How We Scale with Equity: Greenlining’s vision for an abundant future by centering community needs
Last week I was honored to join several energy and environmental leaders in the public and private sectors to speak at the White House Electrification Summit. The summit, hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Climate Policy Office, and Office of Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation, convened energy and environmental leaders from government, industry, academia, and stakeholder groups to showcase the unprecedented opportunities for inclusive electrification–the transition away from harmful fossil fuels to cleaner, more sustainable forms of energy.
It’s clear that the impacts of climate change are not evenly distributed from neighborhood to neighborhood or from region to region. These frontline communities–often low-income communities and communities of color–bear the brunt of our current negative, exclusionary climate and economic public policy decisions that were carried out by federal, state, and local governments and reinforced by the private sector.
Equity is our best tactic of applied hope to reach the audacious goals and outcomes our communities need. As one of the only summit participants focused squarely on racial equity, I emphasized Greenlining’s racial equity perspective that we must start with those that are most impacted in order to be successful in combating climate change and building more sustainable systems on the national and global scales.
Put another way: if we don’t center frontline communities in our climate investments and action, we will never achieve our global climate and economic goals. It will simply not happen at the scale necessary to combat the enormous challenge before us.
At this moment we are witnessing historic levels of federal investment and action to tackle climate change through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act. Paired with major investments from the private sector in cleaner energy systems and innovative climate finance solutions, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity before us to redefine our future on this planet.
For the past three decades, Greenlining has confronted systems and structures to address the racial wealth gap and diversified our work to confront the evolving and compounding nature of climate change in formerly redlined neighborhoods.
We’re taking our decades of experience working in communities and with regulators and legislators to scale our tested equity solutions with a national audience.
- Advancing Mobility Equity: In 2018, The Greenlining Institute published the Mobility Equity Framework, a tool outlining how to center a bottom-up, community-led approach in transportation planning and decision-making with the goal of avoiding many of the harmful mistakes of the past. In the four years that the Mobility Equity Framework has been published, it has been utilized by a variety of state and local government, transit agencies, and advocates to uplift community needs and voices in the transportation planning and decision making process. Here are a few case studies of communities that have utilized the Framework to enact clean mobility options that actually meet community-needs.
- The Towards Equitable Electric Mobility (TEEM) Community of Practice: In 2020, Greenlining and Forth established the Towards Equitable Electric Mobility Community of Practice which builds bridges between environmental justice organizations and traditional environmental organizations across the country to advance equitable electric mobility. With the networks built and lessons learned from across the country, we are developing a national agenda and political momentum for equitable electric mobility.
- Funding equitable electric vehicle infrastructure: This sudden influx in funding for electric vehicle charging infrastructure underscores the larger burgeoning green economy and the opportunities for communities of color to build generational wealth. The Administration’s Justice40 initiative brings important momentum, but fails to define equity or provide operational strategies to reach Justice40 benchmarks.. We offer guidance and examples on how states can target federal funding equitably and use the deployment of charging infrastructure as a community and economic development strategy.
- Unlocking private capital for community climate action: The burgeoning field of climate finance can unlock unmatched resources from the private sector–particularly the financial industry–to meet the capital needs of both industry and communities looking to plan for a difficult future. One way we are approaching this work is through our ongoing work in negotiating Community Benefits Agreements as part of bank mergers and acquisitions. For recently proposed mergers of US Bank and Union Bank as well as Bank of the West and BMO Harris, for example, Greenlining made recommendations that were incorporated in the final CBAs related to disclosure and decarbonization, and emphasized that these new institutions should make robust commitments to invest in community resilience.
- Strengthening the Community Reinvestment Act: The Greenlining Institute is also working with regulators at the federal level to strengthen the Community Reinvestment Act–a civil rights era law that ended the discriminatory practice of redlining and obligated banks to reinvest in low-income communities. The proposal to update the CRA includes a new definition of “disaster preparedness and climate resiliency” and lists eligible investments that would provide meaningful support to communities. Greenlining has submitted recommended strategies for scrutinizing the financial industry’s investments in fossil fuels, as well as potential approaches for incorporating climate vulnerable communities into CRA exams.
We have interconnected problems that need interconnected solutions. We must build a national clean energy economy that works for all communities. We are pushing to ensure multiple direct and meaningful benefits, such as enhanced mobility options, jobs, youth development, and investments in civic infrastructure are all prioritized together. And, we need bold investments from both the public and private sectors, thoughtful technology solutions, and commitment from all stakeholders to center equity in the process.
Faced with this historic opportunity, leaders must ensure the future we are working towards is sustainable for all–not just more of the same. Without an equity focus, we will never be able to achieve our climate goals with shared economic prosperity on the global scale this crisis requires.
The Greenlining team will continue to work with the White House and other key stakeholders at the federal level to ensure equity is foundational to their climate change efforts. Together, we can transition in a way that does more than just reduce harmful emissions–but actually moves us closer to a more equitable and abundant future for our communities.