SACE's Electric Transportation Equity Manager reflects on the 2023 National E-Mobility DEI Conference in Washington, D.C., which showcased diverse perspectives on addressing the climate crisis and creating a holistic e-mobility future.Madelyn Collins | December 20, 2023
Washington, D.C. – It’s never too late to start changing our future, especially when it comes to diversifying and building equity and inclusion in the e-mobility space. In my position as the Electric Transportation Equity Manager here at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), my purpose is to resource creativity, knowledge, and experience to ethically advance the regional integration of electrification benefits. Everyday my work is grounded in finding pathways for diverse innovation and participation, autonomy, ownership, and accessibility of electric mobility and its implementation in communities. This work aims to enhance existing equitable electric transportation policies and programs as well as further SACE’s mission of ensuring clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast.
Actively developing my skills in implementing equity measures is an important part of staying informed, aware, and inspired to keep pushing the needle forward on a just transition to electric mobility in the Southeast. Attending the 2023 National E-Mobility DEI (NEMDEI) Conference in Washington, D.C. allowed me to jump right into the latest conversations and frameworks around diversity, equity, and inclusion in the e-mobility space.
The NEMDEI Conference, created in 2020 by EVNoire and Forth, is an annual convening of diverse professionals in the mobility sector focused on equitable electrification. EVNoire, a mobility intelligence group, is an award-winning and nationally recognized expert in e-mobility best practices and promoting equity in e-mobility. They also founded EVHybridNoire, a nonprofit that has the largest network of diverse electric vehicle drivers and enthusiasts in the nation. The conference’s second founder, Forth, is a nonprofit organization committed to expanding fair access to electric transportation by implementing demonstration projects and advocating for progressive policies, as well as producers of the national Roadmap Conference.
The conference was born from EVNoire’s and Forth’s realization of the need for a nationwide platform exemplifying equity in e-mobility programs, policies, and practices. This year’s conference did just that by providing valuable insights from a wide range of voices within the e-mobility ecosystem.
Here are five learnings that stood out at this year’s NEMDEI conference.
Getting the Pulse on the Electric Transportation Transition from Young Leaders
This year’s conference was filled with captivating panels. One that stuck out in particular was titled “Young Leaders in E-Mobility.” This panel brought together six diverse e-mobility leaders early in their careers or currently in college programs to share their perspectives and perceptions on the state and direction of the e-mobility space. One of the strong sentiments shared between the leaders is the urgency they feel about addressing the climate crisis. That convenient excuse of ‘we have to hope the people after us do better’ doesn’t make sense anymore. As Maria Alejandra Segura Betancourt, a Sustainable Transportation Education and Partnerships Associate at Argonne National Laboratory, put it, there are no more cans to kick down the road for the next generation to handle.
When it came to thinking about innovative solutions to the challenges of e-mobility implementation, each leader in the panel offered their own knowledge and ideas, including:
- creating e-mobility projects that disrupt systems that hinder communities’ pathways to upward mobility
- focusing the conversation of the e-mobility movement around addressing social and environmental needs and see where e-mobility aligns and less on just selling new, shiny electric cars
- eliminating inaccessible technical language
- using our privilege to make sure the door is not closed to anyone
An Ethical and Compassionate EV Workforce Transition
Another impactful panel was the “E-Mobility Workforce & Economic Inclusion” session. E-mobility leaders well versed in workforce & economic development took the stage to offer fresh perspectives on job opportunities in the EV industry. The switch to cleaner energy doesn’t just mean a change in vehicles, it also means a major changeup in the workforce.
As we strive for a just transition to clean electric transportation, we must consider the best ways to link workforce training opportunities with communities, and also ensure we address the needs of workers currently employed in internal combustion engine and petroleum-related roles. These jobs and livelihoods may become unstable during the switch to electric transportation, and so dialogue, care, and planning on the front end are crucial to protect those who rely on these industries. When we recognize and affirm everyone’s value and experience in the transportation industry, we can more efficiently and more equitably work to remove barriers to realize a just transition to the new green economy. We cannot separate the wellness of people from the wellness of the planet: as one of the speakers, Kianna Scott from ChargerHelp! emphasized, “The energy transition is also a people transition.”
Stepping into the Future with Autonomous Vehicles
Dr. Allanté V. Whitmore was the sole speaker on deck for the session, “The Future of Autonomous Vehicles.” Dr. Whitmore, the U.S. Director of the Autonomous Vehicle Initiative for Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), shared in-depth knowledge on autonomous vehicles (AVs) and future visions and concerns for implementing them. To make sure everyone was on the same page, Dr. Whitmore wanted to make a clear distinction: when you’re talking about AVs, you are always also talking about electric vehicles.
