Colorado launches environmental justice tool developed by three CSU organizations

Scene showing different Colorado landscapes as the state launches EnviroScreen, an environment mapping tool.

This week marks the launch of Colorado EnviroScreen, the interactive online environmental justice tool to help disproportionately impacted communities and designed by three Colorado State University entities for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

More specifically, EnviroScreen identifies the Colorado communities that have been most impacted by systematic barriers to health and wellness and the cumulative impact of environmental pollution.

The tool announced by CDPHE was developed in partnership with CSU’s Institute for the Built Environment, Geospatial Centroid and Rojas Public Health Lab. The CSU team provided technical expertise and worked with stakeholders to produce an easy-to-use resource for Colorado’s disproportionately impacted communities and the organizations that serve them.

“Colorado EnviroScreen is a great way to attract attention to the large environmental inequities that exist in Colorado,” said Dr. David Rojas Rueda, project lead for the CSU team and member of CDPHE’s Environmental Justice Advisory Board, “and at the same time is a tool that will help us identify where the opportunities for improvement are.”

Mapping pollution and health inequities

Impacted communities will be able to: distribute grants; identify locales affected as defined by the Environmental Justice Act; and help prioritize enforcement and compliance initiatives under an agreement signed by CDPHE with the EPA.

“In addition to providing overall project management, IBE led stakeholder engagement efforts to help assure the tool would be useful for a wide array of people and organizations,” said Josie Plaut, associate director at the Institute for the Built Environment, adding that the tool is designed to help community members, legislators and activists promote health equity through objective data. “The EnviroScreen tool is an important resource for Colorado, especially for communities who have experienced negative health outcomes because they are close to industry, highways and other pollution sources.”

Sophia Linn, the associate director at the Geospatial Centroid, added: “Combining disparate datasets and visualizing them on a map can reveal patterns and correlations that otherwise may go unnoticed, especially in terms of inequities.

“The Geospatial Centroid explicitly has a charge to focus on using geospatial technologies to address social and environmental justice issues. We are delighted that our involvement with the development of Colorado EnviroScreen can help lead to tangible action, attention, and resource allocation to communities across the state.”

The Environmental Justice Advisory Board at CDPHE will use EnviroScreen to determine where to distribute environmental justice grants created by the new law. 

“Colorado EnviroScreen will be invaluable in our work toward environmental justice,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, CDPHE’s executive director. “CDPHE is committed to providing clean air to breathe and clean water to drink to all Coloradans, particularly to communities that have struggled with environmental injustices for too long.”

Feedback will continue

The work to create CO EnviroScreen started in April 2021. The open-source tool was developed through multiple stakeholder and community feedback sessions. Ongoing user feedback will help shape future refinements.

“We engaged community members across the state to get feedback on the tool, and connected them with the expertise of this unique partnership between CDPHE and CSU,” said Joel Minor, CDPHE’s environmental justice program manager. “We hope that the approach to creating Colorado EnviroScreen, as well as its cutting-edge functionality, can serve as a model for other states that share our commitment to environmental justice.”

Examples of story maps about Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley created using the EnviroScreen tool were produced by teams at CU-Boulder.

More information about the project is on the department’s CO EnviroScreen web page. There also is a Spanish-language version.

The Institute for the Built Environment is part of the College of Health and Human Sciences. For more information, also visit the Rojas Lab website and the Geospatial Centroid website.