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