For over a decade we’ve had the opportunity to be on the frontlines of the electric vehicle (EV) rollout. In 2011, when we first began the careful work of introducing the prospect of driving electric to communities across the country, EV sales accounted for just 0.2 percent of total US light-duty vehicle sales. That rate jumped to 4.6% in 2021 and over 6% by 2022 – almost 3000% growth! Yet, we still have fewer than 3 million vehicles on the road in a country that is home to almost 300 million cars. EV adoption must grow to 150 million or more vehicles to allow us to secure many of the most promising benefits from electrifying transportation.
As EVs become ever more visible on certain roads, it is also becoming clearer that not everyone has equal access to this new technology. Just as with other past innovations, some communities risk being almost entirely left behind in the transition to clean energy. That’s why several years ago we decided to prioritize supporting equity initiatives related to EVs with our most precious assets – our time and money.
Over the past years, REACH has donated over $500K annually to this work. We are on pace to donate over $3M by the end of 2023, with similar or even greater amounts in the coming years. We know that in the grand scheme of things these resources are small, but for us it represents a significant amount of money that we hope will make a real difference in the lives of many people.
What kind of initiatives are needed to ensure that everyone has access to the benefits of EVs? Increasing access to EVs in low-income and marginalized communities, addressing the lack of charging infrastructure in certain areas, and providing education and outreach programs to help people understand the benefits of electric vehicles and how they work are aspects. Fostering job and workforce pipeline initiatives related to the transition are also important. Finally, telling stories that allow people of all races, geographies, and income levels to place themselves at the center of their own electrification journey can help bridge barriers – both seen and unseen – to adoption.
At times, it’s a truism in philanthropy that it is easier to find dollars than good ideas for funding projects. We encountered similarly odd paradoxes in the EV/equity space – it can be easier to find folks talking about equity than to identify substantive efforts on the ground that are receiving real support. Early in our work with EVs we prioritized supporting Plug In America and helped take that organization from a handful of loosely-connected volunteers to a fully staffed organization with national ambitions for advancing vehicle electrification. We worked for several years on behalf of that institution before major foundations were able to take up the cause.
Over the past few years, we’ve been helping birth another new, important and novel initiative in the EV space – Recharge America. Its purpose is to help all communities recognize the economic benefits that accrue from electrifying transportation and work aggressively to capture them. We are supporting community engagement campaigns and recognizing leadership steps in support of EV adoption with the goal of boosting progress in areas most often ignored in the EV rollout. Once again, we are bridging a gap while we conduct the careful process of helping major national and local/regional philanthropists and state/federal government funders recognize the importance of supporting work in these areas.
Recharge America provided donations from test drives to three local charitable organizations in 2022 – Mankato VEX Robotics, Northfield Shares, and VEX MN Robotics. Mankato, VEX Robotics youth programs received $10K to foster scientists and engineers in their quest to tinker, question, experiment, and play as well as develop valuable soft skills like time-management, communication, and collaboration. Northfield Shares received $5K to support a new local sustainability fund. VEX MN Robotics received $10K to support robotics programs for elementary, middle and high school students.
Over the past year we’ve created EV/equity plans for utilities and counties wrestling with the rollout and, in the process, have conducted some of the country’s only literature reviews and landscape assessments of the various recommendations for how to advance this important work. A notable finding from most analysis – the task of addressing the equity dimensions of the EV rollout is important, but too often left to an undefined someone else.
We’re proud to align with entities that are raising their hands to say this is our job, our priority, and our mission. We are supporting that work to the best of our abilities – and are so grateful to our many partners who are engaging in that work with us.