October 11, 2022
Director, OB3I, FEMA
In recent years, governments and businesses have increasingly prioritized developing climate solutions for a sustainable future. At the same time, resilience remains front of mind amid the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters, and economic challenges.
With both of these equally important issues at hand, it is critical for the United States to build resilience into its sustainability efforts. As part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Sustainability & Circular Economy Summit 2022, leaders in the public and private sectors discussed how governments and businesses can work together to build resilient and sustainable economies.
Sustainability and Resilience Are Interconnected
While sustainability and resilience may seem like competing priorities, the two are more connected than one might expect.
“Resilience [is about] minimizing the negative impacts the world has on us: building the adaptive capacity for a community to be able to prepare for, respond to, and recover from shocks and stressors,” said Chris Castro, chief of staff for the Office of State and Community Energy Programs at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). “I often see [resilience and sustainability] as one and the same … [and] we can’t necessarily solve one without the other.”
“A lot of businesses [are] able to monetize the value back to the company long-term when they talk about resilience,” added Cindy Elliott, director of the business industry sector and corporate responsibility lead at Esri. “[They] need to make sure [they] can get [supplies] five years from now so they can continue to be in business through a resilience lens, but it ultimately serves a sustainability purpose.”
Investing in Sustainable Infrastructure Strengthens Communities
As part of its commitment to advancing climate solutions, the U.S. has increased its investment in sustainable infrastructure. This has the added benefit of strengthening communities and local economies.
“Lifestyle infrastructure [refers] to being very intentional about creating shared spaces where communities can come together, [and] the build and the natural environment can come together,” said Prachi Sukhatankar, vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton. “You reduce the traffic pollution, you are localizing supply chains, you are retaining the talent — and it almost starts those virtuous cycles again.”
Over the past year, the public sector has shifted its sustainable infrastructure efforts to work directly within communities. For example, the White House released a Climate Mapping Portal in September 2022 to help community leaders understand present and future climate impacts. Additionally, the DOE’s Office of State and Community Energy Programs, established in January 2022, was created to develop meaningful partnerships with local and state entities.
Advancing Sustainability Requires Multifaceted Support
While the U.S. is making progress toward its sustainability goals, it will take timely and ongoing support from the public and private sectors to make a lasting impact.
“Apart from mobilization within [government], we need the private sector mobilization right now,” explained Sukhatankar. “[We] need innovation ecosystems to remove some barriers to adoptions of newer technologies [...and] that’s a great opportunity for the innovators and entrepreneurs of the world to step up and be part of this movement.”
Castro also noted that while the public and private sectors are vital in creating a sustainable future, communities must also use their voices to speak out on what matters to them.
“It’s about empowering communities to engage and get further involved,” he said. “We all have a really important power to put pressure on governments and businesses to prioritize [sustainability] and to drive the urgency.”