December 8, 2020 - By Mike Mattera, Akamai Technologies
New legislation can help Massachusetts build back a stronger, more equitable economy
As a sustainability professional living on the south shore of the Commonwealth, I am pleased to see that landmark climate change legislation was passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives at the end of the last legislative session. Now all eyes, including my own, are on the Massachusetts general court, where its conference committee is negotiating the final terms of the bill with the state Senate—especially when it comes to protecting environmental justice communities.
It is apparent that there is a very real imbalance of environmental wellness in Massachusetts and that the impact of fossil fuel emissions driving climate change continues to affect the health of residents in our most vulnerable communities. As the bill is currently written, this legislation would codify the state’s ambitious net-zero emissions by 2050 goal and help guide the state’s economy through a just transition away from fossil fuels. In addition to codifying the goal, it was nothing short of fantastic to see that this proposal includes much-needed protections for Massachusetts communities overburdened by pollution while aiming to address the inequities across the communities in future state planning. It is apparent that this imbalance of environmental wellness is real and continues to affect the most vulnerable communities across the commonwealth.
There are several key points that speak to me. First, the bill provides a well-defined version of what an environmental justice community is, neighborhoods where the median household income is lower than the statewide average or where a high percentage of residents are minorities or households that are not proficient in the English language. This could potentially be a part of state law and thereby incorporates much-needed language around race, income, and English language proficiency, which is a big step in the right direction. Second, these provisions build a much-needed review process in environmental justice communities to account for the cumulative impact of harmful emissions while taking into account those parties affected by a proposed project. The bill will help ensure any local stakeholder across any affected community would have access to the right information they need to meaningfully participate in the public process.
The effects of pollution on environmental justice communities are real and imbalanced. These communities often suffer from unequal access to healthcare and are commonly more vulnerable to greenhouse gas emitting sectors such as transportation and electricity. The equity measures in the House climate bill would ensure representation for these communities during the approval process for projects in their own neighborhoods that will have harmful impacts on their health and communities.
A recent Harvard study in partnership with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office found that exposure to air pollutants showed an increase of incidence and severity of COVID-19 in environmental justice communities like Chelsea and Revere. This underscores the commonwealth's need to act urgently to support this legislation to ensure climate equality in all communities across the state.
As an employee of one of the commonwealth’s high tech employers, Akamai Technologies, I am proud of how our company values are focused on a diverse and inclusive employee culture, philanthropy, and doing our part to reduce our global carbon footprint. After reading this legislation, I immediately felt a close tie to what I believe to be self-evident. Diversity and inclusion are at the core of what Akamai believes in. It builds on empowering our employees to respect and understand what makes them different by creating an environment that is universally welcoming, accepting, and one where every single employee is treated as equal. We believe that this culture allows for all employees to explore each other’s differences in a positive, nurturing, and safe environment to ensure in every instance, all have a sense of belonging regardless of differences.
I have seen it first hand working with team members locally and around the globe. We recognize that each individual brings something different to the table through a worldly perspective, life and work experiences, and through religious and cultural differences. Diversity and inclusion help make Akamai innovative, unique, a great place to work, and builds a culture that should be reflected in society.
As I reflect on what makes Akamai unique, it is evident that the commonwealth should better engage environmental justice communities to ensure they have the resources to meaningfully participate in state environmental planning. We all have a voice and the right to use it, Massachusetts should take steps to help environmental justice communities exercise this right, so residents of overburdened and underserved communities are heard, especially those in more broadly polluted areas.
Building a more equitable, just, and sustainable economy means not only setting ambitious net-zero emissions goals but also ensuring all state stakeholders and communities are engaged in the planning process. Historically, environmental justice communities have not been included in this planning even though they are most at risk. Including these important environmental justice measures in the final climate bill would ensure all communities have a say in decisions that impact their communities' environment—regardless of economic standing, race, or background—and would help Massachusetts build back a stronger, more equitable, just, and sustainable economy.
This column was provided by our content partner, Ceres.
Mike Mattera is the Director of Corporate Sustainability at Akamai Technologies in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He holds a BS in Project Management, an MS in Construction Management from Wentworth Institute of Technology, a Graduate Certificate in Corporate Sustainability from NYU's Stern School of Management, and a Graduate Certificate in Data Analytics from Cornell University. Mike has been working in the technology field in various capacities for over 15 years, focusing on network infrastructure and design, program management, sustainable building construction, facilities management, and building management system design. He is considered to be a jack-of-all-trades by his peers and accomplished in a long-list of disciplines. At Akamai, Mike is responsible for the company's global sustainability strategic vision. He is committed to developing meaningful, long-term sustainable practice across the Akamai Intelligent Edge platform, infrastructure that supports the world's best and most secure digital experiences across the internet.