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Sustainability directly affects quality of life, ecosystems and natural resources. The United Nations Brundtland Commission defines sustainability as meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

On hearing the term sustainability, it is common to think about the environment. Social equality and economic development are critical areas of focus when it comes to sustainability as well. Taking a holistic approach to harmonizing environmental, ecological, social and economic development is the only way to ensure a better future.

Environmental sustainability refers to the protection and conservation of our ecosystem. Our choice of transportation, how often we use energy, the products we use, and the food we eat all align with environmental sustainability.

Conserving water, using less energy and purchasing recyclable products are some examples of the way we can move towards creating a more sustainable environment.

Economic sustainability refers to the economy and economic production. Essentially, we want to continue economic growth and success without negatively affecting social and environmental sustainability.

While some may worry that growing the economy and an increase in population has a negative impact, studies show that this can, in fact, be done without compromising the other aspects. 

Social sustainability refers to creating formal and informal processes, systems, structures and relationships that allow for a good quality of life for everyone. During these times, this falls heavily under diversity, equity, and inclusion in many ways. Accessibility to things like health care, human rights, community engagement, and safe and healthy living conditions for everyone are some of the ways we can achieve social sustainability.

Unequal access to a clean environment based on race is environmental racism. Environmental hazards are placed in communities of color, causing them to be disproportionately exposed to things like pollution, lead poisoning, water contamination and hazardous waste sites. A study from 1983 showed that 75% of hazardous waste landfill sites were low-income communities of color.

Neighborhoods and communities of color tend to have lower property values. This means that it is cheaper for industrial companies to acquire land in those areas. This creates hazardous waste states being placed in these communities, ultimately leading to a greater amount of air pollution. Air pollution tends to lead to illnesses and diseases, which are also generally higher within the black population, as opposed to white counterparts.

The use of lead paint tends to be prevalent in low-income communities. A report by Lead Safe Illinois showed that children in Chicago who are Hispanic and African American were, respectively, five times and 12 times more likely to be poisoned by lead than white children.

Another impact of environmental racism that is commonly seen in communities of color is water contamination. NRDC reported that communities of color are more likely to suffer drinking water violations for years. These commons often have water systems that are not properly functioning, and although these systems violate the law, getting them fixed has become a hassle often left unresolved due to racism.

Millennials and Gen Zers grew up with an unprecedented awareness of social and environmental issues and they are leading the charge in creating a better environment for their generation and future generations to have a chance at living their lives.

Through organizations like Black Millennials for Flint, HBCU sustainability organizations, and social media influencers, young people are advocating for sustainability, and HBCU students partake in this work.

Howard University’s Student Association has a department solely dedicated to sustainability. Along with HUSA’s sustainability department, there are several other campus organizations at Howard fighting and educating students on climate justice. Among these organizations is Howard University Water and Climate Association which promotes sustainable living on campus by demonstrating the ways sustainability can play into all areas of life, providing community service opportunities, and connecting students with environmentally oriented career and networking opportunities.

The Pew Research Center reports that younger millennials and Gen Z’ers are more active in the fight to address climate change than older generations. They are taking action both online and offline.

Younger generations are using their voices via digital platforms and social media to promote sustainability messaging to content and conversations and raising and donating to environmental initiatives. They are also the ones at the forefront of rallies and protests. Many millennials and Gen Zers are frustrated and feel as if not enough is being done, so they are taking matters into their own hands to help build sustainable communities for themselves and the generations after them.

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