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The Dream of Environmental Justice

"Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy." ~ Wendell Berry

My first job, fresh out of college, was working with a nonprofit environmental organization based in Alabama. At that time, in the mid-1980s, Alabama hosted the largest hazardous waste landfill in the U.S. (and possibly the world). Chemical Waste Management, Inc. located their “Cadillac of Landfills” near Emelle, Alabama—a Sumter County town with an area of 0.2 square miles (0.52 km2) and only a few dozen residents. It also turns out that Sumter County is one of Alabama’s most impoverished counties, and that more than 90 percent of those living near the landfill are Black.


A groundbreaking 1987 report by the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice concluded that “Race proved to be the most significant among variables tested in association with the location of commercial hazardous waste facilities. This represented a consistent national pattern.” Race played a larger role in the location of such sites than even socio-economic status.[i]

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”[ii] Nearly half a century after Martin Luther King's “I Have a Dream” speech, we continue to dream about a day when minorities do not bear an unfair share of toxic waste and pollution.

My current employer, Education Corporation of America, has just created the Diversity Business Exchange. The Diversity Business Exchange (DBE) is a new web portal designed exclusively as a catalyst to facilitate commerce between minority and women-owned businesses and private career colleges and universities. I am proud to say that, as ECA’s Manager of Environmental Operations, I am working closely with the DBE to make green business a central part of DBE business. As Van Jones says in his book, The Green Collar Economy, “The green economy should not just be about reclaiming throw-away stuff. It should be about reclaiming thrown-away communities. It should not just be about recycling things to give them a second life. We should also be gathering up people and giving them a second chance.”

In other words, there are three contributory parts to a business’ bottom line, People – Planet – Profit. We can never forget about the People.

“The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

 by Kyle Crider

Kyle is Manager – Environmental Operations at Ecotech Institute and Education Corporation of America. He holds a Master of Public Administration degree with a double-emphasis in Urban Planning & Policy Analysis. He is also a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional, Neighborhood Development (LEED AP ND). He is currently in the Interdisciplinary Engineering Ph.D. Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.