By Larry D. Yon, II and Dr. Robert J. Brown
Can a socially diverse and inclusive clean energy ecosystem be the missing link to addressing our world’s greatest environmental, economic and community concerns?
This thought piece will explore the impact of increasing diversity and inclusion of thought and action in energy-related programs, initiatives, decisions and policies that will influence and encourage a more connected and sustainable society.
Defining Diversity & Inclusion
If ten different people were asked to define the terms diversity and inclusion, multiple answers would be given, depending on perceived context. To pioneers in the “Diversity” space, we define diversity as all of the ways people differ from each other, including characteristics such as race, age, gender, income, ethnicity, etc. “Inclusion,” on the other hand, is a relatively new concept, that is the process of leveraging the power of diversity to achieve a common goal or objective. Therefore, Diversity and Inclusion (“D&I”), is an active and all-encompassing process that has the ability to affect the entire clean energy ‘ecosystem,’ not just the clean energy ‘economy or industry.’
Energy System Transformation
Transforming the world’s energy system from a predominately fossil-fuel based infrastructure to a cleaner, more sustainable renewables-based system is going to require tapping into all available resources. The global recognition of concern for the environment led to record clean energy investments in the United States, Latin America, Africa, China, and India to the tune of nearly $330 billion in 2015. With nearly 40% of those investments - $199 billion - going to solar, wind farms, biomass, waste-to-energy plants and small hydro-power clean energy projects, it is evident that energy system “diversity” is vital for satisfying current community needs and to address shared concerns for the future.
Several current trends indicate the need for diversity and inclusion in the clean energy sector. Despite increasingly diverse populations, a shortage of skilled workers in the clean energy space, increased investment in clean energy as a result of slumping oil prices, and the mounting evidence that people of color and low-income Americans are more likely to reside near sources of pollution, the communities most impacted by the benefits of an effective clean energy ecosystem are also those most likely to be left out of the conversation. These communities have an important role to play in shaping a clean energy ecosystem as beneficiaries and participants. Without the involvement and input of these communities, the awareness, policies, technologies, services, workforce and education required to sustain a clean energy ecosystem will be nearly impossible to achieve.
The substantial operational and financial benefits of diversity in all areas of business activity have been well documented, making a sound business case. A case that is proven to be true over time, so much so, that the capacity and capability to be diverse is now accepted as having a direct link to innovation. Early adopters of diversity have however realized that “diversity” alone doesn’t guarantee achievement of intended impacts. In fact, “inclusion” in many cases is the missing piece. The presence of equality and diversity will attract individuals to an industry; however, an inclusive environment will motivate and inspire them to participate. The successful transformation of a U.S. clean energy ecosystem must leverage the insight of differing mindsets, cultural capital, and broader networks to advance the work and expand the impact of sustainability.
Benefits of an Inclusive Clean Energy Ecosystem
The benefits of improved diversity and inclusion in the clean energy ecosystem are vast, including the participation of disenfranchised groups such as minorities and women, green entrepreneurship, educational investments in STEM, advantages for energy organizations, and improvements in the overall energy system transformation. Clean energy ecosystems also have the ability to reduce wealth and health disparities and to fight pollution in minority and low-income communities. Achieving these benefits will require that clean energy proponents and professionals think creatively about ways of reaching these markets, but given the right assets and tools, a diverse and inclusive system will lead to unforeseen innovation, improvements and economic growth.
In a number of states, the clean energy industry has gained momentum due to the impact of diversity and inclusion policies and strategies. In California, green and sustainable job creation is faster than almost any other U.S. state with more than 400,000 Californians working in solar power and energy efficiency related fields due to these initiatives. Similarly, by taking advantage of progressive clean energy policies and strategies to spur inclusion, the U.S. solar installation industry employs 4,000 more African-Americans, 5,000 more Asian/Pacific Islanders, 10,000 more women and 16,000 more Latinos than the coal mining industry.
North Carolina based minority-owned developer of renewable energy products and technologies, 510Nano, successfully raised capital investments to build the largest solar farm developed, owned and operated by a minority owned-firm in the U.S. 510Nano’s achievements and ability to solidify strategic partnerships have propelled it to not only manage challenges and overcome barriers in the energy industry, but has fueled a pipeline of solar projects and innovative systems that will aid in energy system transformation.
In California, the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission has made great strides to ensure contract, grant, and loan diversity through Assembly Bill No. 865. This bill requires the Commission to “develop and implement an outreach program to inform the most qualified loan and grant applicants, and contractors, including, but not limited to, women, minority, disabled veteran, and LGBT business enterprises, as defined, about workshops, training, and funding opportunities. The bill would require that one component of the outreach program be a process for tracking the diversity of contractors, loan recipients, and grant recipients.” These strategies encourage participation and progress beyond equity to true inclusion, leading to innovative services and lower priced technologies.
