Celebrating Black Innovators: Week 2

Lisa Jackson (1962 - present)
Climate Action from the US EPA to the iPhone

Lisa Jackson’s entire career,  from staff-level engineer at the EPA to Vice President of Environmental Initiatives at Apple, has led to massive impacts both for the environment and in bringing systemic environmental issues to light.

Lisa posing atop the 100% renewable Apple Campus

After earning her masters degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University (Go, Tigers!!), Jackson worked with the EPA over a decade and was appointed commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in 2006. In 2009, she was appointed by President Obama and confirmed as the first African American and fourth woman in history to become Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, marking a turning point for forming modern climate change initiatives.

During her tenure as Administrator, Lisa focused on seven priorities for EPA's future: taking action on climate change; improving air quality; cleaning up our communities; protecting America's waters; assuring the safety of chemicals; expanding the conversation on environmentalism and working for environmental justice; and building stronger state and tribal partnerships.

As the first African-American to serve as EPA Administrator, Administrator Jackson made it a priority to expand outreach to communities that are historically under-represented in environmental action. EPA stepped up protection for vulnerable groups including children, the elderly, and low-income communities that are particularly susceptible to environmental and health threats.(EPA)

In 2013, Lisa joined Apple as VP of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives with the goal of proving that carbon neutrality is not only feasible for huge organizations, but a core business practice.

“Right now, business has the lead on climate change,” she said in an interview with InStyle. “At Apple we’re showing regulators around the world that not only can we comply, but we can find a way to thrive financially.”

Today, Lisa oversees Apple’s efforts to minimize its impact on the environment by addressing climate change through renewable energy and energy efficiency, using greener materials, and inventing new ways to conserve precious resources. She also leads Apple’s $100 million Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, focused on education, economic opportunity, and criminal justice reform — and is responsible for Apple’s education policy programs, its product accessibility work, and its worldwide government affairs function. (Apple)

Under Lisa's guidance, Apple accomplished their goal of 100% renewable energy in 2018, and has gone on to dedicate $300 million to fund renewable energy at Apples supplier facilities across the world. Products have received the same traeatment, as the focus has shifted from manufacturing to the entire product life cycle. iPhone packaging is now made from 100% responsibly managed wood fibers, and more and more products under the Apple umbrella are being made using recycled materials.

"Being better is always possible!’” Lisa laughs in an interview with Harpers Bazaar. “I believe you should be able to have the latest, newest device. But it should not be made with new materials. … To me, that’s where the hard work is.”

This "hard work" that Lisa describes has taken form as Apples overhauled buyback program, designed to ensure that whenever someone wants a new device, they are incentivized to trade-in their old device through Apple, who then fully recycles the precious metals and materials to create future products. This kind of lifecycle vision is an incredible - and necessary - innovation for reducing waste and environmental impact of consumer purchases.

Dr. Robert Bullard (1946 - present)
Meeting the "Father of Environmental Justice"

Are you familiar with the name Dr. Robert Bullard? If not, you should be. Dr. Bullard is known as the "Father of Environmental Justice," and his work has been instrumental in raising awareness about the environmental injustices faced by communities of color.  He was one of the first to bring attention to the concept of environmental justice, which is the idea that polluting facilities and industries should not be located in poor or minority communities. We’re taking a closer look at how his work has had a profound impact on how we think about sustainability and social justice.

Dr. Robert Bullard

The Man Behind the Movement

Dr. Robert Bullard’s relationship with the environment began as a child growing up in the south, hunting and fishing with his father. He grew up in rural Alabama, not far from Montgomery – one of the centers of the civil rights movement. His commitment to social justice was strengthened by the activism of the 1960’s. He became involved in social activism while studying at Clark Atlanta University. By 1976 he had graduated with a Ph.D. in sociology and moved to Houston where he began his career as an academic specializing in environmental justice issues related to urban planning, land use, transportation policy and law enforcement practices.

