Racial Justice is Environmental Justice

Why Environmental Justice is Racial Justice

“Environmental justice is racial justice.”

I read this statement recently in an email from a clothing company. It is a powerful statement that got me thinking about how often racial justice is omitted from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reports. It also leads to other questions, such as:

  1. How does racial justice relate to environmental justice?
  2. What role does the economy play in racial justice?
  3. How does one make the business argument for racial justice?

Let’s get into it.

How does racial justice relate to environmental justice? Consider this: Air pollution exposure is largely caused by the consumption of goods and services by non-Hispanic white majority, but primarily inhaled by black and Hispanic minorities.

A few stats to go with that statement:

Non-Hispanic whites experience 17% less air pollution exposure than what is caused by their consumption patterns.

Blacks and Hispanics experience 56% and 63% more air pollution exposure, respectively, than what is caused by their consumption patterns.

Of course, this problem does not stop at air pollution, racial inequity and climate change are intermingled with numerous other problems. For the housing industry,  redlining was legally banned in the US in 1968, but many of these areas are still dominated by low-to-moderate income families and communities of color.

Research shows that these redlined areas are experiencing the highest increases in temperatures due to climate change. In the United States, land surface temperatures are 2.6 °C higher in redlined areas than in non-redlined areas.

This is by no means a comprehensive answer to this question. These stats are just a start towards understanding the deep-seated connection between racial and environmental justice. The important thing to know is that they are very much intertwined.

What role does the economy play in racial justice?

Traditionally, the economy has measured success by the growth of GDP. The main idea is that the more money a company makes, the better and that’s the end of the story.

However, if this continues to be the sole measurement of success, we will need three earths by the year 2050. Despite being able to land on the moon, cloning our home planet is probably not a foreseeable option.

We need a different economic model that has the added goal of staying within the limits of earth’s resources and of empowering those who currently lack basic needs. One of the most useful frameworks for visualizing this kind of model is the doughnut, as proposed by Kate Raworth in her book, Doughnut Economics: 7 Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist.

The hole of the donut represents the shortfalls in human well-being and the individuals who lack basic human needs. Racial inequality sits within this hole. The outer rim of the doughnut represents the earth’s limited natural resources. If we want to make it to 2050, the goal of the economy and the goal of any organization should be to stay within the confines of the doughnut.

How does one make the business argument for racial justice?

This may seem a bit abstract. You might be wondering what is the financial benefit? How will you convince your boss or your team to address racial and environmental justice?

According to a report by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the United States could gain $8 trillion in GDP by closing the U.S. racial equity gap. It is also predicted that by 2050, more than half of workers and consumers in the United States will be people of color. In a study conducted by McKinsey, data showed that companies with the most ethnically diverse executive team were 33% more likely to outperform their competitors on profitability.

If we closed the racial equity gap, this could result in billions of additional dollars for numerous sectors each year.  Place your curser over the square to see how much would be added to each sector.


$191 billion


$500 billion


$52 billion


$259 billion


$77 billion

Federal Tax Revenue

$450 billion

State and Local Tax Revenues

$100 billion

We can not address environmental justice without addressing racial justice. It is essential to our economy and every business model on the planet.

What is one thing that you can do to add racial justice to your plan for environmental justice?

Recommended Resources

Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth

All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crises compiled by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Keeble Wilkinson

Pollution is Racial Violence by Yessenia Funes

Extreme Heat is Another Legacy of Segregation by Yessenia Funes

How to Rebound from 2020 with Equity by Kahlilah Guyah

Ten Ways that Racial and Environmental Justice are Inextricably Linked by Nishan Degnarain

Work Cited

Hoffman, J. S., Shandas, V., & Pendleton, N. (2020). The Effects of Historical Housing Policies on Resident Exposure to Intra-Urban Heat: A Study of 108 US Urban Areas. Climate, 8(1), 12th ser. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/cli8010012

Hunt, V., Yee, L., Prince, S., & Dixon-Fyle, S. (2020, January 17). Delivering through diversity. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/delivering-through-diversity

Population Connection. (2016). How Many People Can Our World Support. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://worldpopulationhistory.org/carrying-capacity/

Raworth, K. (2017). Doughnut Economics: 7 Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.

Tessum, C. W., Apt, J. S., Goodkind, A. L., Muller, N. Z., Mullins, K. A., Paolella, D. A., . . . Thakrar, S. K. (2019). Inequity in consumption of goods and services adds to racial-ethnic disparities in air pollution exposure. National Academy of Sciences, 116(13), 6001-6006. doi:https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1818859116

Turner, A. (2018). The Business Case for Racial Equity: A Strategy for Growth. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://wkkf.org/resource-directory/resources/2018/07/business-case-for-racial-equity