For the November Sustainable Business Series, the Bard MBA in Sustainability partnered with Sustainability Practice Network for a panel discussion titled, New York City’s Road to Resiliency. Moderated by Eban Goodstein, director of the Bard College Graduate Programs in Sustainability, the panelists shared with us measures that the city is taking to increase its resiliency in the face of increasingly strong storms like Super Storm Sandy
The first speaker was Leah Cohen, Deputy Director for Federal Policy at the NYC Mayor’s Office. Working within the Office of Long Term Planning, Cohen played a lead role in quickly developing the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR) after Sandy hit the city. The SIRR addressed three main questions. What happened during Sandy and why? What are the risks to NYC in the face of climate change, and what should we do with the infrastructure of the city? The final SIRR report is 450 pages long and includes 257 initiatives that span every sector. It is evident from the comprehensive nature of the report, along with strong reporting and accountability measures, that the SIRR is a real step forward for increased resiliency for NYC. The SIRR outlines four principles of sustainability:
One of the most important aspects of the SIRR approach is the emphasis on multiple layers of resiliency. Not only do we need to deal with the physical aspects of resiliency, we also need to address social and economic resiliency. According to Cohen, this means focusing on neighborhood enhancements, affordable flood insurance, and economic development.
The second panelist, Adam Friedberg, Senior Sustainability Consultant at ARUP, focused more specifically on the physical aspect of resiliency. According to Friedberg, there is significant evidence that flooding events, heat waves, and wind events will all become more frequent in the coming years. This creates real exposures and vulnerabilities, especially in cities like NYC with aging infrastructure, high density and population, and a lack of preparedness. Friedberg outlined many projects that he has worked on at ARUP to address these vulnerabilities in the face of increased hazards. One of these projects was the Toolkit for Resilient Cities, which consists of recommendations for governments and decision makers such as grid updates that will improve resiliency and ultimately save money.
The last panelist, Courtney Worrall, focused on what resiliency means for the waterfront. Worrall is the Chief Operating Officer at Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance (MWA). According to her, the people of NYC often fail to think of it as a waterfront city, but in fact, NYC has 520 miles of waterfront, 750 miles if you include northern New Jersey. The mission of the MWA is to change this perception while encouraging equitable use of the waterfront. They are focused on creating a waterfront that is both accessible and resilient, which motivates initiatives that encourage both a working and living waterfront.
All three panelists spoke to the need to address resiliency at every level, from the waterfront to physical infrastructure and from businesses to local communities. It was uplifting to see that so much is being done in the wake of Sandy to improve resiliency for similar storms in the future, not only within government, but within NGOs and businesses as well. Thanks to Sustainability Partners Network for partnering with us on this event.
By, Christina Wildt MS/MBA ’16
Posted on 5 December 2013 | 12:32 pm
Bill Thomas admits that back in 2007, he was a climate skeptic. So how, just 6 years later, did he become the Global Head of Sustainability for HSBC? Thomas joined the Sustainable Business Fridays conversation, hosted by the Bard MBA in Sustainability, to talk about this transformation and what HSBC is doing to lead the financial sector in sustainability.
HSBC formed the Climate Partnership with Earthwatch Institute, The Climate Group, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and WWF in 2007. The mission of this $100 million, 5 year project was to create “climate champions” during a two week training retreat. These champions could then go back to their organizations and embed climate consciousness into business practices. Thomas was asked to be part of the first group to go through the training. He says that he decided to do it because it was two weeks away from work without having to take vacation…
“Be careful what you ask for,” he warns.
Thomas became a true climate champion. He says, “I could decide that I wanted to do something, or I could decide to ignore it. I decided to do something.” So he went back to the business and started learning more about sustainability and doing what he could within his department of HSBC. The initiatives were rudimentary at first, but they were a start. It wasn’t long before he changed his career path and took the job as Global Head of Sustainability for HSBC.
Under Thomas, HSBC has done far more than just the 5 year Climate Partnership that trained 2,200 climate champions. They began to realize soon after the Climate Partnership began that no senior managers would leave work for two weeks for the training, so they “trained the troops, but no generals were coming.” To solve this, HSBC created the Sustainability Leadership Program, a four day training workshop that is intended to “train the generals”. Thomas says that in order to change the culture of an organization, you have to train the people with the big budgets and the big influence.
And Thomas is certainly one of those people within HSBC. As part of the Climate Partnership, HSBC commissioned the largest single study of climate change on forests and donated over 8,5000 hours of staff time to the study. He has also led other initiatives, like the new Water Program with a budget of $100 million over 5 years. The goal of this project is to bring fresh water to people in developing countries because, “without water, there is no economy”, says Thomas.
In addition to philanthropic sustainability initiatives, HSBC also embeds sustainability into their lending practices through the Equator Principles. Thomas admits that HSBC is not perfect, for example, they still lend to coal companies, but they are working to improve every company they come in contact with. Overall, it was evident that HSBC is using the power inherent in their size to make a real impact.
Thomas left us with some sobering and inspiring words, demonstrating his realist worldview. “Our economy the way it’s set up today, cannot survive the next hundred years…Just being big like HSBC doesn’t mean you are going to survive. So it’s imperative the we understand what’s going on on the planet and do something about it, and our senior leaders are.”
Click here to listen to a recording of this conversation.
Join us this Friday for the next conversation in the Sustainability Business Fridays series. We will be talking with Amy Hall, the Director of Social Consciousness at Eileen Fisher about sustainability in the fashion industry. Find out how to connect here.
Photo credit: HSBC.com
By, Christina Wildt, MS/MBA ’16Posted on 3 December 2013 | 4:28 pm
This article was originally posted on the Economics for Equity and the Environment Blog on November 12th, 2013 by Eban Goodstein.
Back in 2009, I had the chance to interview two Oregon policy experts about the emergent green economy in that state. The interview is here:
Angus Duncan and Dave Van’t Hoff (starting at minute 3:15) talked to me about the vibrant industry clusters in Oregon that have developed around energy efficiency, solar, biofuels, wind power, sustainable forestry, green building and design. Add in craft beer brewing, light rail, great fair-trade coffee, and urban chicken-raising, and you get—well—the backdrop for a popular, offbeat TV show.
The Portlandia phenomenon aside, it is clear that Oregon has tapped into a powerful virtuous cycle. Forty years of progressive policy has laid the foundation for a highly entrepreneurial culture centered around sustainability. Oregon transitioned from a resource-based economy based on timber to a mecca for talented people in search of a high quality of life, people who took advantage of what the state and city offered, to build a whole suite of new businesses. This business community, in turn, supported a policy environment increasingly supportive of emerging green industry.
This same dynamic is happening, at different scales, across the country. While the old economy—the twentieth century economy—implodes around us, with hollowed out cities and disappeared jobs, a rapidly warming planet, and three more billion people on the way, some folks are responding. They are building new models, crafting new rules, enabling new businesses and new livelihoods, new ways of providing food, entertainment, shelter, energy, transport, clothing.
The Future Economies project is setting out to map this landscape. We will tell the stories of companies and communities as they creatively build a twenty-first century economy. The descriptive metrics that we are developing will enable others to fill in the map with even more stories, so we can all get a better look at the sustainable future that is coming, starting now.
By, Eban Goodstein, Director of the Bard Center for Environmental Policy and MBA in SustainabilityPosted on 18 November 2013 | 1:22 pm