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17 Principles of Environmental Justice
17 Principles of Environmental Justice
Environmental Justice

How the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice Define and Inspire a Movement


17 Principles of Environmental Justice
17 Principles of Environmental Justice

Environmental justice is a movement that aims to end the unfair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens among different groups of people, especially those who face marginalization, oppression, or discrimination.

Environmental justice advocates for the right of all people to live in a healthy and safe environment, regardless of their race, ethnicity, class, gender, or any other factor.

One of the key documents of the environmental justice movement is the 17 principles of environmental justice, which were written and adopted by delegates of the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991.

This historic summit was sponsored by the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice and was attended by around 1,100 people. The principles helped to shape the vision and goals of a growing movement.

The 17 principles of environmental justice

  • Environmental justice respects the sacredness of Mother Earth and all living beings and the right to be free from ecological harm.
  • Environmental justice requires that public policy be based on mutual respect and justice for all people, without any discrimination or bias.
  • Environmental justice ensures the right to ethical, balanced, and responsible uses of land and renewable resources for a sustainable planet.
  • Environmental Justice protects against nuclear testing and toxic/hazardous wastes and poisons that threaten the right to clean air, land, water, and food.
  • Environmental justice recognizes the right of all peoples to political, economic, cultural, and environmental self-determination.
  • Environmental Justice stops the production of all toxins, hazardous wastes, and radioactive materials and holds the producers accountable to the people for detoxification and containment.
  • Environmental justice guarantees the right to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making.
  • Environmental justice secures the right of all workers to a safe and healthy work environment and the right of those who work at home to be free from environmental hazards.
  • Environmental Justice defends the right of victims of environmental injustice to receive full compensation, reparations, and quality health care.
  • Environmental Justice condemns governmental acts of environmental injustice as violations of international law and human rights.
  • Environmental justice links ecological justice and social justice and requires the responsible use of technology and the precautionary principle in all development decisions.
  • Environmental Justice supports urban and rural ecological policies to clean up and rebuild our cities and rural areas in harmony with nature, honoring the cultural integrity of all our communities, and providing fair access to resources.
  • Environmental justice educates present and future generations on social and environmental issues based on our experience and diverse cultural perspectives.
  • Environmental justice urges us, as individuals, to consume and waste less of Mother Earth’s resources and to challenge and reprioritize our lifestyles for the health of the natural world.

What do the 17 Environmental Justice Principles aim to achieve?

Addressing and resolving environmental injustices and inequalities is the goal of the 17 principles of environmental justice.

The key purposes of these principles include:

  1. Equity and Fairness: Ensure fair treatment and equal protection for all communities, regardless of race, income, or socioeconomic status, in environmental policies and decision-making.
  2. Right to Self-Determination: Empower communities to participate in decisions that affect their environment and grant them the autonomy to shape their sustainable futures.
  3. Sustainable Development: Promote development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
  4. Precautionary Approach: Advocate for precautionary measures to prevent harm to the environment and public health, even in the absence of full scientific certainty.
  5. Right to Know: Uphold the right of communities to access information about environmental risks, pollutants, and hazards that may impact their health and well-being.
  6. Community-Based Participatory Research: Encourage community involvement in research processes, enabling residents to actively contribute to and guide studies addressing local environmental concerns.
  7. Environmental Restoration: Support efforts to restore and rehabilitate areas affected by environmental degradation, pollution, or ecological harm.
  8. Interdisciplinary Collaboration: Promote cooperation and collaboration among various disciplines, including environmental science, social science, and public health, to address complex environmental challenges.


The 17 principles of environmental justice are still relevant and inspiring today as the environmental justice movement continues to grow and evolve.

They serve as a guide and a reminder for all those who care about the planet and its people and who seek to create a more equitable and harmonious future.

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