UVA’s Environmental Institute to Fund Study of Data Justice and Climate Resilience in Auto Industry

January 17, 2024
Jess Reia of the School of Data Science
Jess Reia, an assistant professor of data science, is co-leading the project,

The University of Virginia’s School of Data Science is pleased to announce that UVA’s Environmental Institute will fund a project co-led by Jess Reia, an assistant professor of data science, examining the environmental and governance challenges surrounding the incorporation of big data systems into automobiles.  

Reia will collaborate with MC Forelle, an assistant professor with the University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, on the study.  

Governments across the globe, including in the United States, have urged automobile makers to increasingly focus on producing electric vehicles to mitigate the industry’s negative environmental impact.  

This shift, however, has raised questions around the datafication of vehicles — specifically, privacy and security concerns stemming from the collection and processing of data on driver behavior, engine conditions, and other factors. Additionally, civil society groups have noted that the resources required to build the technologies behind these vehicles could offset some of the environmental benefits they were created to provide.  

Against this backdrop, Reia and Forelle will explore these critical questions: 1) How is the automotive industry considering environmental and climate resilience issues when developing and incorporating data systems into electric vehicles? and 2) How is the U.S. government addressing the development of data governance policies for automotive technologies, and where does the United States currently stand globally in this area?

As a result of the $115,695 funding support from the Environmental Institute, over the course of the project Reia and Forelle will produce scholarly papers, white papers with policy recommendations, outreach articles, as well as convene an interdisciplinary workshop at UVA to highlight their findings.

The award is part of the Environmental Institute’s CoLab program, which promotes novel interdisciplinary research collaborations on climate change across the UVA community.  

In a letter announcing the funding, Karen McGlathery, the institute’s director, said, “This project offers an important step toward understanding the interrelationships between data democratization and environmental performance.”

Reia joined the School of Data Science in 2021. Their research focuses on data justice, urban governance, and transnational technology policy.  


Senior Writer & Editor