In a recent webinar produced by the Sustainable City Network, City of Austin Chief Sustainability Officer Lucia Athens answered the following questions about creating a cross-departmental culture for sustainability in Austin. These are reprinted with the permission of Sustainable City Network.
Presented 9/4/14 by Lucia Athens, Chief Sustainability Officer
Produced by Sustainable City Network
Sponsored by Crescent Electric Supply Co.
On Leadership and a Common Goal for Sustainability in the City of Austin
Q: How do you get the community’s and City Council's buy-in to support all of these sustainable efforts?
A: Austin’s Mayor, City Council, and City Manager have all been huge supporters and leaders in sustainability. Austin has a very informed and vocal citizenry as well as many NGOs who are champions and watchdogs for sustainability-related topics such as water quality, air quality, habitat protection, renewables, animal rights, and more.
Q: How does the department of sustainability cross-coordinate with other City departments without stepping on their toes? Any suggestions on how to do that collaboration effectively/efficiently?
A: The Office of Sustainability and Chief Sustainability Officer were placed within the City Manager’s Office in order to enable effective sustainability leadership across 40+ departments. The clear and direct reporting line to the City Manager was key to getting the Office going, as well as achieving buy-in and support for the new Office from other City Departments. Office of Sustainability staff members have established good working relationships with key departmental staff involved in existing sustainability projects. Our team is often sought out for technical advice on particular initiatives or to support major campaigns within other departments.
Q: Describe the inter-departmental efforts to evaluate and implement these programs. Who chairs the meetings, how are decisions made, and how are reluctant department heads persuaded to participate?
A: The responsibility for successfully implementing many sustainability programs city-wide does not always originate in the Office of Sustainability, but instead resides in specific departments with the appropriate subject matter experts. However, on larger cross-departmental initiatives, our Office is tasked with breaking through Department “silos” and bringing those groups together to ensure that each initiative is complementary, to get these groups to see beyond their immediate program, and that everyone is aimed toward a common goal. To do this effectively, my staff and I have devoted significant efforts toward building relationships with internal stakeholders to be able to bring people together to work across departments on sustainability initiatives. Some of our key accomplishments include:
- Launch of the Sustainability Action Agenda, a comprehensive inventory of activities across multiple departments
- Achieved Climate Registered Status from the Climate Registry after having the City’s carbon footprint third-party verified
- Identified key sustainability planning criteria for Capital Improvement Projects and Bond Development
- Achieved 100% renewable energy for all City operations in 2011
- Created the Carbon Neutral Fleet Plan to achieve carbon neutrality through hybrid vehicle purchases, alternative fuels, driver behaviors, and the purchase of carbon offset
- Created a comprehensive scorecard for the City’s operational sustainability
The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) recently awarded two regional infrastructure projects separate levels of distinction within the Envision rating system. The Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) of North Central Texas earned the Envision™ sustainable infrastructure rating system’s Silver award for their Line J, Section 1 Pipeline project. The Sun Valley Watershed Multi-Benefit Project in Los Angeles County, CA, has earned the system’s Platinum award which is the highest level attainable in the Envision system.
The Tarrant pipeline was designed by Freese and Nichols, Inc., a charter member of ISI. ISI President and CEO, William Bertera, presented the award to the Tarrant Regional Water District on September 23, 2014. The Envision Silver award-winning project is a two mile, 108-inch diameter pipeline delivering water from the Kennedale Balancing Reservoir directly to the Arlington Outlet, dedicating a significant amount of water demand from the existing pipelines, and allowing the District to meet future demands at the Rolling Hills Water Treatment line, and locations further west.
The Sun Valley Watershed Project manages storm water for the Sun Valley Watershed in Los Angeles County. It provides flood protection, improves watershed health, increases open space and recreational opportunities, and improves wildlife habitat. The project received 67% of the Department’s applicable Envision credits; the most any project has received to date from the Envision infrastructure rating system. It consists of several completed components including Tuxford Green, Sun Valley Park Drain and Infiltration System, Elmer Avenue Neighborhood Retrofit, and the Elmer Avenue Paseo. Other components include the Rory M. Shaw Wetlands Park and the Sun Valley Watershed Upper Storm Drain System and Recycled Water Line, which are in the final design stage. The Valley Steam Plant and the Whitnall Powerline Easement components are in the conceptual design stage.
How Will Eleven US Cities Receive Two Years of Salary for a CRO for Free? Learn About Opportunities for Your City in the Next Round of Applicants!
There’s a new person in town and it’s the Chief Resilience Officer (CRO). Who are they? According to the Rockefeller Foundations 100 Resilient Cities program, they’re a great communicator, project manager, and someone who cuts across multiple disciplines. Here’s how the 100 Resilient Cities project defines the CRO:
“A Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) is a top-level advisor that reports directly to the city mayor. Their task is to establish a compelling resilience vision for his or her city, working across departments and with the local community to maximize innovation and minimize the impact of unforeseen events.” Read more about the CRO and the skillset desired in a CRO here: http://www.100resilientcities.org/blog/entry/what-is-a-chief-resilience-officer
Several of the eleven US cities, including Boulder, CO, that were chosen to participate in the 100 Resilient Cities program have already hired their CRO. The CRO’s salary for the first two years is provided by the Rockefeller Foundation. To read more about Boulder’s new Chief Resilience Officer
10 other US Cities were chosen as part of the inaugural group of cities to participate in the 100 Resilient Cities program. More cities are to be chosen in 2014. The deadline to apply is September 10, 2014
Your city can apply for the next round of eligible cities at: http://www.100resilientcities.org/pages/100-resilient-cities-challenge
100 Resilient Cities Challenge Incentives
“The Finalists identified during the 2014 100 Resilient Cities Challenge will be eligible to receive:
- Funding in the form of a grant to hire a Chief Resilience Officer;
- Technical support to develop a holistic resilience strategy that reflects each city’s distinct needs;
- Access to an innovative platform of services to support strategy development and implementation. Platform partners come from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors, and will offer tools in areas such as innovative finance, technology, infrastructure, land use, and community and social resilience;
- Membership in the 100 Resilient Cities network to share knowledge and practices with other member cities.
The actual form and amount of awards will be determined at the discretion of 100 Resilient Cities.”
Source: 100 Resilient Cities – Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation
Compiled by Gail Ann Clark, Center for Sustainability Staff