Environmental Justice Toolkit

Grade Level: 
K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Environmental Stewardship
Service Project
Service Learning
Social Justice
Youth Advisory Committee
Service-Learning Project Ideas Related to Environmental Justice: This toolkit will guide instruction and provides ideas for service project ideas and community resources. This is designed to spark ideas for learning and actions related to understanding and impacting environmental justice.

Environmental Justice Service-Learning Projects

The best service-learning projects are related to classroom instruction, involve student voice and choice, address a researched need, and work with local resources. This toolkit is focused on Detroit/Wayne County but may be adapted for other areas.


Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.  https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice

It will be achieved when everyone enjoys:

  1. the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and
  2. equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.  

Four Types of Service Projects:

Student action may be direct, indirect, advocacy, research, or a combination of these.

Environmental Justice Related Project Ideas

Research a local enviromental justice issue:

Working with a partner organization, research a local environmental issue and its impact. Create a fact sheet for school and community use.

Start or join a School environmental club:

Join and support your school’s “green team." Organize projects to make students aware of healthy habits and actions they can take that sustain the environment. If an environmental club doesn't exist, start one. Organizations listed in Community Resources below can be of help.

Volunteer with a local organization working for environmental justice:

Find out what volunteer events are happening in your community, and join in. Invite experts from the community to present at your school. Some of these organizations are identified in Community Resources below. 

Advocate for fairness and change:

Attend a local event about improving neighborhoods or the local environment and tell others about what you learned. Visit your elected representatives to let them know what you want to see changed. Take a position, practice writing and saying what you want to impact, and be an advocate for change. Create a PSA including information about your cause. See the Community Resources below.

The Resource Links Below Help Guide Student Action with Information and Local Contacts:

  1. Learning to Give lesson plans teach students about philanthropy concepts and advocacy skills.
  2. Learning to Give lesson plans teach about environmental justice and the environment.
  3. Information about and free resources from community and other organizations. 

1. Learning to Give Philanthropy and Skill-Building Lessons

Four Short Videos about Philanthropy

  1. What is Philanthropy? Defines, describes, and provides examples of philanthropy and service-learning
  2. Connecting Skills and Interests to Community Needs: Defining the interests and skills that can be used in meeting community needs
  3. Understanding Advocacy and Action: Examples of the power of advocacy and action.
  4. Stages of Service-Learning: Steps in the process are outlined here 

Lessons and Activities

Teach Advocacy Skills

Grade Level

Lesson Title




History in Action

Film Activity Guide

Includes 4-minute video of various movements

Grades 9-12

Advocacy and Activism Introduction

Lesson Plan

Learn from Martin Luther King, Jr. About the tools of advocacy

Middle/High School

Characteristics of Good Advocates


Describes 8 characteristics


Determining Advocacy Style

Conduct a Survey

No right/wrong answers; helps to identify personal advocacy style; pair with “Characteristics” handout


Spoken Word Poetry for Justice

Spoken Word

Mini-course for teachers: examples, tips to teach Spoken Word poetry

Middle School

Telling Our Stories of Giving

Lesson Plan

Unit of 3 lessons; students learn about and practice Newspaper writing; personal narrative and persuasive writing

Grades 9-12

Writers as Activists

Four Lesson Plans

Look at writers Rachel Carson, Mary Terell, and Alice Walker; 4th lesson is a writing exercise for writing to newspaper or lawmaker.  If time-limited, recommend lessons 3 and 4

Media Contact Guide

Bring community awareness to your students' work by using this step-by-step media and timeline guide.

2. Learning to Give Environmental Justice Resources

  1. Environmental Service-Learning Toolkit All grade levels. This toolkit includes project ideas, links to lesson plans, and resource links.
  2. Be The Change: Environment Three lessons, grades 9-12. Students explore environmental issues and discuss ways to take social action to raise awareness of environmental stewardship.
  3. Water Quality, Community Action and the Flint Crisis All grade levels. Project ideas, resources, and links to lesson plans selected and adapted by Flint teachers. 
  4. Environmental Groups and the Three Economic Sectors Three lessons, grades 9-12. Students explore how the three economic sectors--for-profit, nonprofit, and government--each contribute differently to protecting environmental interests. 

