Justice + Sustainability = “Justainability”

This piece summarizes how I started using the term “justainability”. I have spent my entire professional career since the early 1990s working at the links between “sustainability” and “justice”. Sustainability defined in only environmental, non-human terms seemed too narrow. Social justice absent an ecological view was likewise unsatisfying. For me, “environmental justice” was where these two concepts could come together fully, and that is why I have spent so much of work in this area with groups like Alternatives for Community & Environment. I have often said that “environmental justice” and “sustainable development” are two sides of the same coin. Julian Agyeman, in his 2005 book Sustainable Communities and the Challenge of Environmental Justice, laid out a Just Sustainability paradigm that fuses these two concepts even further.

So, if these two concepts are so closely interrelated, then why do we have to use two words all the time to describe it? In January 2010, I had an opportunity to do some reflection and sharing with the MIT Community Innovators Lab Mel King Fellows. It seemed like we were all using the two words to describe our efforts, and I was simply getting tired of having to say “just and sustainable” over and over. It occurred to me that if these were really one concept, then we should have one word. After playing around with a few options, the word “justainability” seemed to roll off the tongue right.

Can we imagine a “just” future in which we have trashed the planet that sustains us? Can we imagine a “sustainability” in which racial and economic injustices continue? In either scenario, wouldn’t there be instabilities, either social or environmental, that would be unsustainable? Now the more I use the term, the more I think that it can be helpful in attempts to communicate a just sustainability paradigm. Help me spread the word!

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Distinguished Senior Lecturer and Director of Master of Public Policy and Community Practice, Tufts University Department of Urban & Environmental Policy and Planning

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