Social Equity and Environmental Health: A Search for Solutions in Portland, Oregon

By Jana L. Meinhold, Veronica Dujon, Frank Goulart, Jordan Folks and Eileen Muench Brennan.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Social inequities in Portland are evident in human health and well-being. These inequities manifest themselves in part through unequal exposure to stressors in the built and natural environment in neighborhoods. Incorporating the voices of community collaborators our research team investigated promising solutions to social inequalities in environmental health. Through community-based focus group participation and in-depth interviews we examined social determinants of health and their connection to social inequities and environmental health. Findings show that organizations serving populations experiencing social inequalities face a number of barriers at the individual, community, and policy levels. Social inequalities are at the root of environmental disparities through inequitable access to safe housing and neighborhoods, clean air and water, green spaces and parks, grocery stores, and public transportation. The successful strategies of community organizations to address health inequities are presented, as well as the concerns around the continued treatment of symptoms of the larger systemic issues such as racism and poverty. Solutions at the individual, community, and policy levels are examined with a focus on community based participatory research (CBPR) approaches in the hopes of mapping collaborative, socially sustainable solutions for the environmental health of populations in Portland, Oregon.

Keywords: Social Sustainability, Health Equity, Social Determinants of Health, Environmental Health

The International Journal of Social Sustainability in Economic, Social and Cultural Context, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp.145-159. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 399.622KB).

Dr. Jana L. Meinhold

Assistant Professor, Child and Family Studies, School of Social Work, Portland State University, Portland, OR, USA

Jana Meinhold is an Assistant Professor of Child and Family Studies at Portland State University. She received her master’s degree in Human Development from Washington State University and her PhD in Human Development and Family Sciences in 2005 from Oregon State University. She has an interdisciplinary lens in her research and publication pursuits in the areas of social and environmental sustainability, focusing on the impact of environmental behaviors and knowledge on self efficacy in young populations, the importance of understanding developmental pathways to social and environmental engagement and activism, and the intersection of social equity and environmental health in Portland, OR.

Prof. Veronica Dujon

Professor and Department Chair, Department of Sociology, Portland State University, Portland, OR, USA

Veronica Dujon received her bachelor’s degree from the University of the West-Indies, Barbados. She received her master’s and PhD degrees in land resources/sociology in 1995, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is now an Associate Dean and Professor of Sociology at Portland State University. Dujon teaches, conducts research and publishes in the areas of environmental sociology with a focus on contests over declining natural resources; sociology of globalization; women in the global economy; and the tensions between national development strategies and forces of globalization. One of her major research interest areas is how to build socially sustainable societies.

Frank Goulart

Graduate Student, Department of Sociology, Portland State University, Portland, OR, USA

Frank Goulart is a graduate student in Sociology at Portland State University. His research has focused on promoting the ability of local communities to develop sustainable economies, a topic that has led him to testify before a state legislative committee about the closure of Oregon paper mills. For his master thesis, Frank examines the closure of a worker-owned paper mill in Oregon and explores the challenges to achieving regional social sustainability in an era of global capital. Frank has also worked with an interdisciplinary team of PSU faculty, students, and community partners on a project examining social equity and environmental health for sustainable cities. Broadly, his interests are in the labor and environmental movements, class, power, theory, and political and economic sociology. Frank is also a skilled software developer with over ten years of experience.

Jordan Folks

Graduate Student, Department of Sociology, Research Into Action, Inc., Portland, OR, USA

Jordan Folks received his bachelor’s in Sociology from the University of Central Oklahoma and his master’s degree (also in Sociology) from Portland State University. During his graduate studies, Jordan focused his research on environmental sociology, namely: environmental inequality, health disparities, and social sustainability. His mixed methods thesis work (titled: Assessing Environmental Inequality in Portland, Oregon: An Exploration of Local Environmental Justice Struggles) analyzes the connections between race, socioeconomic status, and environmental hazard exposure trends in Portland, Oregon. In addition to serving as a teaching assistant to a Sociology of Minorities class, Jordan worked with faculty on multiple grant-funded research projects surrounding social sustainability in Portland, Oregon. Jordan is currently working for Research Into Action, Inc in Portland where he researches and evaluates energy efficiency programs throughout North America.

Dr. Eileen Muench Brennan

Professor, Regional Research Institute for Human Services, School of Social Work, Portland State University, Portland, OR, USA

Eileen Muench Brennan is Research Professor of Social Work at Portland State University. She has studied issues of social sustainability for the past 15 years, and currently serves as co-principal investigator of the Social Equity and Environmental Health project at Portland State University. She has also been co-principal investigator of the Work-Life Integration Project at the Research and Training Center on Family Support and Children’s Mental Health. A developmental psychologist, Dr. Brennan has examined the importance to families of the successful inclusion of children with mental health difficulties in child care through the Models of Inclusion in Child Care project. The author of monographs, book chapters, and articles related to social sustainability, Dr. Brennan has presented the results of her research teams’ studies at numerous regional, national, and international conferences. She is a co-author of Work, Life, and the Mental Health System of Care [Routledge, 2008].