3. Community and Other Free Resources

Videos about Environmental Justice

Background Reports and Data

Community Resources

  • The Detroit Public Schools Community District Go Green Challenge is a voluntary opportunity for schools to reduce their energy costs and share in the savings. Over the past 5 years the program has saved over $1,700,000 and awarded $112,000 back to schools. For more information on the DPSCD Go Green Challenge or to sign up to participate in the program, email [email protected].
  • Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice is the oldest environmental justice group in Michigan and a powerful voice advocating for a healthy environment through community and policy actions.  To schedule an educational workshop or tour, contact [email protected]
  • The Youth Energy Squad, a program of EcoWorks, cultivates the next generation of green leaders by engaging youth from diverse backgrounds in hands-on service learning projects that make their homes, schools and communities more sustainable.  The Youth Energy Squad works with you to collaboratively plan a program tailored to fit the needs of your school community.  Several tiers of commitment are offered. Start the information process here:  https://www.youthenergysquad.org/schools [and/or call Anna Balzer at (248) 228-7208]
  • The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center is a Detroit-based nonprofit that offers community education, policy support, and various legal services to address environmental, resource, & energy issues affecting communities in and around Detroit, Michigan, and the Great Lakes region. It provides educational presentations on issues including environmental justice, air quality and drinking water safety.  Contact Executive Director Oday Salim at [email protected]
  • The Center for Urban Responses to Environmental Stressors, headquartered at Wayne State University, works to understand how human exposures to chemical and non-chemical stressors in the urban environment can influence the development of environmentally-linked disease.  In furtherance of a healthy Detroit, CURES has a strong commitment to informing and learning from the community by providing guided environmental health tours and mobile education outreach on topics including lead, asthma and indoor air quality.  Contact Outreach Coordinator Brian Smith at 313-577-5045  [email protected].
  • Alliance for the Great Lakes: Through advocacy, volunteering, education, and research, the Alliance works to ensure the lakes are healthy and safe for all. The Alliance provides curriculum materials, advocacy one-pagers and other resources to assist classroom teachers, along with volunteer opportunities for students of all ages through our service learning Adopt-a-Beach program and other shoreline field trips. Contact Katie Larson, Education Manager at [email protected]
  • Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision works to improve the environment and strengthen the economy of Southwest Detroit.  Volunteer opportunities are available with its gardening and neighborhood cleanup programs.  Contact Director of Programs Sarah Clark [email protected]  (313) 842-1961

  • Zero Waste Detroit is a coalition of local organizations advocating curbside recycling, a materials recovery system which will bring new jobs and economic development to the city, and an end to waste incineration. In addition to promoting recycling, ZWD educates residents and leaders about the detrimental environmental, health and economic impact of the city’s trash incinerator.  Contact Galen Hardy Community Outreach and Education Coordinator @ [email protected]

  • The Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit embraces the vision of the Earth Charter. ”We are one human family, one Earth community with a common destiny." GLBD believes that all life is interconnected. It recognizes that sustainable living requires consideration of the economic, ecological, social and spiritual aspects of an issue or action. Scholarships are available for students in grades 7-12 to attend the annual conference in October [TBA], especially as part of the specially-designed Young Bioneers Day [TBA]. For more information, contact: Gloria Rivera [email protected]

National Environmental Groups in Michigan

The Sierra Club: Founded in 1892, the Sierra Club is the nation's largest grassroots environmental organization. Among its many campaigns is one for environmental justice.  The Sierra Club has a Michigan chapter and local groups in many parts of the state, including southeast Michigan.  The Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) is a “network of high school and college-aged youth from across the country working for just, sustainable communities and the protection of the environment.”

Clean Water Action: Founded in 1972, Clean Water Action “organizes grassroots groups and coalitions, and campaigns to elect environmental candidates and to solve environmental and community problems.” In Michigan, CWA’s campaigns include getting lead out of drinking water.