Hilliard is leading the way in environmental sustainability, but that lead might not last if we do not pay attention to issues of equity.

Equity, which refers to fairness, plays a major role in how environmental-sustainability programs and initiatives are implemented and sustained over time in local communities.

Let's look at some numbers to highlight this point. According to 2016 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the median annual household income in one Hilliard neighborhood was $31,325. In another Hilliard neighborhood, it was $153,264.

In other words, one group of Hilliard residents was earning almost five times more than another neighborhood.

To illustrate the link between equity and sustainability, let's imagine that Holly and Howie Hilliard (yes, the lovable characters we've come to know from a series of city-produced videos) live in one of these neighborhoods. Holly, who lives in the higher-income neighborhood, is more likely to be able to afford compostable bags, purchase energy-efficient appliances and install a smart sprinkler system because her family budget has the means to do so. On the other hand, Howie, who lives in the lower-income neighborhood, is less likely to make any of these changes because there just isn't room in the monthly budget. He wants to be able to use less water and consume less energy. He's even taken the "Go Green Pledge," but it's just not financially possible right now.

Is it Howie's fault that he makes less than Holly? Of course not. Howie works just as hard as Holly and cares about the environment the same. However, he simply can't justify spending that extra money on a smart thermostat when his daughter needs eyeglasses.

So what is Howie to do if he wants to protect the environment?

By now, maybe the concept of equity is becoming more apparent to you, the reader, but let's make sure.

To make a difference and protect the environment, every Howie and Holly in Hilliard should have both the capacity and the means to engage in environmental-sustainability programs and initiatives.

Most of us do our little part for the environment by using reusable straws or recycling, but imagine a Hilliard where every resident had a fair chance to make a difference and protect the environment. If there were such a level playing field, then Hilliard would become the leader -- not just in central Ohio, but across the nation -- in environmental sustainability.

If everyone had the chance to compost, recycle, reuse, reduce and buy local, then we all would benefit from living, working and playing in a beautiful and healthful city.

To address the issues of equity, the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission continues to offer a number of programs and initiatives, such as recycling collections, community gardens and outreach activities, that aim to educate residents of all backgrounds, capacities and means on sustainable practices that protect our environment.

Ayaz Hyder is a member of the Hilliard Environmental Sustainability Commission.