concluding Remarks.

2020 has been transformative on a global scale, sending shockwaves through communities and corporations across the globe. While vulnerability arising from the COVID-19 pandemic amplified an urgency to address climate change, human rights and public health, the movement of Black Lives Matter reinforced the call to action to address years of issues on racial equity and social justice. As more companies implement and adopt Environmental Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) strategies to build a more inclusive, sustainable and responsible company, Environmental Justice is a policy that should be prioritized when conducting ESG reporting. This would not only benefit your internal operations and people, but also set you apart towards resiliency and competitive advantage in the years to come. 

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