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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Roles of nonprofits in advancing environmental and social justice

environmental and social justice

Environmental and social justice issues are at the forefront of minds across the country. 2023 research found that two-thirds of adults agreed that corporations and businesses do too little to reduce the effects of climate change. Similarly, over half of consumers wanted brands to take a stance on social justice issues in 2020. As environmental and social concerns remain a pressing issue in society, nonprofits are left to fill gaps left by the failings of governments, corporations, and individuals alike. 

Of the over 20,000 tax-exempt organizations in Arizona in 2018, more than 200 classified themselves as environmental organizations. Even more could be considered “social justice” organizations, with classifications varying from community improvement to societal benefit. With hundreds of organizations hoping to tackle these issues in Arizona alone, nonprofits have a clear role to play in the fight for environmental and social justice. 

Spreading awareness

Awareness is the first step in causing positive change for many social and environmental issues. By getting the right information into the right places, nonprofits play a critical role in advancing solutions to important societal problems. Spreading the word of an issue can loop in politicians, local activists, community leaders and others who may have the connections and power necessary to affect change. Nonprofit news organizations, in particular, spread information that can be widely disseminated in public spaces. Whether through online campaigns or in-person events, many nonprofits turn awareness campaigning into one of their highest priorities. 

Working in communities 

Nonprofits also often perform on-the-ground work that engages and serves those in their community. This work can directly relate to the organization’s mission, or concern an entirely different issue. The only requirement is that the service helps the community, especially those who are not able to access help by other means. For example, many nonprofits offer scholarships for students, career development services for workers, or food banks for low-income households. In the environmental and social justice spaces, these activities may take the form of community clean-ups, workshops about environment-friendly or social-justice-related practices, or political organizing efforts. 

Researching the facts 

Some nonprofit organizations take a more hands-off approach to advancing environmental and social justice. Research centers and institutes, for example, play a critical role in informing individuals and other nonprofits about issues. Research institutes gather original data and information which is often easily and publicly accessible. This research data then informs all subsequent changes and actions within fields like environmental and social justice, from public policy suggestions to local activism. While research is often a slow, time-consuming process, its contributions are essential to the landscape of science- and data-informed fields such as environmental and social justice.

Image by Lillian Finley


Find out more about how nonprofits can work towards social justice with Public Allies Arizona

Based in major cities across the country, Public Allies Arizona is a social justice organization committed to creating a just and equitable society and the diverse leadership to sustain it. Public Allies Arizona is changing the face and practice of leadership throughout Phoenix and Tucson communities by demonstrating our conviction that everyone can lead, and that lasting change results when citizens of all backgrounds step up, take responsibility and work together.

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ASU Lodestar Center Blog