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5 reasons Houston should prioritize electric vehicle adoption in 2024

Here's a closer look at why Houston should be pushing for a more rapid transition to EVs. Photo via Getty Images

As urban populations increase and more vehicles hit the roads across the United States, the quality of the air is compromised, directly impacting health, environment, and quality of life ― especially for children, minorities, and other vulnerable populations. A 2023 study by Site Selection Group placed Houston at the vanguard of this trend, projecting the metro area to grow nearly 10 percent by 2028, eclipsing 8 million residents.

According to Evolve Houston, a nonprofit working to accelerate EV adoption by bringing together local public and private organizations, residents, and government, the transportation sector emits 47 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the Houston area.

In this context, electric vehicles offer a practical solution to mitigate the challenges posed by tailpipe emissions. Their adoption in urban settings has the potential to significantly improve air quality and enhance public health. It’s no wonder the upcoming Houston Auto Show will feature a dedicated EV Pavilion.

Here's a closer look at why Houston should be pushing for a more rapid transition to EVs:

  1. Children’s development is at stake: Early childhood is a critical period for brain development. However, toxic air pollutants can significantly inhibit this growth during these formative years. The consequences include impairing children’s cognitive capabilities in reading and math, akin to missing an entire month of elementary school.
  2. EVs counteract historical racial inequalities: Beyond being an environmental challenge, air pollution is a glaring racial and social justice issue. Areas with fewer White residents suffer almost triple the nitrogen dioxide levels compared to predominantly White zones, as highlighted by the National Academy of Sciences. Historically marginalized communities, often near major traffic corridors, endure heightened pollution exposure. Transitioning to EVs can help address these deeply ingrained environmental inequities.
  3. The health benefits are monumental: A brighter future awaits if EVs become mainstream. According to the American Lung Association, if all new vehicles sold by 2035 are zero-emission, the U.S. could see up to 89,300 fewer premature deaths by 2050. Additionally, asthma attacks might decline by 2 million, saving 10.7 million workdays and resulting in an incredible $978 billion in public health savings.
  4. Global success stories prove the benefits: The impact of mass EV adoption has already been demonstrated outside the U.S. For instance, Norway has seen a notable reduction in dangerous particle emissions since 87 percent of its new car sales are now fully electric. Likewise, California’s adoption of electric vehicles correlated with a 3.2% decrease in asthma-related ER visits between 2013 and 2019.
  5. Cities have the power and means to lead the way: Many global cities are trailblazers in the electric transition. New York City, with more than 4,000 government-owned EVs, is a prime example. Moreover, by electrifying their take-home fleets, cities can set a precedent for their communities. Seeing neighbors drive electric vehicles daily serves as a powerful endorsement, motivating nearby residents to make the switch. Incentives like public charging stations, free parking for EVs, rebates for home charger installations, reimbursing for charging at home, and reduced tolls, further bolster this movement.

Houstonians stand at a pivotal juncture. The choices made today concerning transportation will profoundly influence the health and well-being of residents tomorrow. The shift to electric vehicles is more than just an eco-friendly choice; it's a commitment to a brighter, cleaner future. By leading with action and vision, cities can create a legacy that upcoming generations will appreciate and thrive in.

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Kate L. Harrison is the co-founder and head of marketing at MoveEV, an AI-backed EV transition company that helps organizations convert fleet and employee-owned gas vehicles to electric, and reimburse for charging at home.

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A View From HETI

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want. Photo courtesy of Boxes

With the help of a new conversational artificial intelligence platform, a Houston startup is ready to let brands get up close and personal with consumers while minimizing waste.

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want.

The Boxes device, about the size of a 40-inch television screen, dispenses products to consumers in a modern and sustainable spin on the old-fashioned large vending machine.

CEO Fernando Machin Gojdycz learned that business from his entrepreneur father, Carlos Daniel Machin, while growing up in Uruguay.

“That’s where my passion comes from — him,” Gojdycz says of his father. In 2016, Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay with some engineer friends

Funded by a $2,000 grant from the University of Uruguay, the company's mission was “to democratize and economize affordable and sustainable shopping,” in part by eliminating wasteful single-use plastic packaging.

“I worked for one year from my bedroom,” he tells InnovationMap.

Fernando Machin Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay before relocating the company to Greentown Houston. Photo courtesy of Boxes

The device, attached to a wall, offers free samples, or purchased products, in areas of high foot traffic, with a touch-screen interface. Powered by watsonx Assistant, the device asks survey questions of the customer, who can answer or not, on their mobile devices, via a QR code.

In return for completing a survey, customers can get a digital coupon, potentially generating future sales. The software and AI tech tracks sales and consumer preferences, giving valuable real-time market insight.

“This is very powerful,” he says.

Boxes partnered in Uruguay with major consumer brands like Kimberly-Clark, SC Johnson and Unilever, and during COVID, pivoted and offered PPE products. Then, with plans of an expansion into the United States, Boxes in 2021 landed its first U.S. backer, with $120,000 in funding from startup accelerator Techstars.

This led to a partnership with the Minnesota Twins, where Boxes devices at Target Field dispensed brand merchandise like keychains and bottles of field dirt.

Gojdycz says while a company in the Northeast is developing a product similar in size, Boxes is not “targeting traditional spaces.” Its software and integration with AI allows Boxes to seamlessly change the device screen and interface, remotely, as well.

Boxes aims to provide the devices in smaller spaces, like restrooms, where they have a device at the company's headquarters at climate tech incubator Greentown Labs. Boxes also recently added a device at Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters in Spring, as part of HPE’s diversity startup program.

Boxes hopes to launch another sustainable innovation later this year, in universities and supermarkets. The company is also developing a device that would offer refillable detergent and personal cleaning products like shampoo and conditioner with a reusable container.

Since plastic packaging accounts for 40 percent of retail price, consumers would pay far less, making a huge difference, particularly for lower-income families, he says.

“We are working to make things happen, because we have tried to pitch this idea,” he says.

Some supermarket retailers worry they may lose money or market share, and that shoppers may forget to bring the refill bottles with them to the store, for example.

“It’s about..the U.S. customer,” he says, “….but we think that sooner or later, it will come.”

Boxes has gotten funding from the accelerator startup branch of Houston-based software company Softeq, as well as Mission Driven Finance, Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund, and Right Side Capital, among others.

“Our primary challenges are scaling effectively with a small, yet compact team and maintaining control over our financial runway,” Gojdycz says.

The company has seven employees, including two on its management team.

Gojdycz says they are actively hiring, particularly in software and hardware engineering, but also in business development.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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