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Energy efficiency as energy justice: addressing racial inequities through investments in people and places


Structural racism in the form of racial residential segregation and the series of laws, policies, and practices that continue to reinforce it have robbed generations of African Americans of socioeconomic opportunity, wealth accumulation, safe, secure or energy-efficient housing, and full societal inclusion. Research indicates that African Americans are more likely to live in older, energy-inefficient homes with structural deficiencies, outdated appliances, and faulty energy systems. These conditions lead to a disproportionate burden of energy insecurity, defined as “the inability to adequately meet household energy needs” among African Americans across the economic spectrum. This, in turn, generates increased costs and decreased comfort, conditions closely linked to adverse physical and mental health outcomes. Persistent income inequality, wealth gaps, and entrenched racial residential segregation have disenfranchised African Americans and reduced their ability to escape this pernicious cycle. Weatherization, which is the practice of protecting a building’s interior from the elements while enhancing its energy efficiency and reducing costs, could be a catalyst for reducing the disproportionate energy burden affecting low-income individuals and ultimately improve health and social outcomes among African Americans. We argue for investing in policies that provide energy efficiency and weatherization assistance—and not only energy bill assistance—to provide a long-term and equitable solution to energy insecurity that is also a critical step toward restorative justice.

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Correspondence to Diana Hernández.

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Diana Hernández is a member of the ACEEE Research Advisory Board. The authors do not have any other conflicts of interest to report.

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Mr. Lewis and Dr. Hernández are co-first authors on this manuscript.

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Lewis, J., Hernández, D. & Geronimus, A.T. Energy efficiency as energy justice: addressing racial inequities through investments in people and places. Energy Efficiency 13, 419–432 (2020).

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  • Energy justice
  • Restorative justice
  • Weatherization
  • Energy efficiency
  • African Americans
  • Energy insecurity
  • Energy burden
  • Racial justice