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.