Clean Air Hero Wendy James and the birth of EV activism

We are deeply honored to present our next Clean Air Hero Award to Wendy James, the founder and recently retired leader of the Better World Group and a tireless advocate for clean air. Over the course of her career, James has been instrumental in securing a litany of environmental victories for California and has dedicated her time to countless nonprofit boards, including serving for several years as Board Chair of the Coalition for Clean Air.

James’ collaborative approach to her environmental advocacy masterfully brought together people of diverse backgrounds to push for effective policy. “Wendy’s creative coalition approach to helping California’s advocates work collaboratively and support each other’s strengths and complementary resources,” says Better World Group Senior Vice President Ruben Aronin, “were instrumental in building the broad network of environmental, health, consumer, faith, business and labor movements to help support passage of landmark bills…and policies.”

It is difficult to think of a major California climate and clean air feat in the last two decades that doesn’t bear her fingerprints. But her coalition-building work often hid her specific accomplishments from the limelight. “No one will ever know everything she did to make California a leader on environmental issues,” said Coalition for Clean Air President/CEO Joe Lyou. “Many of her most important accomplishments were done behind the scenes and never acknowledged.”

Her impact shaping the early years of the electric vehicle debate was just one such instance. That California’s transition to electric vehicles may feel like a foregone conclusion at this point is no small feat and one that would not have been possible without James.

Jamie Knapp, Principal at J Knapp Communications who has worked closely with Wendy over the past two decades, recalls an early California Air Resources Board (CARB) zero emissions vehicle midterm review hearing in where she and James were fighting for clean cars:

We’d somehow convinced a bunch of early EV drivers…to come testify about their experiences. One guy showed up with his family and had driven up from somewhere in SoCal, over several days. [He] stood in line with his child asleep in his arms to have his 3-minute say about how much he loved his Honda EV Plus, and that CARB needed to continue to push hard on the ZEV mandate. We had a line of about 20 drivers with their cars out front on the street. This event was the birth of EV activism. And Wendy helped make that happen.

James’ leadership as chair of the Coalition for Clean Air Board of Directors in the mid-2000s brought many incredible advocates for clean air onto our coalition. Her service on our board continues to pay dividends in the work we do every day, not to mention the immense benefit from working with James in her role at the Better World Group these last twenty years.

“I am one of the many advocates over the last two decades who have relied on her sound advice and benefitted from her tireless efforts behind the scenes to deliver winning campaigns for our air and atmosphere,” said CCA Policy Director Bill Magavern.

James has been a singular force for clean air and the environment in California. According to Aronin, her work supporting legislative and regulatory victories for clean California air reads like “‘greatest hits’ of climate, clean energy and clean transportation laws and policies…including AB32, SB32, SB100 and countless other ambitious climate and clean energy bills and policies.”

Golden statue of figure with cape standing against backdrop of city

It is difficult to think of a major California climate and clean air feat in the last two decades that doesn’t bear the fingerprints of Clean Air Hero Wendy James.

The number of her environmental accomplishments is surpassed only by the number of people whose lives she has touched along the way.

“As colleagues on some of the state’s leading campaigns for clean cars and climate policy, we would often talk late into the evening hours on important matters – long after most others had gone home,” recalls Knapp. “Wendy has walked the talk her whole life and made a better world for us all.

“The Divine Miss Wendy James is one word: FIERCE,” said Susan Frank, who previously worked with Wendy as President and COO of the Better World Group and now serves as Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at Energy Foundation.

“A fierce advocate for clean air. A fierce champion for women’s rights. A fierce believer in equality. A fierce leader in the climate change movement. A fierce and loyal wife and friend. Her ferocity is only matched by her passion for doing what is right, not just for herself but for everyone she respects and loves. Everyone should have a Wendy James in their life. I am so fortunate she is part of mine.”

James’ impact on California’s environment cannot be overstated. As advocates we have all improved from working with her and as Californians we have all benefitted from her achievements. “While her retirement is well-earned and well-deserved,” said Lyou, “it leaves a huge void in California’s environmental movement.”

Wendy James received the Coalition for Clean Air’s Ralph B. Perry III Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 and is the upcoming recipient of Climate Resolve’s Lifetime Achievement Award at their Coolest in LA Gala on March 13, 2019. The event has sold out.

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