Innovation through collaboration in the fight against climate change
Andrea Pinabell, President, Southface
Within the reality of climate change, major themes emerge: changes to our global community health; changes in our food, water and energy systems; changes in the global economy and supply chain – the list goes on. While all of these changes do not affect everyone all of the time, as a global community, we must care about the current state of the planet because it is vital to our existence, our ability to thrive as a nation and as a species. Apart from the necessary and concrete resources that Earth provides such as shelter, food and water, it also gifts us with art, beauty and spirituality through natural wonders and landscapes. Environmental sustainability advocates have been working across sectors for years to help mitigate climate change and find adaptation strategies, but now is the time, more than ever, to come together with swift and innovative solutions to reversing the harmful human impacts to the planet.
The first six months of 2017 have brought a flood of changes to U.S. environmental policy. Policies that were in place to limit pollution, bolster research and reduce climate change impacts are being rolled back, including the U.S. decision to back out of the Paris Accords. And while the current Administration is reversing and defunding programs that benefit the environment, the good news is that people are not giving up the fight against climate change. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. Local and regional governments, business and nonprofits are coming together in new and innovative ways to address the issue. Through collaboration, these entities are creating purpose-driven outcomes and brainstorming advanced solutions to better our world.
In the wake of this Administration’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, nontraditional allies across the United States stand ready to honor the goals outlined within the Agreement both in passive and active ways. Examples include signing onto www.wearestillin.com, multiple corporate Fortune 500 companies including Google, Apple, Exxon, GE, Microsoft, and others called the White House to encourage the President to stay in the Paris Accords and even walked away from Administrative posts and committees due to the Administration’s lack of concern about the effects of climate change. Ongoing allegiances that will influence a resilient future include:
- The Rainforest Alliance and UTZ will be merging this year to tackle deforestation and unsustainable farming. Another food company, United Natural Foods, goes beyond sustainable farming practices to combat climate change by constructing LEED buildings, installing solar arrays and incorporating waste management and fleet efficiency into its sustainability efforts.
- Many philanthropic leaders have refocused their efforts on cities, including Michael Bloomberg, who just launched a $200 million philanthropic program aimed at providing cities with funding for inventive policies and programming aimed at giving mayors a stronger hand in national politics.
- Members of the Atlanta Chapter of the Truman National Security Project approached Southface recently to partner on a film screening of The Age of Consequences. The documentary examines impacts of climate change on increased resource scarcity, migration and conflict through the lens of U.S. national security and global stability as told by former members of the U.S. military and defense strategists. While unnerving, the film’s assessment is by no means reason for fatalism – but instead a call to action to rethink how we use and produce energy. With support from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, Southface was able to convene a national panel of experts for a group discussion following the screening.
- Earlier this year, UPS joined the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge (ABBC), a challenge to reduce energy and water usage by 20 percent by 2020. The company is committed to reducing energy and water usage in more than one million square feet of commercial building space. ABBC is a collaboration between Central Atlanta Progress, Midtown Alliance, Livable Buckhead, Southface, the City of Atlanta and other industry partners.
- The Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC) is an initiative through Enterprise Community Partners, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Low Income Investment Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, with funding from the Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The California Endowment. The challenge will ensure that new investments made across six regions in the U.S. create communities where everyone can thrive through sustainable housing, infrastructure and transit. Southface is a proud member of the TransFormation Alliance (TFA), a coalition of advocates for equitable transit-oriented development and recent awardee of the SPARCC grant. In addition to leading the TFA policy committee, Southface has been selected to represent Atlanta and the TransFormation Alliance as the SPARCC Climate Champion.
These examples are just a few of the many I have seen not only in our backyard here in Atlanta but across our network of partners, friends and the industry. I am so encouraged by the perseverance and leadership across organizations to look for new and innovative ways to move the needle on combating climate change. As much as the federal landscape has changed in the last six months, one thing has not – that is the commitment by this organization to drive value creation through innovation. My first six months at the helm of Southface have been busy and focused. As the Southface staff, board and I look toward the future in the fight against climate change, we stand behind our vision statement: a regenerative economy, responsible resource use and social equity through a healthy built environment for all.