HEPF Hosts its First Peer Exchange: A Mitigation-Resilience-Equity Nexus Approach to Clean Transportation

HEPF initiated a new program- -member-driven peer exchanges, which are small group policy discussions on specific, shared energy policy and planning issues aimed at encouraging collaborative dialogue to inform policy and action. HEPF’s first peer exchange (co-sponsored by Ulupono Initiative and Hawaii Energy) focused on the Mitigation-Resilience-Equity (M-R-E) Nexus. It was held on September 11, 2019 in Kaanapali, Maui, on the shoulder of the Hawaii Conference of Planning Officials (HCPO), to bring planners and other folks working in energy, sustainability, and transportation together. Stakeholders included those working in government entities, utilities, academia, for-profit, and not-for-profit sectors, and included both HEPF and non-HEPF members.

The M-R-E nexus is an emerging framework for project and policy development responding to the need for more equitable climate action and resilience efforts across communities. The framework recognizes that the climate crisis does not impact everyone in our communities equally, and that our project and policy responses should seek to support those with the greatest needs first. This concept is being developed by a handful of leading cities around the Country, and stems from the need for local government to leverage limited resources as much as possible to equitably achieve climate mitigation and resilience goals. In short, it is about putting people first as we develop new solutions and projects.

In the months leading up to the peer exchange, the peer exchange lead (Kauai County) facilitated two planning calls with peer exchange participants to discuss desired outcomes, all driven by the question: How do we lead with equity in our broad mitigation and resilience efforts, and specifically, as we work to deliver on Hawaii’s ambitious clean energy goals? Given Urban Sustainability Directors Network’s (USDN) work in spearheading this movement across the United States and Canada, as well as Fort Collin’s progressive project to pilot an M-R-E approach in their climate action initiatives, HEPF welcomed Kristin Baja, Climate Resilience Officer at USDN, and Lindsay Ex, Climate Program Manager for the City of Fort Collins, to facilitate and disseminate their lessons learned to leaders from Hawaii.

The format of the peer exchange was interactive, starting with a more-traditional style lecture, which then transitioned to a workshop with mixed brainstorming sessions and County breakouts. The four-county sustainability leads briefly provided a brief update on some of their recent work relating to energy, transportation, mitigation, and equity. This was followed by a deep dive into a discussion about improving and understanding the common ground of equity, highlighting the idea of a targeted universalism approach, which focuses on historically marginalized groups first to then benefit all groups of people.

“Targeted universalism is addressing the needs of the least well-served in order to benefit everyone. Targeted solutions that address the needs of people of color and low-income residents can, in fact, benefit everyone. Yet, without a targeted strategy, often times community-wide outcomes improve while leaving behind the most vulnerable populations.” From “Equity in Sustainability” Angela Park, USDN, 2014.

In the afternoon, participants worked in small groups to break down large topics, such as mobility and electrification of transportation, by looking at solutions through the M-R-E nexus lens. Instead of the historical way of thinking, where solutions first and foremost provide mitigation benefits, the goal of the exercise was to get peer exchange participants to refocus the work they do by considering impacts and benefits to people first, and then find where that additionally intersects with mitigation and resilience. Following this activity, participants sat together by County and brainstormed opportunities they could pursue within the M-R-E nexus, then shared them with the group. Some interesting proposed projects included: initiating and supporting community resilience hubs, changing state procurement rules around rental vehicles, improving walkability around high transit corridors, and allowing County fleets to be used by third party partners.In the past, Baja noted that we typically plan for middle-class individuals, but we should instead be looking at the people that get ignored the most, and creating programs to support them, specifically related to clean energy, transportation and mode-shift. Participants had the chance to reflect and share examples of equity and inequity in our communities, with an attempt to cut through class, race and geography when making our communities more climate resilient. Facilitators then moved into the M-R-E portion of their presentation, highlighting the framework’s objective to put people first in mitigation and resilience work, and how outcomes can differ dramatically when mitigation is a starting point. Fort Collins has been piloting this approach by funding for groups to come and present to their communities, identifying community ambassadors, and starting out by listening and asking people what their priorities are when tackling climate change.

Key takeaways from the workshop included momentum for individuals at those tables to work together to pursue these projects, and further engage their professional and personal communities on the basis of putting people and equity first. There was also important discussion on how to more effectively work across sectors represented at the peer exchange to utilize the power and potential of a united message and efforts based on what each sector can offer. Additionally, participants expressed the importance of bringing to the table those who were not represented at the peer exchange. Facilitators and participants alike reflected on the need for this conversation now and moving forward, and were thankful for the opportunity to get together and commit to changing the way they approach their work in mitigation and resilience within clean transportation to prioritize equity.

To learn more about the M-R-E peer exchange, listen in at Thinktech Hawaii – Hawaii: The State of Clean Energy