The concept of justice has been a topic of interest within various academic and policy realms. While much of this attention has usefully focused on the disproportionate exposure of poor and minority populations to environmental hazards, faculty at Penn State are working to expand conceptualizations of justice to include systematic and comparative research within urban and rural populations, industrialized and developing contexts, access to and control over resources for production and livelihoods and rights to environmental entitlements as well as unwilling exposure to hazards, processes and institutions of environmental governance, and indeed the social processes that create and perpetuate inequality on the basis of race, gender, income, or other social categories. Questions of justice are a central concern in human-environment relations, and critical attention is being directed to issues such as: distribution of natural resources, local decision making, social inequality and marginalization, recognition and participation, and the processes that create and perpetuate environmental ills and inequality.

Brian King's research focuses upon the intersections between political geography, development, and environmental justice in Southern Africa and the United States. A theme of this research is the examination of how space and the construction of borders have been utilized to justify social classification and spatial segregation. Following the 1994 democratic elections in South Africa, state agencies have reframed apartheid geographies through development discourses that structure the emerging opportunities available to local populations, economies, and ecological landscapes. This work considers the concept of territoriality in constructing political and economic systems that benefit particular actors while shaping the possibilities for social and environmental justice in the contemporary era.

In her work on human end environmental health and justice, Petra Tschakert examines the links between mercury use for gold extraction, criminalization of small-scale miners, and environmental justice in Ghana. She is particularly interested in the role of counter-narratives and recognition of devalued miners through the creation of parity-fostering contact zones.

Karl Zimmerer is interested in issues of social justice and the environment among impoverished rural communities, peasant land users and agriculturalists, indigenous peoples, and the inhabitants of places in and near sites of environmental conservation. Recently he has begun a study of environmental justice concerns among Andean communities, including coca growers, in the context of protected-area conservation and international relations and policy.