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An Interview With Philadelphia's Director of the Office of Sustainability (Christine Knapp)

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An Interview With Christine Knapp, Philadelphia's Director of the Office of Sustainability

In order to fight the climate crisis, we need leaders to guide us in the right direction. I had the honor of corresponding with one of those leaders: Christine Knapp. Christine Knapp is the Director of the Office of Sustainability in the city of Philadelphia. She's accomplished and has worked hard to make change in Philly, and her work will cause a ripple effect to better the entire planet. I asked Christine to answer a few questions about her career and experience, and she was kind enough to answer them.

What do you do as Philadelphia’s Director of the Office of Sustainability? 

I help to advance policies and programs that help to reduce the causes of climate change and protect residents from the negative impacts of climate change. I work across City government with other agencies and with external partners to coordinate and implement these changes. 


What projects are you working on, and what is your proudest achievement?

We are part of the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge, a program providing technical assistance to cities to reduce carbon emissions from the buildings and transportation sectors. Among the projects within this challenge, we got legislation passed to create a Building Energy Performance program, we're working to create a business diversification study for PGW, and we're creating a municipal clean fleet plan. I think I'm most proud of the Beat the Heat Hunting Park project which is working with a heat vulnerable neighborhood to identify ways to help residents cope with high heat events and to cool the neighborhood. 


Would you consider your job similar to a Chief Sustainability Officer of a corporation? Do you meet the criteria to be a company’s Chief Sustainability Officer?

I think there is a lot of overlap in these two roles. I've never worked in the for-profit sector, but from what I know I would believe that a corporate CSO would focus a lot more on supply chain and procurement issues than I or other government sustainability directors do. 


What qualifications are required to hold your position?

There's a wide variety of skill sets that people in my office or in other offices around the country have. Some of these skills include policy crafting, program management, communications, change management, and equity knowledge and commitment. 


What values were instilled in you that led to your decision to pursue your career path?

From a young age I saw that people can have an impact when they get involved in the political system- whether that is voting, doing community organizing, lobbying, or serving in government. I was always interested in being a part of the system to identify problems and implement solutions. 


How can we make environmental sustainability non-partisan, and have you cooperated with people with diverse political views?

This is a good question and a hard one to answer. When I used to work for a non-profit advocacy organization there were a number of moderate Republicans in the Philly suburbs who were great environmental champions. But as the Tea Party and more conservative movement came about in the last decade many of them were replaced by more anti-environmental candidates, or retired, some in part due to the divisive nature of politics. 

I've seen progress where environmental issues are proven out to have other co-benefits- such as job creation and cost savings. I think that sometimes we need to have other messengers- like business leaders- to get the ears of those who would not listen to the environmental community. 


What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a leader in sustainability like you are?

You can start now! There are many youth-led movements that are making a real change. See page 15 of the Greenworks Review about some of the ways we've seen young people get involved and make a difference

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