In terms of implementation, Dr. Whitmore does not see AVs being the solution to the electric vehicle transition, but she sees it as part of the solution. Whether it’s using AVs for accessibility purposes or moving goods, there is definitely a need AVs can fill so therefore there needs to be dialogue and policy on how AVs will be implemented. Education on the six following levels of Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) was also shared in the session:
- Level 0 (No Driving Automation)
- Level 1 (Driver Assistance)
- Level 2 (Partial Driving Automation)
- Level 3 (Conditional Driving Automation)
- Level 4 (High Driving Automation)
- Level 5 (Full Driving Automation)
Currently the systems drivers see on the street, for example Tesla’s ADAS, are level 2 and 3, which still require a human driver attentive at the wheel. Dr. Whitmore noted as AVs become more advanced, more questions will need to be explored and answered. For example, when level 5 AVs are available, what will they look like? Can we get rid of steering wheels or pedals since they would no longer be needed? This session really encouraged and gave space for the audience to start engaging with the thought of a near, yet unfamiliar future.
How Philanthropy Can Bridge Funding Gaps for Equitable Solutions
Connections to private and public funding play a large role in implementing e-mobility technology, and the panel “The Role of Philanthropy in Equitable E-Mobility” drove that point home stronly. Nick Sifuentes, Program Director for Sustainable Cities from The Summit Foundation, emphasized the added support philanthropy can bring when it comes to filling in the gaps government doesn’t reach or cover, particularly when it comes to resourcing grassroots groups. Angelo Logan, Sr. Director for Environmental and Climate Justice for Liberty Hill Foundation, explained that “moving money to frontline groups” can be a way philanthropic involvement can be utilized.
Sifuentes also shared and agreed with Logan’s thought, as he thinks when it comes to funding climate and environmental justice initiatives it’s about to whom the money is flowing, not just about what. This panel solidified the point that social justice issues are environmental issues and that to successfully push holistically for a better environment, we must recognize the social justice elements in the equation as well. Solving the climate crisis is not only about greenhouse gas reduction, as that is not the only piece of the puzzle. Matt Oberhoffner, Program Officer for the Climate and Clean Energy Program for the Heising-Simons Foundation, summarized the need for shared solidarity in climate advocacy and social justice advocacy by saying, “You can never have a tent that’s too big… we need everyone. We don’t want to make it more difficult being in camps. We need to do it together.”
Grounding E-Mobility Development in Bolstering Services that Communities Need
Continuing with the theme of diversity in e-mobility development, the panel titled “Inclusivity within Innovative Electric Transportation” provided a compelling showcase. Michele Lee, Senior Public Affairs Manager at Cruise, shared her personal mission and connection to e-mobility, emphasizing the urgent need for an accessible environment, particularly in transportation. Lee’s personal experience, stemming from an unexpected loss of mobility due to an accident, highlighted the transformative potential of electric vehicles, especially AVs, as a means for wheelchair users to travel and stay connected. An impactful video was shared featuring Theo Braddy, Executive Director of the National Council on Independent Living, to illustrate how access to reliable transportation can significantly improve the lives of individuals experiencing social isolation, because as Lee commented, “without transportation, you can’t participate fully in community”.
This presentation not only demonstrated a clear use case for AVs as a solution for communities lacking mobility technologies but also prompted a broader discussion on how e-mobility development can address fundamental needs and services. Beyond the short interactions at charging stations by EV users, planners need to consider the overall daily mobility experiences of communities. Failing to strategically place electric infrastructure and e-mobility programs based on community habits and movement patterns not only diminishes accessibility but also impedes widespread use. This is why integrating discussions about the essential needs and preferences of communities into the e-mobility development and implementation conversation becomes crucial to successful adoption. This holistic approach to the electric transition aims to create an environment that is not only more clean and advanced but also promotes a livable and inclusive space, mitigating the risk of e-mobility infrastructure becoming underutilized and ineffective technology graveyards.
An impactful electric transition is one in which disruptive e-mobility projects are mindfully crafted and align with social and environmental needs.
This year’s conference gave many valuable takeaways, and showcased that projects cannot only focus on the implementation of e-mobility, but must also focus on the people impacted, especially including those who produce the technologies. Linking workforce training with community needs and addressing concerns of workers in traditional roles affected by the shift to electric transportation must be prioritized if we aspire to lead and enact a just and holistic transition. Every lesson from the conference highlighted the interconnectedness of technological advancements, climate action, workforce development, justice work, and diverse stakeholder inclusion in building a sustainable and just future.
Overall, the transformative potential of e-mobility to address community needs and wants is exciting and important. Every planner, advocate, and industry player in the e-mobility space needs to point their north stars toward culturally relevant adoption in order to avoid obsolete, harmful, or inefficient outcomes.
For more information and to stay updated for next year’s registration, visit https://www.emobilitydeiconference.com/