Environment Agency Survey on Environmental Equity

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What is Environmental Equity?

Achieving environmental equity for everyone means that no single group or community unfairly shoulders the burden of environmental risk (such as flooding, pollution and the adverse impacts of climate change) or is unfairly denied access to environmental benefits (such as access to nature).  

This survey refers to environmental ‘equity’ and ‘inequity. When referring to inequity we consider this as one of the main drivers of distributional inequalities. Inequality simply refers to the unequal distribution of environmental risks and benefits whereas inequity refers to unfair and avoidable differences between community groups and populations and is often the result of distributional processes including many decades of economic and planning policies. These differences can have far reaching impacts on people’s lives and on their health and wellbeing.

“The route to achieving equity will not be accomplished through treating everyone equally. It will be achieved by treating everyone justly according to their circumstances.”[1]

Why are we conducting this survey?                       


Clean air, water and land, and access to high quality green and blue spaces is important for personal health and wellbeing. However, these necessities are unequally distributed with the result that some people can thrive whilst others are underserved and exposed to poor environmental quality and greater environmental risk. Those least well served are often communities in more deprived areas and/or those with above average rates of people of minority ethnic background. For example, analysis by the Environment Agency and others shows that more socially deprived communities are exposed to higher flood risk, and are more likely to have a waste sites located in their area.


The Government’s national 25 Year Environment Plan recognises such inequity noting that “pollution affects us all but it is the most disadvantaged in society who suffer more. The poorer you are, the more likely it is that your house, and your children’s school and playground are close to highly-polluted roads, and the less likely you are to enjoy ready access to green spaces”. Managing environmental equity is important in delivering on the Plan’s commitment to “ensure an equal distribution of environmental benefits, resources and opportunities”. In a recent speech on environmental equity and climate justice, Environment Agency Chief Executive Sir James Bevan said that the Agency needs to play its part so that “the Environment Agency is for everyone in this country, not just for some.” We will do this by working in, for and with communities and by making all decisions in the context of the relevant social, environmental and economic factors. Our internal Action plan EA2025 and our sustainability strategy, eMission2030, further set out our commitment to contribute to a just and fair society.

Understanding Equity

To help tackle environmental inequalities the Environment Agency wants to embed practices that ensure the work we do in the environment is fair and benefits those who need it most. In order to do this we want to understand how our work impacts on environmental inequity whether we adequately address inequity in our strategies, planning advice, regulation, building and maintenance of assets and in our partnership working; and what actions we need to take as a result. We anticipate that some action could be taken in the near term whilst other actions may take longer or require further resources, or may be beyond our ability to influence altogether. Actions we take must be consistent with our remit as defined by parliament, but we know issues around environmental equity and environmental justice are complex and far reaching, so we are keen to work with others who share our ambitions on social justice and the environment.

The Survey

This consultation is part of an Environment Agency research project intended to help us develop our response to environmental inequity. We wish to hear from you about how you think we are doing on environmental equity, and what more we need to consider. We are seeking views from a wide range of stakeholders in our work, including those in civil society, such as NGOs, campaigning organisations and local community action groups. We particularly wish to hear from people who do not identify as under-represented groups, given their under-representation in the environment sector.  The survey asks about your views on environmental equity and any experience of the Environment Agency, and your views on how we could best address environmental inequity in future. By completing the survey, you will contribute to the shaping of the Environment Agency’s work and our contribution to a more environmentally equal society.

Survey Structure The survey comprises questions that ask you to choose between or rate options, plus some questions that present opportunities to provide fuller written responses. The survey will take about 15 minutes to complete. All information will be treated confidentially, and individuals will not be identified.

This voluntary survey will help the Environment Agency develop a better understanding of how its work impacts on environmental equity. All data is anonymous and any data use will be non-identifiable (we are not collecting any personal data). To disseminate the survey we may use your individual email address. These have been sourced, and will be used, in compliance with GDPR – they will not be shared.

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This project has been granted ethics approval by Staffordshire University Ethics procedures. All data is anonymous.

If you have any questions about this project please contact one of the following:

Prof Jon Fairburn, Staffordshire University

Dr Gordon Mitchell, University of Leeds

Dr Joe Swift, Environment Agency

[1] The Race Matters Institute | Racial Equity Transforms Organizations (viablefuturescenter.org)