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What is social justice?

Social justice is the assurance of a proper distribution of advantages and burdens among all members of a community. Essentially, the quality of life for the general population must be approximately equal; any differences must be adequately defensible. No subset of the population should receive any dramatic benefit or inconvenience related to health, pollution, representation, or access to education.


How does social justice influence community sustainability?

Attaining social justice in sustainability requires a dedication to distributing the environmental and economic "goods" and "bads" among the population. Social justice is not only desirable in and of itself, but social inequalities are among the causes of environmental degradation. It is also true that the poor are disproportionately affected by environmental problems (1). A recent Associated Press analysis of government data revealed that black Americans are 79% more likely than whites to live in areas where industrial pollution poses the greatest danger (2). Social inequalities may also exist in access to medical treatments and governmental representation. A "just" society that provides a respectable quality of life to all of its members ensures that everyone has access to a stable market, a stable and able-bodied workforce, and a healthy environment.

Social justice is an important aim in North Carolina. The eastern part of the state is notably the poorest, and there are isolated poor and minority communities throughout the state, even in relatively wealthy communities in the Triangle region, Charlotte, and the Triad. These poor communities are often surrounded by wealth, such as vacation homes or residences of executives in North Carolina's many booming industrial centers. In this way, social inequalities are obvious and magnified. Recently, the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources proposed building five large garbage dumps in some of the poorest counties of Eastern North Carolina (3). While these dumps will bring in revenue and jobs, they also perpetuate the trend of locating polluting or unpleasant industries in locations with the least affluence.


How can social justice be assessed with respect to sustainability?

Many of these attributes listed below have been defined as important indicators of sustainable social justice by Triangle Tomorrow, a non-profit sustainable development group based in Raleigh, North Carolina (see Triangle Tomorrow Homepage).. This list is provided to make suggestions to subsequent investigators, it may be amended depending on the needs of a given community.

Bear in mind that the presence or absence of a given attribute in a community is not a direct indication of social justice, what matters is whether the attribute is spread equitably over the population.

These indicators are as follows:

o Homelessness
o Avaialbility/funding for psychological health programs
o Teen pregnancy rate
o Number of children in foster care (per 10,000)
o Divorce rate

o Educational attainment levels
o Adult literacy
o Reading level attainment
o Average scores on standardized tests
o Drop out rate
o Attendance rate
o Average teacher salary

o Number of facilities
o Number of events
o Facility usership
o Per capita spending on culture and recreation.
o Library use

o Voter registration
o Percent voter turnout

Crime & Safety
o Violent crimes per year
o Violent deaths per year, firearm fatalities
o Crimes per year
o Incidence of gang-related violence
o Arrest rate
o Domestic violence rate
o Child abuse rate
o Juvenile delinquents (per 10,000 minors)
o Rescue call response times
o Number of rescue workers per citizen
o Expenditure on local emergency response force
o Number of car accidents


(1) Julie Foley. Sustainability and Social Justice. The Institute for Public Policy Research. November 2004. <> Accessed 1 December 2005.

(2)Dennis Rogers. "Garbage Scheme Reeks." The News and Observer. 26 October 2005. <> Accessed 1 December 2005.

(3) Dennis Rogers. "Garbage Scheme Reeks." The News and Observer. 26 October 2005. <> Accessed 1 December 2005.


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UNC Chapel Hill: Enst 94/Envr 95 Capstone, Fall 2005

Last Updated: December 17, 2005 (K.N.Baer)