What is Environmental Injustice?
Environmental injustice happens when vulnerable and minority populations bear a disproportionate burden of environmental damages.
How does this happen?
Those with middle and upper socioeconomic status have more advantageous resources, such as time and money, to prevent environmental damages. For example, they have more financial freedom than those in poverty to pay for the upfront costs of energy efficient appliances, which will save them money in the future.
With economic power comes political power, as shown in the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) movement, where residents pushed the development of unwanted waste facilities out of their neighborhood and into a lower income, minority neighborhood.
These acts of environmental injustice compromise the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for low-income, minority groups.
Environmental Injustice in Sarasota County
In Sarasota County, a study found that low cost homes are four times more likely to have the highest energy bills. Affordable housing often does not have affordable energy bills due to inefficient and unsustainable appliances and construction. This inequity in energy costs based on income is a big problem in Sarasota County, especially because four out of ten households are cost burdened. This means that those household spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs. This problem greatly affects over 76,000 of our neighbors and is not to be ignored.
So, what is Sarasota County doing about it?
Energy Upgrade Program
Four years ago, UF/IFAS Extension and Sustainability refocused the Energy Upgrade program to target low-income residents after noticing the clear need for an energy equity program in the county. This program is designed to decrease the cost of utility bills for low-income housing units. We achieve this in three ways:
- Installing low-cost sustainable fixtures in the housing units. The upgrades include installing more efficient faucet water aerators, LED light bulbs, and showerheads.
- Educating low-income households about energy improvements, behavior change, and providing a free energy audit for homeowners or renters to learn how they can save even more energy, and thus, more on their utility bill. In this audit, we check for potential inefficiencies such as air leaks around doors and windows, toilet leaks, HVAC functionality, and more.
- Finally, we provide one-on-one consultations for residents in our non-profit partner locations, or any time at the Sarasota County UF/IFAS Extension office either in person or virtual.
If you’re interested in becoming a part of this program, sign up for our Energy Upgrade Volunteer Training on September 16th, 2020.
DIY Energy and Water Audit Kit
In addition to the Energy Upgrade program, we provide a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Energy and Water Audit Kit for anyone to check out for free at any Sarasota County public library.
The DIY Energy and Water Audit kit provides a step-by-step detailed guide on how to further improve your energy savings and ultimately decrease your utility bill. Click here to learn more.
UF/IFAS Extension at Sarasota County provides free, online education on how to save energy for anyone to access at any time. Check out our Eventbrite page for our upcoming live webinars. Or, check out our YouTube page for previous videos on how to save energy. It is part of our mission here at UF/IFAS Extension and Sustainability to share knowledge and resources with the community to ensure a better quality of life for all.
It is important to note that this energy equity program is just one program in Sarasota County that is addressing environmental injustice. What we are doing here at UF/IFAS Extension and Sustainability is just one piece of the puzzle. There is not one singular solution or program that will solve this injustice in our community and there is a lot more work that needs to be done. We recognize this and are taking action to move forward and reach environmental justice and equity through sustainability projects.
What does this have to do with equity?
Equity is about making sure people get access to the same opportunities. Take a look at this picture to the right. It clearly shows that our differences limit what opportunities we can have in life. Those who are taller can more easily see the baseball game compared to those who are shorter. They have an advantage. To make things fair, those who are shorter need more assistance to see the baseball game. Once they receive that assistance, such as two boxes to stand on to see the game, everyone can enjoy equity. Sarasota County Sustainability strives to provide that assistance needed to reach equity through our programs mentioned above while we actively tackle the “fence” or environmental injustice obstacles that occur in our community.