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Sustainability & Environmental Justice in Rockford

Volunteer Picks Up Trask in the Keith Creek

Environmental Justice Communities Heading link

The environmental justice movement is crucial to sustainability, redefining how we approach environmental policymaking to ensure sustainable and equitable legislation. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” However, in accordance with the Environmental Justice Network, this definition does not capture the environmental justice movement’s full vision, as the goal of the movement is to abolish environmental violations entirely, rather than merely redistributing them. More useful environmental justice resources can be found on their website.

Environmental justice communities, which experience disproportionate exposure to environmental pollutants, predominantly consist of low-income and BIPOC residents, with race being the primary factor contributing to the location of hazardous waste facilities, as exhibited by the report titled, Toxic Waste and Race in the United States (1987), commissioned by the United Church of Christ. Additionally, the EPA published a report titled, Disparities in Distribution of Particulate Matter Emission Sources by Race and Poverty Status (2018), stating that, comparative to the general population, low-income communities have a 1.35 times higher burden of particulate matter emission exposure, with BIPOC communities overall having a 1.28 times higher burden, and Black communities, in particular, having a 1.54 times higher burden than the general population. These findings further support that socioeconomic status considerations alone are not sufficient to achieving environmental equity, as disproportionate exposure is most pronounced in Black communities. A follow-up report by the United Church of Christ titled, Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1987—2007 (2007), was done 20 years later, unfortunately showing little progress had been made in regards to equitable environmental policy and protection. As humans, we must return to our humanity and not only take care of the environment, but take care of each other with no exceptions.

Another report titled, Proximity to Environmental Hazards: Environmental Justice and Adverse Health Outcomes (2010), which was also done by the EPA,  highlights the same disproportionate trends, while noting a relationship between living in close proximity to these environmental hazards and experiencing adverse health problems. In light of these findings, the EPA suggests “that these factors be given serious consideration in the decision-making process by governmental environmental and health agencies regarding the siting of environmentally burdensome facilities and land uses, in regulatory and enforcement efforts concerning pollution, and in the active promotion of environmental health justice and environmental health protection.”

Moving forward, local, state and federal policies must reflect this recommendation to ensure the protection of a healthy living environment for all, as low-income and BIPOC communities should not be dehumanized and forced to carry the environmental burden of industrial capitalism within the United States.

Click here to see one way Illinois can work to prevent environmental injustice.

Illinois Solar For All

To promote state-wide environmental equity, Illinois Solar for All is a program that aims to provide “equitable access to the solar economy” via incentives that allow participants to utilize more affordable solar installation services.

  • Mission: Focus projects in areas that will benefit most from access to solar energy, such as environmental justice communities. This effort is based on the belief that all people deserve to be protected from pollution and live in a clean and healthy environment.
  • Plan: Allocate 25% of their funding specifically towards efforts in identified environmental justice communities.
  • Created an address lookup tool to identify environmental justice communities, which can be accessed on their website via the link below:

Green Projects in Action

The city of Rockford has also been recently been awarded a new $16 million grant to improve sustainability and equity, focusing on downtown accessibility. Additional details regarding the funding can be found here.

Keith Creek Clean-Up Volunteers with Collected Trash

Keith Creek Clean-Up

The Region 1 Planning Council hosted a neighborhood clean-up for the Keith Creek to raise awareness and promote community engagement on the ongoing Keith Creek Corridor Study. This event took place on July 31, 2021.


GreenTown Rockford Conference

To address this multifaceted issue in the Rockford region, a5 Branding & Digital and Seven Generations Ahead are producing the GreenTown Rockford conference to connect the public and private sectors to “address how climate solutions and equity go hand-in-hand” by emphasizing the importance of the climate crisis, social equity, and economic development to promote the creation of a sustainability plan for the region. This occurred on November 12, 2021.

  • You can still be involved by participating in follow-up events (event specifics will be posted when known), supporting efforts towards implementing the sustainability plan, spreading the word, and/or sponsoring future events.

GreenTown Rockford Follow-Up Events

Coming soon…

Sustainability is not just about air, water, and clean energy. It is also about social equity, economic stability, equal opportunities, and health. We often talk about the triple bottom line – people, planet, and profit. True sustainability must include all three.

Sustain Rockford  |  From their "Mission & Vision" webpage