Finally, there are numerous reports and studies that link environmental and climate change gains to the existence of women in corporate leadership roles. In the quest to realize the benefits of gender diversity, integrating social equity is of great importance to driving investments in renewable energy, cutting carbon dioxide emissions and supporting environmental protection overall.
The Impact of Social Awareness
In a global market, how successful would a business be if it did not cater to the needs of a marketplace that included racial and ethnic minorities, women, disabled veterans and the LGBT community? Like the business models of many successful companies, the clean energy industry must include voices from all aspects of the community. The social awareness of the environmental and societal implications of relying solely on fossil fuels has sparked the need for new energy system technologies.
Steady advancements in the clean energy space have up to this point been achieved without mass participation from community demographic segments that arguably make-up their majority. Studying the complex social dynamics of inclusion and their relationship to a clean energy transformation are in initial stages of exploration. This exploration will provide the data from which a healthier economy and environment can be shaped into a dynamic community-oriented energy ecosystem.
Research associated with the impact of energy systems and policies should be viewed as opportunities that if addressed would be major bridge builders with underrepresented segments of U.S. demographics. An NAACP report, entitled Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People, investigated the emissions toxicity and combined emissions ratings with demographic data to rank the effect the United States’ 378 coal plants have on neighboring communities. Examples of the data collected by the report include:
- 78 percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant as compared to 56 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
- 71 percent of African Americans live in counties that violate federal air pollution standards, as compared to 58 percent of the white population.
Statistics like these have a direct link to the health and wealth creation factors of low-income and minority communities:
- Asthma affects African Americans at a 36 percent higher rate of incidence than whites.
- African Americans are hospitalized for asthma at three times the rate of whites and die of asthma at twice the rate of whites.
It further noted that 75 of the 378 plants received a failing grade of F. Of the 75 plants:
- An estimated 4 million people live within three miles of one of the 75 plants, and 2 million live within three miles of one of the top twelve worst plants.
- Approximately 76 percent of these residents are people of color and the average per capita income is $14,626 (well below the national average of $21,587).
The purpose of these statistics is not to merely highlight inequalities; they should be used to shape the lens necessary to identify opportunities. This type of information should be a stimulus to develop understanding and communicate shared concerns that need to be addressed. Addressing these issues can have local impacts on the quality of personal health, work and educational attendance, community vitality, entrepreneurship and job creation, and lowering health care costs. Data is important, but what you do with the data can be powerful.
Barriers to Address
There remain, however, barriers to achieving sustainable clean energy ecosystems. Economic barriers such as homeownership exclude historically disenfranchised groups from participating and benefiting from state and federal tax credits for homeowners that have invested in renewable energy products for their home. Though well intentioned, for the over 50% of minorities who are not homeowners, access to affordable clean energy is out of reach. Access to financing for green businesses and an overall lack of research around the impact clean energy technologies, practices, planning, and policies have on diverse populations are also examples of barriers to achieving a diverse and inclusive clean energy ecosystem.
The major changes in U.S. demographics over the past few decades present a great opportunity for advancing the clean energy ecosystem. With strategic initiatives and research geared toward inclusive education, advocacy, and economics, a dynamic community-oriented energy industry can be sustainably created. Similar to the impact of having energy system diversity, social diversity and inclusion in the clean energy ecosystem will ensure a large pool of knowledge, skills, life experience, perspectives, and expertise to uncover the strategies necessary to tap into the United States greatest resource – its people.
Expanding how demographics are aggregated and analyzed to include minority and gender as a data point in the collection of information about the clean energy industry will uncover sector specific initiatives that will strengthen the affect energy has on the quality of life of varying races, ethnicities and genders and will encourage greater awareness of equity and inclusion, societal health risks, and holistic policies.
Creating relatable communication, dialogue and promotion will help to foster an understanding that the wide-ranging sectors of our community are more alike than they are different, and will elicit the power in mobilizing the passion of the underrepresented.
There will always be inadequate or unrealized impact from just starting conversations about diversifying the participants of clean energy’s progression. To improve the quality of life for all people, the clean energy sector must focus its attention and take deliberate action to tap into the unused resources of the underrepresented.
Larry D. Yon, II is Chief Strategy Officer for B&C International, he has authored white papers on the operational and functional aspects of sustainability. Dr. Robert J. Brown the founder and CEO of B&C International, served as Special Assistant to President Richard Nixon and is credited through Executive Order with initiating the U.S. Minority Enterprise Program and the U. S. Government Black College Program. B&C is the oldest minority-owned business management consulting firm in the United States.
About B&C International
Headquartered in North Carolina, B&C has worked behind the scenes as problem solvers to some of the World’s pivotal moments in history from the United States Civil Rights movement with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to South Africa’s apartheid and the incarceration of Nelson Mandela. B&C is recognized as a pioneer in the disciplines of race relations, crisis management and diversity. Its strategy is to leverage the experience and global access of its team to identify solutions that are timeless and focused on sustaining growth. For ‘Consulting that Works’, visit www.BandCInternational.com.