Environmental Justice: What it is and How Planting Trees Can Help

Meaghan Weeden | January 26, 2023 | 6 min read

What is Environmental Justice?

In our work, we talk about environmental justice often in relation to the powerful social impact of our projects. But what is environmental justice and how does it relate to planting trees? The environmental justice movement is not new, but public awareness of it in an age of accelerating and inequitable climate change impacts is growing. With this increased awareness and attention comes the danger of unintentionally diluting a powerful, historic social movement into yet another environmental buzzword. 

So before we dive into the environmental justice principles and how tree planting helps, let's get really clear on the environmental justice definition. When talking about environmental justice, it's important first to acknowledge the very real impacts of environmental racism — which was defined by Reverend Benjamin E. Chavis, Jr., Ex-Chairman of the NAACP as "racial discrimination in environmental policy-making, enforcement of regulations and laws, and targeting of communities of color for toxic waste disposal and siting of polluting industries." This discrimination has lead to a disproportionate impact on communities of color from environmental hazards like air pollution, toxic waste, radiation, pesticides, heavy metals, extreme temperatures, and more — as well as real and documented effects this has on health, learning, quality of life, and more. 

Environmental justice is a response to the profound and long-lasting effects of environmental racism. It extends far beyond the concept of environmental equity (the ideal of equal treatment and access for everyone in regards to environmental statutes, regulations, and practices) to encompass the right to "a safe, healthy, productive, and sustainable environment for all." Under this definition, the concept of environment includes the "ecological (biological), physical (natural and built), social, political, aesthetic, and economic environments." The ability to exercise this right requires conditions where "individual and group identities, needs, and dignities are preserved, fulfilled, and respected in a way that provides for self actualization and personal and community empowerment."

The 17 Principles of Environmental Justice

Drafted and adopted by delegates to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit held in October of 1991, these 17 principles of Environmental Justice have defined and guided the growing grassroots movement for environmental justice.

nature river forest

1. Environmental Justice affirms the sacredness of Mother Earth, ecological unity and the interdependence of all species, and the right to be free from ecological destruction.

environmental protection agency

2. Environmental Justice  demands that public policy be based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from any form of discrimination or bias.

green building green infrastructure

3. Environmental Justice mandates the right to ethical, balanced and responsible uses of land and renewable resources in the interest of a sustainable planet for humans and other living things.

nuclear power plant

4. Environmental Justice calls for universal protection from nuclear testing, extraction, production and disposal of toxic/hazardous wastes and poisons and nuclear testing that threaten the fundamental right to clean air, land, water, and food.

happy group nature

5. Environmental Justice  affirms the fundamental right to political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of all peoples.

fossil fuel power plant air pollution

6. Environmental Justice demands the cessation of the production of all toxins, hazardous wastes, and radioactive materials, and that all past and current producers be held strictly accountable to the people for detoxification and the containment at the point of production.

team meeting corporate

7. Environmental Justice demands the right to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation.

professional tree planter

8. Environmental Justice  affirms the right of all workers to a safe and healthy work environment without being forced to choose between an unsafe livelihood and unemployment. It also affirms the right of those who work at home to be free from environmental hazards.

climate protest

9. Environmental Justice protects the right of victims of environmental injustice to receive full compensation and reparations for damages as well as quality health care.

dirty tap water

10. Environmental Justice considers governmental acts of environmental injustice a violation of international law, the Universal Declaration On Human Rights, and the United Nations Convention on Genocide.

indigenous woman

11. Environmental Justice  must recognize a special legal and natural relationship of Native Peoples to the U.S. government through treaties, agreements, compacts, and covenants affirming sovereignty and self-determination.

planting trees urban forestry

12. Environmental Justice affirms the need for urban and rural ecological policies to clean up and rebuild our cities and rural areas in balance with nature, honoring the cultural integrity of all our communities, and provided fair access for all to the full range of resources.

shaking hands agreement

13. Environmental Justice calls for the strict enforcement of principles of informed consent, and a halt to the testing of experimental reproductive and medical procedures and vaccinations on people of color.

offshore drilling oil rig

14. Environmental Justice  opposes the destructive operations of multi-national corporations.


15. Environmental Justice opposes military occupation, repression and exploitation of lands, peoples and cultures, and other life forms.

kids nature

16. Environmental Justice calls for the education of present and future generations which emphasizes social and environmental issues, based on our experience and an appreciation of our diverse cultural perspectives.

reusable bag organic produce

17. Environmental Justicerequires that we, as individuals, make personal and consumer choices to consume as little of Mother Earth's resources and to produce as little waste as possible; and make the conscious decision to challenge and reprioritize our lifestyles to ensure the health of the natural world for present and future generations.

As you can see, environmental justice is a broad movement that encompasses many realities that affect communities around the world. But what does planting trees have to do with environmental justice? From planting trees in urban areas to reduce urban heatand provide shade for kids to safely play to restoring and protecting land that has been managed by indigenous communities for generations, many of our reforestation projects play an important role as part of wider initiatives that are undertaken by communities to improve environmental justice.

Planting trees alone doesn’t solve environmental injustice or right historic wrongs, but trees do provide a wealth of benefits that, in combination with social and economic initiatives, as well as policy changes and environmental protection, can significantly improve lives.

We’re honored to work alongside partners big and small that are working to improve conditions in their neighborhoods and communities, one tree at a time. 

Longleaf Pine Main Image
Longleaf Pine Restoration
Longleaf Pine Tree Planter
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Longleaf Pine Landscape
Longleaf Pine Planting
Longleaf Pine Main Image
Longleaf Pine Restoration
Longleaf Pine Tree Planter
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Longleaf Pine Landscape
Longleaf Pine Planting

Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most

As the need for reforestation is global and ever-changing, we feature where trees are most needed now. This project is currently supporting Longleaf Pine Restoration. Learn more

With your help, we will:

  • Protect wildlife habitat and increase biodiversity
  • Restore essential watersheds for soil stability and erosion control
  • Sequester carbon in the biomass of the forests through climate stability
  • Longleaf pine forests are among the most biodiverse in North America and provide habitat for numerous threatened and endangered species. Longleaf pine forests are well-adapted to a warming climate as longleaf pine is a resilient species that is fire-dependent, drought-tolerant, and long-lived. Reforestation of longleaf pine ecosystems- to increase, maintain, and enhance the species- has been identified as a priority area within America's Longleaf Range Wide Conservation Plan. 🌲
  • Our longleaf pine reforestation project will restore habitats, control soil erosion, and sequester carbon in an effort to stabilize the climate in the area. Not only will wildlife benefit from the clean air and water provided by the planted trees, but the surrounding community will, too. This project will work with a variety of landowners whose responsible forest management and stewardship will only further increase the benefits for species residing on the lands. Some of the most notable species that will benefit from habitat restoration include gopher tortoises, red-cockaded woodpeckers, and eastern indigo snakes
  • A personalized tree certificate (see gallery) to say thanks for your donation. We'll also send you updates about our Longleaf Pine Restoration project, so you can track the impact your trees are having on the ground!
  • We always plant a mix of diverse, native species from local nurseries. This project is working to replenish longleaf forests, so the native species grown in the nurseries will mainly be longleaf pine, but also include shortleaf pine and loblolly pine.

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