Environmental Justice and Environmental Markets: Examining the strengths and weaknesses of market mechanisms in their ability to deliver equitable social and environmental outcomes

Award Period
Award Amount
Agency Name
Environmental Defense Fund
Award Number
PI First Name
PI Last Name
Tamma Carleton
Kyle Meng
Area/s of Research
Climate Change Science


Clean air, fresh water, and available natural resources are considered a universal human right in societies around the world, but protections for and access to environmental quality are often inequitably distributed along the lines of race and class. Our team at the Environmental Markets Lab is developing a research agenda at the intersection of environmental justice and environmental markets. In order to create lasting, effective solutions, we aim to collaborate with environmental justice scholars and practitioners to co-develop a research agenda that examines the strengths and weaknesses of environmental markets in their ability to deliver equitable social and environmental outcomes. Some examples of broad questions that we expect to consider include:

Under what conditions do environmental markets yield equitable outcomes? Under what conditions do they exacerbate injustice?

What environmental problems can be equitably addressed using market solutions, and what problems cannot?

Is there a role for markets in the suite of solutions that are intended to address environmental injustices? If not, what are the alternatives that will accomplish this goal?

How can markets and other interventions be designed to improve justice outcomes?


We are in the process of building a deliberate foundation for an inclusive, extensive, and policy-relevant body of work at the crossroads of environmental justice and environmental markets. To work towards this goal, we are actively: (1) creating a research agenda in this space; (2) identifying specialized expertise to inform investigation into the research questions; (3) allocating research personnel to execute this research agenda to investigate environmental economics and justice issues, and; (4) facilitating coordinated, synergistic collaborations that provide a pilot model for inclusive research. These approaches give rise to four distinct activities:

Workshop on EJ + EM - Creating a research agenda in this space will require significant guidance and meaningful input from environmental justice scholars and practitioners. We will convene a group of experts across the fields of environmental economics and environmental justice along with a professional facilitator to identify key questions on the role of environmental markets in addressing or exacerbating environmental justice concerns.

Specialized Expertise - Once specific questions have been identified, we will seek guidance and input from practitioners with expertise in the key issue areas of the research agenda. This may include localized expertise from on-the-ground practitioners in target geographies, representatives from target commercial industries, and subject matter expertise from relevant institutions.

Research Personnel - Once we have determined a pathway forward, we can execute the research itself by allocating staff resources to investigate the ideas that come out of the workshop, informed by the aforementioned specialized expertise. The necessary research personnel that we expect to support may include:

One full-time graduate student researcher (GSR) based at emLab/UCSB dedicated to environmental justice and economics research

One undergraduate researcher based at emLab/UCSB to support the GSR with literature review and data acquisition

Faculty summer salary for 1-2 principal investigators at emLab/UCSB and for 1-2 principal investigators at partner institutions

Research Coordinator - A manager will be necessary to organize the workshop, capture key research ideas, track the progress of research efforts, engage with practitioners to incorporate input from impacted communities/research beneficiaries and ensure transparency in the research process and outcomes, and prepare communications materials to communicate key findings to EDF and other partners.

The approach outlined above will ultimately yield:

A co-created research agenda of questions that examine the role of environmental markets in environmental justice.

A long-term research partnership between environmental justice scholars and environmental economists

Piloting a model for an equitable, inclusive research process

Training for early career researchers