Approaching Environmental Injustice in Communities through Theories of Change

Communities must work cohesively to tackle environmental injustices. Recent research explores how the conceptual Theory of Change applies to community members working towards positive environmental changes. The article titled “Community theories of change: linking environmental justice to sustainability through stakeholder positions in Milwaukee (WI, USA)” by Dr. Kaitlyn Hornik, Dr. Bethany Cutts, and Dr. Andrew Greenlee suggests that stakeholder’s theories of change have three parts: perceptions of environmental benefits and burdens, social and environmental inequity, and anticipating positive change in the future (see full paper here:

The researchers provide key takeaways that can be applied in any setting where environmental injustices are at the forefront. The triple bottom line of sustainability includes economic development, environmental protection, and social equity. Barriers to improving sustainability can arise from community members’ perceptions on how change should occur. Interviews with key stakeholders for a particular environmental issue can offer insight to potential conflicts in sustainable visions for the future and current, most pressing issues.

When exploring conflicting interests during cases of environmental injustice, we can ask ourselves:

  1. Define the issue. What boundaries does this issue affect?
  2. Who should be involved in mitigating this issue?
  3. Who is most vulnerable?
  4. How would you describe current conditions in this community? How have they changed?
  5. How have issues been addressed in the past?
  6. Who drives change?

Through empowerment and education, communities can parse out differences in what they perceive to be ethical to solve common, ongoing problems. Theories of change explore the dynamics behind community decision making for a more sustainable environment.


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