NMR Chats Environmental Justice with Joanne O’Donnell

We sat down with Director Joanne O’Donnell, who heads the environmental justice committee, to chat more about NMR’s environmental justice commitment and plans.

What is environmental justice and how does it relate to NMR’s core values?
There are many different definitions of environmental justice. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines it as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

NMR’s core values align with many tenets of environmental justice, such as seeking to preserve and protect the environment, including critiquing environmentalism where it falls short in doing so. We also seek to promote human welfare, which we believe includes a more equitable distribution of environmental risks and benefits.

How does NMR incorporate environmental justice into our work?
NMR curates an environmental justice tracker with which our staff track developments at the state and federal levels. To do so, we participate in monthly calls hosted by a state or community-based group, review meeting minutes, track legislative progress, and follow relevant news sources to monitor developments.

We’ve been following the progress of groups like the EPA’s Environmental Justice Community Engagement via their publicly available calls, the New York Climate Justice Working Group, and the Massachusetts Environmental Justice Council. We also virtually attended the DOE’S Justice Week 2023 Conference in late October.

Keeping abreast of environmental justice issues and activities allows NMR staff to become better-informed evaluators who are more sensitive to the needs of underserved or disadvantaged communities that our clients may serve. Understanding the unique needs of a given customer base and the environmental justice challenges they may have faced is critical to developing thoughtful proposals, evaluation plans, and samples, and to writing mindful survey instruments and interview guides.

How does our work on environmental justice benefit our clients, industry, and field? How does this work benefit underserved or disadvantaged communities?
From an evaluator’s perspective, being engaged in environmental justice issues requires thinking more deeply about for whom and why energy-efficiency programs are designed. It also involves considering what impacts we measure and how we measure them. Doing so can lead to more effective evaluations that provide more meaningful findings and recommendations to our clients, which can in term lead to more energy-efficiency programs that better serve underserved or disadvantaged communities. This can include communities of low English proficiency, communities of color, rural communities, and more.

What information is available to learn more about environmental justice issues?
There are helpful environmental justice-related tools like the EPA’s EJ Screen, a screening and mapping tool that can combine environmental and demographic indicators in maps and reports. Additionally, EPA’s environmental justice grants, funding, and technical assistance website provides a great deal of information on funding opportunities. A growing number of states now also push initiatives forward by introducing legislation and with support from state-led or community-based working groups, committees, and councils.