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Our Climate Journey with Pallav Prakash

“To me, sustainability is doing the best we can for the next generation: because if our children have healthy bodies today, they’ll have healthy minds tomorrow, and it’s those minds that will ultimately solve climate change.”

Dr. Pallav Prakash
Program Manager, Electric Vehicle Transition, Zum

Dr. Pallav Prakash is a Program Manager at Zum, where he leads the company’s electric vehicle transition. In the role, he is responsible for electrifying Zum’s bus yards and converting its 1,600+ bus fleet from internal combustion (ICE) vehicles to EVs. Prakash serves as a judge for Stanford University’s Value Creation for the Real Economy course, and mentors students at the University of California, Berkeley. He holds a doctorate in Innovation and Strategy from Westcliff University, earned his MBA at Johns Hopkins University, and completed his undergraduate study at the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow.

1. Sustainability

At Zum, we’re revolutionizing student transportation in order to build a green, sustainable future. What does sustainability mean to you?

Sustainability is a responsibility: to ourselves, but more importantly to our children. Today, we do many things that harm our planet—planting monocrops, burning fossil fuels, consuming single-use plastic—and it’s our children that are going to inherit those harms, and who will have to deal with them. To me, sustainability is doing the best we can for the next generation: because if our children have healthy bodies today, they’ll have healthy minds tomorrow, and it’s those minds that will ultimately solve climate change.

We are all responsible for small, incremental changes that will help both the planet and the next generation. In fact, this was the focus of my doctoral thesis, which focused on innovation and go-to-market strategies: if you make incremental changes to your product or business, always keeping in mind the needs of your consumer, you’ll adapt faster, iterate faster, and succeed faster.

At Zum, that customer is students, and our service is student transportation. We’re making large changes—electric buses for safer, more environmentally-friendly transit; buses equipped for vehicle-to-grid charging to benefit power grids and communities—that in aggregate will have an even larger positive impact. These changes, done in service of the next generation—that’s what sustainability is to me.

2. Climate Change

Climate change is the single greatest threat to our way of life, but it can sometimes feel abstract, far away, a problem for another time. How has climate change affected you personally?

I’m from India, and have spent significant portions of my life in New Delhi and Mumbai. Delhi now has some of the worst air quality in the world. I remember having difficulty breathing there; it’s the same for my children. The toxic particles, the insanely high AQIs—that’s the unfortunate truth about my home country that I’d rather not think about.

I thought I’d get away from that living in the United States, but with wildfires in California, and high AQIs in the Bay Area, we’re beginning to experience similar things. It’s one thing for me to deal with that, but I can’t stand the idea of my kids, and the kids of others, having to breathe that kind of air. That’s what climate change does—and we all need to do better. We can’t have the children of today be the patients of tomorrow.

3. Leadership

What can Zum do to be a leader in sustainability, to spearhead the charge in the fight against climate change?

In my opinion, Zum is at the forefront of the fight against climate change. By shifting to electrified student transportation, and deploying vehicle-to-grid (V2G) charging at our bus yards, we’ll provide safer, healthier rides to students, minimize our impact on the planet, and help cities nationwide decarbonize.

Still, we have many hurdles to cross. First, the manufacturers from whom we buy our EV buses face severe supply chain issues, which makes it difficult for us to get the buses we want, when we want them. If not for these supply chain problems, we would have begun electrifying our fleet years ago. And second, our transmission grids are so outdated. They’re not equipped to handle all of the new clean power projects that need to come online, and this causes significant delays in Zum’s ability to connect our bus yards to the grid and begin offering electrified student transportation. So companies like Zum need to communicate, and continue to call for streamlined supply chains and upgrades to our grid. That’s why I’m speaking up now—because collectively we can have a louder voice, and be part of the electrification conversation.