To avoid any regret from using dirty oil and blowing exhaust on my neighborhood, or on any pedestrians and bicyclists passing by, I drive electric. Yet, as concerned as I am about the air, I know that electric cars rely on batteries and batteries rely on mined resources. I wonder time and again how much trouble the locals are caused by the mining going on in their regions or even neighborhoods to enable us to drive battery-powered cars. I have wondered about the Congo and reports of child labor and human rights abuses due to the mining there — and am happy Tesla, Volkswagen Group, and others have cut that cobalt out of their supply chains.
I’m not the only one concerned about these topics. Berkeley Law’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE) recently published a report that fills in some gaps for those of us supporting electric cars, other electric vehicles, and EV infrastructure but still worried they aren’t yet sustainable enough.
The full April 2020 report, Building A Sustainable Electric Vehicle Battery Supply Chain: Frequently Asked Questions, filled in some information gaps concisely and answered many of my questions.
One finds development comes at a high human cost all too often. Take the fact that communities in the Amazon Rain Forest are logging the Amazon Rain Forest. Or even just look at issues concerning the locals in Reno who have had all kinds of health and eviction problems due to the development of the Tesla Gigafactory in that part of the country. Rapid growth in Nevada, which fought hard for the privilege of getting the first gigafactory, offered jobs but also came with some significant downsides for locals. What of more foreign lands as demand for certain minerals ramp up?
When can EV buyers demand Fair Trade batteries like we do Fair Trade or Equal Exchange chocolate? This goes beyond whether your EV has vegan leather or not. It speaks to how the laborers producing that vegan leather or battery are treated. It considers those workers’ own well-being and health care.
With the research documented thus far in this report, Berkeley Law shared insight into the effort to build a sustainable electric vehicle battery supply chain.
“To address these questions, CLEE and the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) are conducting an stakeholder-led research initiative focused on identifying strategies to improve sustainability and governance across the EV battery supply chain. CLEE and NRGI convened leaders from across the mining, battery manufacturing, automaker, and governance observer/advocate sectors, to develop policy and industry responses to human rights, governance, environmental, and other risks facing the supply chain.”
Questions answered in the report:
- Are EVs greener than gasoline vehicles?
- Are there enough minerals to build all the batteries the world needs?
- Where do key battery mineral inputs come from?
- How does EV battery production impact human rights, local governance, and economic development in mineral-producing countries?
- How does EV battery production impact the local environment in producing regions?
- Are companies and governments in the EV battery materials supply chain managing sustainability risks?
The full report is here.