23 Feb 2023
What's a healthy environment?
Many people are faced with air and water pollution through no fault of their own. Communities impacted by flooding, droughts or extreme weather can take years to recover without resources and support. This isn't a healthy environment.
Some people are impacted more than others. For example, people living in low-income neighbourhoods in cities and towns are more likely to be experiencing these issues. And those who are already marginalised in society, such as people of colour and disabled people, can face additional struggles. We recognise that although there is leadership and activity within these communities, people of colour and disabled people are often excluded from conversations around solutions.
As part of our new strategic approach to focus on campaigns that work with people most impacted by environmental issues, our Healthy Environment project aims to make sure that environmental justice is truly at the centre of our work.
Why a project, not a campaign?
We’re deliberately using the word "project" to describe our Healthy Environment work to help us break away from our traditional "business as usual" approach to campaigning. While Friends of the Earth has a history of campaigning on environmental justice, we haven't always got it right. There are plenty of instances where we've prioritised quick wins over community work, done work for a community rather than led by a community, or where we simply haven’t listened to affected communities. We’re mindful that our organisational processes and procedures, along with a focus on getting our "urgent" work done and having been a mostly white and middle-class organisation, have contributed to this. We know we’ve got a lot to learn. By taking away the label "campaign" we aim to make space to challenge ourselves, learn from the communities we have failed to hear in the past, and examine how our internal processes and structures present barriers to embedding justice in our work.
In the future, we hope to take what we have learned and develop a Healthy Environment campaign – that tackles inequalities and environmental injustices at a systemic level. But that will come later.
Our history of campaigning for a healthy environment
While we haven’t always got it right. Friends of the Earth has a history of working on environmental justice that we can draw on. We’ve supported communities against the threat of fracking, stood shoulder to shoulder with local people to prevent the further industrialisation of Merthyr Tydfil and the Rhymney valley , and we’re working with frontline communities in Northern Ireland to protect their countryside from exploitation and pollution.
Recently, we've published ground-breaking research showing how people of colour and people in areas with lower income have less access to green space, feel the unequal impacts of extreme heat and are disproportionality exposed to high levels of air pollution. The impact of the food and energy we consume in the UK is also impacting the environments of people around the world.
At the local level, Friends of the Earth local action groups are often the leaders and the heart of our justice work.
Transformational community work
Read two new real-life stories which show groups putting justice, community and learning, at the heart of their campaigning.
Leicester Friends of the Earth have experienced a transformational journey in their campaigning. From previously being bogged down by policy work to taking a plunge and forming new relationships, their approach has been fruitful – leading to brand-new collaborations which have changed the way they work and has given them a refreshed view of the city they always knew.
NoArc21, a community group based in Belfast, is entrenched in a long running battle. The group’s been protecting their local environment and the health of all of those in their community from a proposed waste incinerator for almost ten years. NoArc21’s campaign has been fraught with wins and setbacks, but out of their fight back the group has achieved more than clean air – its built community, power, and pride.
The Healthy Environment project – what we’re currently doing
Last year we spoke with communities most impacted by the lack of a healthy environment, with a focus on speaking with people of colour and young people. These initial conversations helped us understand more about what they saw as being missing in their local environment, and in the environmental movement. Having these conversations helped us identify that we need to change some of our processes and ways of operating, to do this work more effectively. We’re continuing to talk with these groups and are working out how to best involve them in our next steps. Recently, we’ve been exploring ideas for some short-term interventions to enable us to do some proactive work to promote a healthy environment, learning as we go, while continuing to plan for larger and more medium – long term interventions to start later this year.
The Healthy Environment project – what you’ve been doing
Over the last year, you’ve joined us for discussions, online consultations and surveys, helping us get a sense of how you understand environmental justice, and how we could support you more in this work in future. And, of course, while we’ve been working things out, you've been out there putting it into practice as demonstrated in our real-life stories from Leicester and Northern Ireland.
Want to tell us about your healthy environment work, or give us feedback on something you’ve read here? Email us at [email protected]