Community Perceptions of Procedural and Distributive Justice in Engineered Systems: A Case Study of Community-Engaged Vehicular Electrification


Engineered systems often reproduce injustices via infrastructures that result in harm to the health and economic well-being of historically minoritized groups.1 As examples, ports of many kinds—including seaports, airports, and inland ports—are usually sited by Communities of Color or low-income communities, and they contribute to environmental injustices related to toxic emissions from diesel equipment.2
This case study occurred in a near-port community experiencing numerous health and economic impacts associated with excessive port emissions. For example, one local study found that air pollution levels in the near-port community were associated with increased school absences, and estimated that reducing pollution by 50% would save $426,000 per year in a school district that was already under-resourced.3 This estimate did not account for the economic impacts on working caregivers who took time off to watch children, or who incurred medical costs from pollution-related illnesses themselves. Additionally, excessive exposure to PM2.5 has been repeatedly linked with adverse consequences in children’s brain development.4,5
Given the substantial injustices caused by engineered sociotechnical systems, such as this inland port, the field of engineering educational research must develop better approaches that more fully prepare future engineers to collaborate with communities to address and redress injustices through the realization of new infrastructures that result in equitable and just outcomes, and which are the result of equitable and just decision-making processes.
Accordingly, the purpose of this case study was to highlight ways in which engineers and other stakeholders might foreground procedural justice, or the rights of historically minoritized people to participate actively in decision-making,6 and distributive justice, or the rights of historically minoritized people to benefit from the decisions that are made.7
This study was conducted in the context of a near-port community in which vehicular electrification efforts were occurring. Electric vehicles (EVs) and their associated infrastructures—including charging stations and wirelessly charging roads—may redress environmental injustices near inland ports because they significantly reduce vehicular emissions that harm human health. However, if the sociotechnical infrastructures associated with EVs are not intentionally planned to bring benefits to historically minoritized communities, they run the risk of reproducing interrelated transportation, economic, and environmental injustices. Thus, this study sought to answer the following overarching research question: What factors contribute to, or hinder, procedural and distributive justice relative to electrification for the near-port community? Because most research on electrification has been conducted with a consumerist orientation,8 we sought to expand this research base to better understand how engineers can advocate for community-driven plans for electrification. At the same time, we also sought to develop broader implications for other engineers (including those who work outside of fields associated with vehicular electrification) who seek to actualize sociotechnical systems that fundamentally respect people’s rights.

See publication:
This publication pertains to:
Learning and Engagement
Publication Authors:
  • Amy Wilson-Lopez
  • Ivonne Santiago
  • Emma Mecham
  • Fawn Groves
  • Polly Parkinson
  • Jennifer Ramos-Chavez
It appeared in:
Peer-reviewed conference proceedings
Electric vehicles, equity, environmental justice, procedural justice