Session: Green Social Work: Ethical Challenges and Innovations in Environmental Justice Organizing (Society for Social Work and Research 20th Annual Conference - Grand Challenges for Social Work: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future)

220 Green Social Work: Ethical Challenges and Innovations in Environmental Justice Organizing

Saturday, January 16, 2016: 2:00 PM-3:30 PM
Meeting Room Level-Meeting Room 16 (Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel)
Cluster: Organizations, Management, & Communities
Symposium Organizer:
John Mathias, MSW, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
The tenth Grand Challenge calls for efforts to address the human impacts of escalating global environmental changes as a major aim of social work, particularly as these inequitably affect marginalized populations. Environmental injustices are increasingly a focus of intervention by advocates and organizers around the globe (Bryant 1995), yet social workers have been marginal to emerging environmental justice movements. To meet the tenth Grand Challenge, social work researchers and practitioners will need to both engage with and learn from ongoing environmental justice interventions, and to creatively adapt extant social work interventions. The presentations in this panel address a critical but typically overlooked dimension of this larger agenda: the complex ethical dilemmas frequently generated by environmental justice activism. Examination of the ways that environmental organizers have addressed (or, in some cases, failed to address) these challenges offers insights that can help researchers, practitioners, and policy advocates to more effectively address environmental inequities.

Social work scholars have called for greater attention to environmental justice concerns as a major focus of macro-level practice (Dominelli, 2012; Miller et al., 2012).  Although environmental justice organizing has been studied extensively by scholars in other disciplines (e.g., Bullard, 1993; Checker, 2005; Pellow, 2002; Auyero, 2009; Fortun, 2001), social work researchers have only recently begun to study environment-related interventions empirically (e.g., Rogge, 2006; Krings, Spencer, & Jimenez, 2013).  However, there has been extensive discussion in social work about the ways environmental concerns should influence training and practice (Kemp, 2011; McKinnon, 2008; Miller, Hayward, & Shaw, 2012; Rogge, 1993), including attention to the place of environmental and/or ecological justice in social work ethics (for a helpful review, see Gray and Coates, 2012). Linking these two domains, this panel brings a research lens to bear on this latter discussion, exploring how close study of environmental justice organizing can inform social work involvement in these efforts.

Each paper explores the ethical dimensions of protecting the human environment from a different angle. Demonstrating that a focus on environmental justice is not, in fact, new to social work, the first paper identifies ethical tensions in the urban environmental interventions of Progressive era settlement house workers. The second paper explores conflicts that arise when separate groups of local and “solidarity” organizers in contemporary India use different ethical framings for the same, shared goal. Likewise, the third paper presents conflicting ethical perspectives that emerge within communities that have been selected to host hazardous facilities. Finally, the fourth paper examines how contemporary social workers incorporate a range of environmental values into their professional identities, opening up the discussion of how the ethical dimensions of environmental justice organizing relate to social workers’ broader engagement with the environment. As a group, these papers converge in finding that although environmental organizing raises some new ethical problems, these also resonate with issues social workers have seen and responded to elsewhere.  Thus, the task at hand is a matter of building on what we already know, not starting from scratch.

* noted as presenting author
The Ethics of Land Use Decisions
Amy Krings, MSW, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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