Equity, Justice & Sustainability

Tools in this section explore the key role that equity and justice play in creating sustainable communities and a sustainable world.

Technology and Social Context

This tool helps students understand how social context can influence the success or failure of projects; as a result, students will learn to design their own projects, both local and abroad, with attention to the context and the communities in which they’re working. The tool explores three different situations as models for what to do, and what not to do. These include: 1) situations where entities use technology to exploit the population; 2) situations where projects fail by not accounting for the social context of a community, and 3) situations where projects succeed by accounting for the social context of a community.

This tool was contributed by Katie Martin, Bethany Jacobs, Kevin Lanza, Molly Slavin, and Jennifer Hirsch.

"Ever the Land" Living Building Documentary: A Guided Reflection

Ever the Land is an internationally acclaimed documentary film about Te Kura Whare, the fully certified Living Building built by the Tūhoe, a Māori tribe of northern New Zealand. The Tūhoe built Te Kura Whare as a public community center and tribal heritage archive. This tool introduces context about the Tūhoe and the 2014 Tūhoe-Crown Settlement that is necessary for understanding the film as well as the historical and cultural significance of the Te Kura Whare (Living Building) project. An in-class “gallery walk” discussion will prepare students for a take-home writing assignment that asks them to reflect on how the film defines and represents equity.

Society, Equity, and Sustainability

SLS approaches sustainability as an integrated system, linking environment, economy, and society. As an initiative focused on “creating sustainable communities,” we especially emphasize the role that SOCIETY plays in sustainability – and particularly issues of social equity and community voice. You can learn about SLS’ approach to sustainable communities here. The purpose of this tool is to help students begin to understand the SOCIETY part of sustainability. It includes two exercises and resources for learning more.

Stratification Monopoly: A Comparative Perspective

Some of the major challenges in teaching about economic inequality and mobility are a) understanding the differences between income and wealth, as well as other types of economic resources; b) encouraging students to be empathetic to those who have a different economic standing than their own; c) the connections between income and wealth in producing economic mobility; and d) understanding how the income and wealth distributions across different countries shape opportunity for mobility in a comparative context. The purpose of this tool is to help students begin to understand:

  1. The primary differences in income and wealth, and how they relate to economic mobility; 
  2. How your place in the economic system can affect opportunities for economic mobility;
  3. How variation in the income and wealth distributions of different countries can affect opportunities for economic mobility.

This tool was contributed by Allen Hyde.

Mobile Journalism: Documenting Equitable and Inclusive Communities

This tool facilitates meaningful discussions on equity through the lens of mobile journalism and documentary filmmaking. Part I consists of a series of short, documentary-style videos that attempt to illustrate how a building, or any physical space, can be inclusive and equitable for everyone. Part II teaches students how to use a cell phone to document and share their findings as mobile journalists. Part II includes additional resources, such as instructional videos, to help guide users through the process of becoming a video journalist. Both parts of this tool address the Equity Petal of the Living Building Challenge; however, you can modify most content to fit any of the other petals of the Living Building Challenge. 

SLS Case Study: Proctor Creek

Proctor Creek runs through northwest Atlanta, extending from I-20 in southwest Atlanta to the Chattahoochee River. An important piece of Atlanta’s natural environment, it also has a long history of neglect and pollution, which has negatively affected its surrounding communities. In this case study, read about this history, as well as new and ongoing development projects in West Atlanta that demand close attention to the Proctor Creek Watershed. Additionally, concepts like Environmental Justice and Citizen Science will provide a lens for thinking about issues related to the creek and how to protect its surrounding communities. 

Environmental Justice 101

Environmental Justice (EJ) is concerned with making sure that (a) no community takes on an unfair share of environmental burdens and (b) environmental benefits are shared in an equitable way regardless of race, class, gender, or orientation. The Environmental Justice Movement challenges environmental injustices, with a special focus on racial and class disparities, in the U.S. and around the globe. The purpose of this tool is to help students begin to understand:

  1. What EJ is – and what environmental injustices are; 
  2. How the EJ movement works to address EJ issues (especially in the U.S. South, where the movement was born) with close attention to injustices related to race and class;
  3. The different types of roles that scientists and engineers in particular can play in this work.

This tool was contributed by Jennifer Hirsch. We also want to thank Fatemeh Shafiei from Spelman College for contributing to this tool.

ReGenesis Case Study: Chemical Safety & Ethics in Relation to Communities

This tool explores the principle that environmental health impacts are a function of the inherent risk multiplied by exposure. In chemical processes we have become better at managing inherent risk, but we also have a significant legacy of mismanagement. One such example occurred in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where local politician Harold Mitchell and community organization ReGenesis tackled the problem of their community's long-term exposure to hazardous waste.

The tool below uses a video of Rep. Mitchell to explain the events in Spartanburg. It explores how local chemical plants mismanaged and deliberately covered up risks, nearly leading to a chemical disaster that they were not equipped to contain. Through this activity, you will explore and discuss how chemical engineering professionals should respond to similar situations, and what responsibilities such professionals have to the communities around them.

SLS Case Study: The Flint Water Crisis

The Flint Water Crisis is one of the most significant instances of environmental injustice in the 21st century.  In this case study, read about the impact of the crisis on the natural world, as well as the residents of Flint, Michigan, and learn about how we can use technology to create a safe, sustainable water system. Serve-Learn-Sustain interprets sustainable communities as integrated systems, wherein nature, technology and society all inform each other. As you read this case study, consider these terms as discrete factors, but also as connected.

This tool was contributed by Bethany Jacobs. 

ReGenesis Case Study: Creating a Sustainable Community through Collaborative Problem-Solving

This tool uses the ReGenesis case study from Spartanburg, South Carolina, to explore what it means to “create sustainable communities” through broad stakeholder engagement. Spartanburg was found to be experiencing higher levels of health issues due to chemical plants and other polluting factors in the area. ReGenesis, a community-based organization led by community member Harold Mitchell – now a member of the South Carolina legislature – worked with the EPA to use their Collaborative Problem Solving methodology to expose the inequity and turn the community around.

This tool was contributed by Kari Watkins and Delaney Rickles. The affiliated case study, "ReGenesis—A Practical Application of the CPS Model," was written by the EPA. 

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