Written by Annelise Jolley
With world-famous beaches, mountains, and year-round blue skies, San Diego’s climate seems idyllic—that is, until you read the American Lung Association “State of the Air” report. It turns out the city doesn’t score too well, snagging an “F” grade for number of high particle pollution days and high ozone days. This year San Diego also earned a spot on the list of the top ten dirtiest cities for ozone pollution, pulling up in seventh place behind the Modesto-Merced region in the San Joaquin Valley.
American Lung Association - The Air We Share
The American Lung Association in California – San Diego wants to change that. Now in its second century, the Lung Association is a household name. The organization, which saves lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, is famous for its fight against smoking. “Most people think of [the Lung Association] as eliminating tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases, but it’s so much more than that,” says Rita Redaelli, executive director of the San Diego office.
While smoking is on the decline, air pollution is worsening in some areas. In response to San Diego’s poor air quality, the American Lung Association in California is taking their advocacy efforts to the streets—literally. In November 2016, the organization launched the “Air We Share” campaign, which promotes research and advocacy around cleaner air. Under this umbrella is the “Plug Into Clean Air” campaign. Plug Into Clean Air educates San Diegans about the benefits of electric vehicles and urges drivers to replace their gas vehicles with electric ones.
Reducing pollution by reducing the number of gas vehicles on the road is key to improving lung health for all of the city’s residents, but especially vulnerable populations, says Advocacy Director Debra Kelley. Air pollution impacts the young, the elderly, and people with chronic conditions—lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes—first. Research also shows that air pollution impacts the brain, increasing the risk of autism and Alzheimer’s.
“For the American Lung Association, cleaner air means healthier lungs,” Redaelli says. And electric vehicles mean cleaner air. Thanks to ongoing support from SDG&E, the Plug Into Clean Air campaign is accelerating San Diegan’s adoption of zero emission vehicles while reducing particulate matter from vehicle tailpipes — a leading cause of asthma and other lung problems. Because 90 percent of smog-forming emissions come from vehicles in San Diego County, putting clean vehicles on the road improves air quality for everyone.
For many San Diego residents, there’s not an obvious connection between driving an electric vehicle and healthy lungs. “We are definitely encountering a lot of misunderstanding or lack of understanding among the public about electric vehicles in many different ways, so [Plug Into Clean Air] has been our starting point,” says Debra Kelley. Through the campaign, the Lung Association hopes to increase the number of zero emission vehicles on San Diego’s roads to 150,000 by 2025. The campaign is also designed to cut San Diego’s number of “unhealthy ozone days” each year — currently 31 days and climbing.
Through advocacy, education, and research, the American Lung Association in California helps San Diegans make the connection between electric vehicles and good lung health. The organization has incorporated Plug Into Clean Air at its many local events, including the popular LUNG FORCE Walks. Event attendees can sit in electric vehicles, play educational games, and learn about rebates and other cost-saving opportunities. “Plug Into Clean Air has become a fixture in our signature events, and it’s become very popular,” says Redaelli.

The campaign owes its success to the community’s participation, including corporate partners. “Air We Share is a way for us to involve partners like SDG&E, companies who are working to advance clean air initiatives,” Redaelli says. “SDG&E is a leader among utility companies in promoting clean air solutions. It’s been tremendous to partner with such a forward-thinking company.”
Though the campaign is only a year old, Air We Share is already yielding exciting results, including an uptick in electric vehicle charging stations around the city. Plug Into Clean Air encourages commercial and residential charging infrastructure in San Diego County by educating property managers and multi-unit housing owners about electric vehicle benefits. “We’re seeing more and more that developers are making charging stations a best practice,” says Redaelli.
While cost-saving rebates, research, and policy changes are important steps toward a more electric vehicle-friendly San Diego, drivers won’t switch cars unless they know charging stations are accessible in their own neighborhoods. Plug Into Clean Air works with developers to install stations throughout the county, especially in low-income neighborhoods. “The more you see charging stations, the more it becomes reasonable that you can do it, too,” says Redaelli. The American Lung Association in California hopes Plug Into Clean Air will show San Diego that driving electric isn’t just good for the air — it’s also a possibility for every resident.