Robinson Noble, Incorporated
Date of Interview
This interviewee begins by conflating broader, legal definitions of social justice with environmental issues. He stresses the need for economic equality as a safeguard against environmental injustice, and advocates for sustainable practices that ensure all communities are protected against the consequences of ecological decline. For example, the interviewee stresses how gentrification has exacerbated inequalities whereby disproportionate shares of toxins are placed in and near poor and ethnic neighborhoods. He also addresses the need for humans to be better stewards of the environment, since communities and natural systems are inter-related and what befalls one befalls the others. Lastly, he emphasizes that before all members of a population can be expected to participate in social and environmental healing, we must make sure their basic needs are being met. This interviewee expresses an anthropocentric approach to environmental justice, although he recognizes the value of holistic viewpoints.
Hildenbrand, John, "John Hildenbrand Interview" (2013). Puget Sound Environmental Justice Interviews. 9.
Additional FilesHildenbrand_Transcript.docx (24 kB)
Lindsey Gooding/Jonathan Cruz: Please state your name and organization affiliation.
John Hildenbrand: My name is John Hildenbrand, I’m the environmental sciences division manager for Robinson Noble Incorporated in Tacoma, Washington.
LG/JC: What is environmental justice?
JH: Now, if you look at the original regulatory definition, it was in essence about applying environmental protection equally across populations regardless of socioeconomic considerations, racial considerations but to ensure that all elements of the community were equally protected under the law. It’s changed a lot and right now I think that there are really two schools. There’s that original school that’s equal protection and then it’s kind of evolved into the idea of doing things in an environmentally conscience manner and more of kind of delving into sustainability kind of things. And there’s a relationship, but originally it was, you know, a very narrow focus of equally protecting all populations with respect to the environment.
LG/JC: How does/doesn’t environmental justice work in your community? What needs to change?
JH: You know, so often environmental justice from a real- world, non- academic sense is really checking a box. It’s going through a procedure you need to do for federal grants, federal project actions, state environmental project actions, where it’s environmental assessment looking at project impacts. One of the hardest things to do with environmental justice is to truly tie it into the socioeconomic infrastructure that really needs to happen in order to protect people adequately. So, like in Tacoma, they’ve done a lot of work as they’ve redeveloped areas and looking at environmental components trying to retrain underserved or underprivileged workers within an area to give them jobs as part of environmentally round development. But as far as really truly looking at the equitable protection for environmental exposures set forth in the original law, while it’s been a good policy statement, I don’t think it’s really translated down to the technical nuts and bolts of really doing as it was intended.
LG/JC: What parts of environmental justice are important you? Why, or why not?
JH: Having been around in the time when environmental justice first came into being, the initial idea of protecting people equally is highly important. When you look at the disproportionate numbers of low income minority individuals who are exposed to greater concentrations of pollutants, primarily because they live in housing close to those [contaminated] environments historically, it is pretty dramatic. A lot of that has changed demographically, but how it’s changed really, is a lot of displacement, the urbanization or the gentrification of urban corridors and the redevelopment- the removal of industry and the bringing in of higher cost housing-condos, town houses and the like. It may have changed some of the exposure, but it didn’t do the real result, which is allow all populations to live in an environmentally sound or a well-protected place. The exposures and the epidemiologic evidence of exposures to toxins and pollutants either in water, air or food or unhealthy nutrition as it breaks down by socioeconomic class hasn’t changed since the onset of environmental justice. And so, there again, it’s something where it’s a policy that’s good, but how do you make that next step towards making it a reality? And that’s something that is a wonderful idea, but there has to be a real momentum from the population to really make it a reality.
LG/JC: How does concern for the environment fit with other environmental justice concerns? Sustainability? Health? Nature?
JH: Yeah, they’re part and parcel. If you look at the United Nation’s definition for environmental health, that’s going to be basically all environmentally related external factors that affect a person’s physical and mental wellbeing. And so, if you look at environmental justice, where it’s to equally protect people’s environment and make it a safe healthy environment, the two go hand in hand. The idea of sustainability- of using resources wisely, reducing pollution, thereby reducing exposures dovetails right in with the idea of making every person’s environment safe and productive and free from those detrimental aspects. As we try and do that and be good stewards of our planet, from a nature standpoint you know it is all interrelated. How you get there though, the mechanisms are incredibly layered and complex.
LG/JC: In your opinion, how is environmental justice useful to you in addressing the issues in your community? How might others be able to help?
JH: When it’s used programmatically, to really identify needs and to assess issues, it is an incredibly useful tool. When it’s used to determine the need to redevelop housing in a manner where people have safe, affordable housing, it’s very useful. When it’s used as a tool to prevent something that somebody is against as a tool just because they don’t like it, it becomes more problematic. The idea being that if a society is going to involve themselves in creating a healthy environment, you have to have a buy in from the entire population. If you have populations of people, who their biggest overriding concern is the roof over their head, or where their next meal is coming from or the clothes on their kids’ back, it’s an incredibly difficult sell to get them to be really, totally bought into like recycling, sustainability, reducing carbon footprint because their needs- their immediate needs- are at a more basic level. So it’s when we figure out how to address those more fundamental human needs, then you’ve created the groundwork by which you can start building those umbrella policies such as environmental justice and sustainability and natural resources and management. And you can bring those umbrella things in together to bring- basically make it a holistic idea. Right now it’s like a piece, but it’s like a chunk here and a chunk over there and there’s other things that have to happen. You have to build a foundation first before you can have that umbrella.
LG/JC: Is there anything else on this topic that you would like to say?
JH: As you can tell, I’ve been kind of involved in this a little bit, so I could probably go on for a couple of hours about the dynamics of it, but it’s definitely something that as you interact and interview other people, [you see that] there is so many different aspect to it, that there’s no one person who has all the answers and the components are vastly complex, so that as you learn to study it academically or evaluate it, you’ve got to really become very aware and informed of all those underlying pieces because only then can you truly understand the complexity of it, and then once you understand it, you can do something with it.