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Most companies add business advisors to their rosters. But Aclima’s mission is split between business and social good, and today the company announced it’s adding climate and environmental justice leaders to its advisory board.
Aclima uses sensors on its own fleet of cars to measure global pollution on a block-by-block level and apply that data to combating climate change. Companies and governments can subscribe to Aclima in order to evaluate the environment and take actions to alleviate pollution. But Aclima has also declared that it’s a Public Benefit Corporation, meaning its charter is to serve the public good through business — maximizing impact, rather than just profit — CEO Davida Herzl told VentureBeat in an interview.
“As a technology community, we’ve barely scratched the surface of technology’s potential to really serve to solve big problems that matter and to serve people and the planet,” Herzl said. “If you look back at 2020, it showed us the problems that we need to be solving. It’s about public health, it’s about climate change and the things that are really existential for society. And technology has a really big role to play.”
She added, “One of the things that came to a head in 2020 was definitely the issue of racial and social justice. When we think of our technology, we want to be sure that we’re building it and delivering it in a way that actually advances social good for society. We are bringing those voices to the table and bringing them into our process. Our board is a brain trust that ensures that the science and technology that we’re developing is really calibrated to the needs of society.”
I talked to the company last summer when California was on fire and smoke was turning our skies orange.
Herzl believes the air we breathe is a critical infrastructure. Access to clean air is a human right, yet 90% of us don’t have it, she said. Systemic racial injustices have led to disproportionate environmental burdens for communities of color. And the same emissions that harm our health are changing the climate, she said. These converging crises call on each of us to pool our collective resources, energy, and ingenuity to innovate for environmental justice.
Herzl said places like West Oakland are among the most polluted in the Bay Area, and it’s no accident that the area has such a high concentration of communities of color. In the U.S., Black people are 3 times more likely to die from exposure to air pollution, she said.
“The data we generate highlights where technologies need to be deployed, not only to reduce emissions, but also to advance these really critical questions of environmental justice,” she said.
Herzl wants the company to be a beacon for talent that cares about causes. Aclima hires interns, and Herzl noted that this crew of graduates coming out of college has not only survived a pandemic but is “looking down the barrel of a climate crisis.” And there are a growing number of companies in the “social capital” market that are doing good while making money.
Herzl said her team includes a lot of talented engineers and scientists and programmers who built the network and sensors for measuring pollution. But the common thread is that they’re building technology for a good cause. The company also hires drivers for its fleet of cars in the communities that are affected by pollution, and it creates a path for those drivers to rise in the company.
Aclima is dedicated to catalyzing bold climate action that protects public health, reduces emissions, and advances equity. The company works in collaboration with environmental advocates across sectors to diagnose air pollution hotspots, target emissions reductions and interventions, and measure progress.
“We are bridging very different worlds with our advisory board,” Herzl said. “Our advisers are really excited to see technological innovation being applied to the problems that they have been advocating about for years.”
The company’s advisory board reflects those values and includes the following new members:
- Peggy Shepard, executive director of We Act for Environmental Justice. She is a pioneer in the environmental justice movement, having played a catalytic role in groundbreaking legislation in the state of New York. She is a national leader in advancing environmental policy and the perspective of environmental justice in urban communities. She was recently named to the first White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
- Sacoby Wilson, associate professor at the University of Maryland. Wilson is an environmental health scientist and environmental justice advocate with expertise in exposure science; environmental justice; and community-engaged research, including community-based participatory research (CBPR), the built environment, geospatial visualization tools, environmental health disparities, air pollution and water quality studies, climate change, and community resiliency.
- Margaret Gordon, co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project. She has defined new models for local environmental justice advocacy, organizing, policy, and collective action. Under her leadership, the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project has led to creation of the groundbreaking “Owning Our Air” emissions reductions plan as part of the implementation of California Assembly Bill 617. Her organization was an essential community partner in Aclima’s groundbreaking 2017 findings that pollution varies by up to 800% from one block to the next.
- Gloria Walton, CEO of the Solutions Project. Her work supports climate changemakers, innovators, and solutionaries at the grassroots. Previously, she was CEO of Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE), a South Los Angeles community organization widely recognized as a leader in the development of cutting-edge strategies to ensure Black and brown and poor and working-class communities have an equal voice in the democratic process.
- Heather McTeer Toney, climate justice liaison at the Environmental Defense Fund. She served as the first Black, first female, and youngest mayor of Greenville, Mississippi. In 2014, she was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as Regional Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Southeast Region, where she served until 2017. Her work has made her a national figure in public service, diversity, and community engagement.
- Christine Harada, vice president of government affairs at clean energy firm Heliogen. She is a nationally recognized climate and sustainability expert and was formerly the president of i(x) investments, partner at Ridge-Lane LP, Federal Chief Sustainability Officer for the Obama administration, and the chief acquisition officer at the U.S. GSA.
- Kerry Duggan, principal at SustainabiliD. She currently serves on the State of Michigan’s Council on Climate Solutions. In 2020, Dugan was a Biden appointee to the Biden-Sanders Unity Climate Change Task Force. She served in the Obama-Biden White House as deputy director for policy to then-Vice President Joe Biden for energy, environment, climate, and distressed communities.
Aclima methodologies have been developed over a decade by leading scientists and validated by research institutions. This newly expanded advisory board will build and strengthen connections with community-engaged researchers.
Herzl believes there is a sea change in climate action underway in the U.S., with the requirement for investment in environmental justice across all sectors.
These new members of the Aclima Advisory Board, which was originally formed in 2015, will join existing advisors Bill Reilly, Martin Goebel, Luc Vincent, Nick Parker, Greg Niemeyer, and David Sherman.
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