From the Ground Up: Part 1

Welcome to the Office of Sustainability’s new blog series, From the Ground Up. The title is borrowed from a book by Luke W. Cole and Sheila R. Foster released in 2001 as an account of the early Environmental Justice (EJ) movement in the United States.

For many environmental stewards and activists, entry into this line of work starts with an experience. Some experiences are positive. Playing at a local park where countless species of native and migratory birds congregate. An elementary school science class where students gently hold bugs and other small creatures. The lake a family has visited for generations. For others, their experiences are less positive. Indigenous communities forcibly removed from the water and land that once structured their livelihoods. A community rallies together to challenge a waste incinerator. A family discovers their well has been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing.  Farmworkers protest pesticides that harm the environment and their bodies.

The Environmental Justice movement encourages us to question what we mean when we say “environment.” The environment is not a wild landscape untouched by humankind. The environment is where humans are and where we are not. It includes where people work, play, live, and go to school as well as the most remote places we can imagine. The Environmental Justice movement asserts that these places and all the species that inhabit and rely on them should be protected. Since its beginning, this movement has pushed the boundaries of what falls under environmental activism. At its core, the EJ movement is concerned with equity and justice. It affirms the right of all individuals and communities to shape their environments—to be active and involved in decision making.

Standardized forms of civic participation, such as voting or joining Community Development Corporations (CDCs) and Registered Community Organizations (RCOs) have given communities opportunities to determine what their neighborhoods should look and feel like and to determine the opportunities and resources that should exist. Communities have also made demands by sharing their experiences and expertise through grassroots organizing. From the Ground up will focus on Philadelphians making a difference in their communities and in the city more broadly. From Block Captains and Tree Tenders to artists and activists, this series will tell the stories of how people have become motivated to take action.

If you or someone you know would like to be featured please email us at