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Big Data Reveals An Inspiring Phenomenon About HBCUs in Greater Atlanta Leading the Way in Climate Resiliency For All

Written By: Amal Bennett-Judge
Artwork Created By: Amal Bennett-Judge

According to research led by Amal Marjani Bennett-Judge, a senior strategist from Howard University, and Dalero Berkeley, a Mechanical Engineer and Data Scientist from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 103 historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) quietly reached for United Nations Sustainable Development Goals despite their communities carrying unequal energy burdens.

Bennett-Judge is a senior strategist that builds sustainable communities locally and globally while leading pioneering research, discussions, and events that help shine the light on economic opportunities for all powered by artificial intelligence, big data, and solar. At the same time, Berkeley works for Maverick IQ, a company that produces IOT solutions focusing on sustainability through intelligent buildings, smart manufacturing, and smart energy that leverages digital twins, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Thus, Bennett-Judge and Berkeley worked with HBCUs and churches in metro Atlanta to decrease building maintenance costs by 40% using Berkeley's artificial intelligence and Bennett-Judge's emotional intelligence. Together, they helped HBCUs think globally and act locally with United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

After the United Negro College Fund lead strategist Julian Thompson and Bennett-Judge had a brief brainstorm on a "green print" for 103 HBCUs, Bennett-Judge turned Thompson's eight pathways into 13 criteria. Bennett-Judge then asked Berkeley to use AI to collect and analyze data on 103 HBCUs. After researching, Berkeley noticed that most HBCUs started projects in these verticals but needed more internal and external support. HBCUs continue to show a phenomenal truth about climate resiliency and adaptation. They recognize that environmental leadership can come in all spaces and places.

One sees this phenomenon from community organizers like Felicia Davis of the HBCU Green Fund and HBCU faculty like Dr. Robert Bullard, Dr. Myron Williams, and Dr. Olugbemiga Olatidoye. These environmental leaders continue to create a significant social impact despite limited funding in their fields, including in diverse and inclusive fields of public policy, sociology, engineering, and international relations. With their environmental leadership, HBCU faculty and students continue to lead a resurgence of environmental and social governance at historically black colleges and universities in 13 areas that impact the world in climate adaptation:

  1. Curriculum- HBCUs create courses for educational platforms that promote solutions to climate adaptation through studies, science, data, technology, business, and policies via classes from the introductory, foundational, junior, and advanced course catalogs.
  2. Procurement- HBCUs distribute sustainable purchasing guidelines that include a preferred vendor list that minimizes negative impacts on human health and the environment while supporting diverse, equitable, and vibrant communities by accessing needs, using ecolabels, employing lifecycle analysis, reducing packaging, and increasing durability with student trained auditors.
  3. Advocacy- HBCUs facilitate dialogues on United Nations SDGs for the 2030 Agenda and assist non-profits in getting access to $500 Billion in climate change spending with Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act.
  4. Facilities- HBCUs train faculty on best practices for using students and alums to manage federal funding.
  5. Endowments-HBCUs embrace environmental, social, and governance criteria by joining other high-profile institutions in welcoming a diverse energy portfolio.
  6. Activations- HBCUs promote homecoming events and year-around engagements that heighten a nexus of Afrofuturism with artists and healers in the community that supports reclamation, liberation, and revision of past, present, and future.
  7. Agriculture- HBCUs create intersections for rural and urban food producers to meet and sell local, organic, and fresh produce to communities often plagued by food deserts.
  8. Facilities- HBCUs work with municipalities, scientists, manufacturers, and contractors to implement new technologies that contribute to sustainable design with energy efficiency and renewable energy.
  9. Equity- HBCUs advocate that new proposal requests at institutions include HBCU-owned alum, student-run, and women-owned businesses as vendors with a preferred vending list.
  10. Transportation- HBCUs create third-party partnerships to obtain electric vehicle charging stations and fleets.
  11. Economics- HBCUs provide green career fairs that offer opportunities for businesses with sustainable development goals.
  12. Energy- HBCUs lead utility-scale renewable energy and solar community projects in rural and urban communities in partnership with local utilities and electric co-ops.
  13. Justice- HBCUs promote environmental justice work where the organization works with communities that monitor environmental hazards in Black neighborhoods, understand the risks of toxic exposures; research online environmental data; educate communities on their rights and duties of governmental agencies; and develop strategic advocacy for policies and decisions that prevent and remedy unsafe ecological conditions.

Even though HBCUs in the "green belt", lead the nation in reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, Morehouse Medical School leads sustainability initiatives in the Greater Atlanta area. They have a vertical in each criterion promoted on their website. Bennett-Judge believes President Biden's investment in America's infrastructure via the Inflation Reduction Act, including the $500 billion currently being spent on climate change, catalyzes solutions to climate adaptation for all. With the 13 criteria synthesized from the United Nations 17 Development Goals, the HBCUs show a more holistic approach to sustainability. These institutions incorporate a more diverse and inclusive perspective on sustainability, including environmental justice, beyond just deploying renewable energy projects.

After Berkeley and his team of scientists conducted the research, Bennett-Judge led two calls with the Department of Energy Undersecretary and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator on opportunities to serve. Some organizations that participated in the call of action included numerous departments from Harvard, such as the Environmental Department Chair, The Legacy of Slavery Initiative, and Harvard Business Review. Other participating institutions included HBCU faculty from Clark Atlanta University, Johnson C Smith College, Howard University, Morehouse Medical School, and Xavier University. Beyond higher education participants, non-profits included Second Nature Southeast Director Blythe Coleman-Mumford, who invited HBCUs, and other non-profits like Deep South Center for Environmental Justice,, Intentional Endowment, HBCU Green Fund, United Negro College Fund, and Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance.

According to Berkeley, "the call to action was the most inspiring call I ever participated in...Everyone equally participated in coming up with solutions from the grassroots to the federal government on better-supporting HBCUs' sustainability initiatives from faculty to students."

Big data revealed some inspiring truths about humanity. When there is a will, there is a way. HBCUs continue to lead the resurgence to bring environmental justice for all.