In 1979, he testified as an expert in the first-ever lawsuit Bean vs. Southern Waste Management, Inc., that challenged environmental discrimination using civil rights laws, after a landfill was planned for a black middle class residential neighborhood in Houston. Bullard’s research for the lawsuit discovered that race was the driving force behind environmental injustice. Black neighborhoods were the predominant site for most of the solid waste disposal sites in Houston, yet they represented only 25% of the total population. While the residents lost and the landfill was built in the neighborhood, the case and Bullard’s comprehensive study “Solid Waste Sites and the Black Houston Community” set the stage for the environmental justice movement—a cause demanding that all people have equal protection from environmental laws.

Bullard was a leader in organizing the first National People of Color Environmental Leadership summit in 1991 from which derived the principles of environmental justice. That effort laid the groundwork for former President Bill Clinton to issue an environmental justice executive order in 1994 that directed federal agencies to identify and address the disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of their actions on low-income populations and communities of color. In addition to helping bring environmental justice into law, he also helped found and served as Director for 20 years at Houston's Communities for a Better Environment (CBE). Bullard was instrumental in efforts to stop several landfills from being located in low-income communities and helped establish Harris County Air Pollution Control District (HCA), an organization charged with protecting residents' health by reducing air pollution.

In March 2021, the White House launched an Environmental Justice Advisory Board. Bullard is one of the members, along with 26 leaders in environmental justice.

Over his career, he has written 18 books that address sustainable development, environmental racism, urban land use, climate justice, housing, transportation, community resilience, regional equity and more. His book Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality is a standard text in the environmental justice field.

Bullard has been recognized with several distinguished honors throughout his career, including being named a Climate Trailblazer by the Global Climate Action Summit; featured on CNN’s “People You Should Know”; and named as one of Newsweek’s 13 Environmental Leaders of the Century.

Ugwem Eneyo (active 2016 - present)
Meet the woman “SHYFTing” the conversation about the global energy crisis

In an era of increasing climate change and growing energy demands, the world’s energy systems need to transition away from fossil fuels like coal and oil and towards more sustainable sources of power like solar, wind and hydroelectricity. Meet Ugwem Eneyo, co-founder and CEO of SHYFT Power Solutions, who has one mission in mind – to revolutionize the way people access clean energy all over the world.

Ugwem grew up in a region known as Andoni in Rivers State in the Niger Delta with her family and witnessed first-hand the devastating environmental and socioeconomic effects of the oil and gas industry. The region is the center of Nigeria's oil and gas industry, which accounts for 83% of the nation's exports.

Having grown up in an area where power grids were aging and unstable, she became passionate about offering affordable and clean energy to rural populations. Throughout 2019, Nigeria's power grid failed more than a handful of times, leaving 180 million+ people in the dark for days. That doesn't even count the 20 million homes that are without power 24/7.

Aiming to help, she began her career as an environmental risk advisor for the oil and gas industry. She soon left the industry to pursue a doctorate in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, where a course she took with J.B. Straubel, co-founder and CTO of Tesla, sparked the idea for SHYFT.  

Headquartered in Oakland, CA with a subsidiary in Lagos, Nigeria, SHYFT Power Solutions makes it simple to optimize distributed energy resources and integrate them in markets that struggle with grid reliability and resiliency. In addition, SHYFT helps homes and businesses optimize and automate energy sources, allowing customers to manage their energy use and cost and monitor fuel and battery levels, among other services.

Forbes marked SHYFT as one of the “Top 60 Women-Led Tech Companies Around the World Shaking Up Tech,” ensuring that the future of energy can deliver resilient, clean, and affordable energy to all.

Ugwem is also one of the first black female founders to raise over one million dollars in venture capital. According to ProjectDiane, an annual report by Digitalundivided on the state of Black and Latina women founders, only 93 Black women raised investments of $1 million or more by the end of 2021. Moreover, the report found that in 2020, the median seed round for Black female entrepreneurs was just $125,000, far less than the national average of $2.5 million.

In addition to other accolades, she has been named to Forbes 30 Under 30 in Energy, Climate & Capital Media's Ten to Watch and Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy Honors.

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