Continuing Progress Toward a Cleaner, More Equitable Economy

As we look forward into 2017, there is much that we do not know about what will unfold under the new U.S. administration, but here is what we do know: Cities, states, leading businesses and individuals will continue to drive progress toward a greener and more equitable economy.

My parents and ancestors are from Cuba. After the country was taken over by an oppressive political regime, my parents, no longer free or safe in their own country, made the difficult decision to leave. They came to America with nothing, seeking political and religious freedom, and a chance at the American dream. Through hard work, good luck and dedication they were able to provide a better life here for my sister and me. Growing up in America, my parents instilled in me a deep respect and gratitude for the freedom, equality and opportunity here.

I was raised to understand that America, though not perfect, is the greatest country on earth and that it is our responsibility to strive to make it better. Perhaps that’s why I ultimately came to work in a field in which I have the privilege to work every day to support clean energy and sustainable development. I plan to continue that effort despite what may promise to be strong challenges ahead.  

As we look forward into 2017, there is much that we do not know about what will unfold under the new U.S. administration, but here is what we do know: Cities, states, leading businesses and individuals will continue to drive progress toward a greener and more equitable economy.

From 2014 to 2016, to illustrate my point, sustainable investments grew by more than $2 trillion, totaling $8.72 trillion in early 2016. That’s one fifth of all managed investments.


Source: Bloomberg

There’s good reason why these numbers are growing. Studies continue to show that not only is there no tradeoff between responsible investing and financial returns, there is a positive impact as companies that focus on Environmental, Social and Governance metrics (ESG) tend to perform better than those that do not.

So, we understand there are economic fears that people are working harder and not getting ahead, fears that American jobs are moving overseas, and frustration that the economic recovery has been too slow and has not benefited everyone equally. We all want to see a future in which our children are better off than their parents were. The only question is how we get there.

At NRDC’s Center for Market Innovation we have an ambitious goal to transform economic markets to fund and support projects that grow our economy and help avoid irreversible climate disaster at the same time.  Our vision is for a new economic structure in which people—particularly those in communities that have historically suffered the most—the planet and profits are truly aligned.

We are helped by the fact that the cost of clean energy continues to drop, while its growth continues to expand. Increasingly businesses are going big on clean energy, with a growing number having already committed to bold climate action. Fortune 500 companies, including Walmart, Johnson & Johnson, NIKE, Inc., Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Salesforce, Starbucks and Steelcase have all pledged to source 100% of their electricity from renewable energy. Some, including Kohl’s, Intel, Microsoft, Apple and many others are already running their businesses successfully on 100% renewable energy. In addition, just last month 365 companies urged the U.S. to continue its support of the Paris Climate Agreement. 

And, it’s not just on clean energy and environmental sustainability where cities and progressive companies are showing real leadership. Effective leaders know that diversity and inclusiveness drive success.

For example, on Nov. 9, Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote an email to U.S. employees affirming that the “company is open to all, and we celebrate the diversity of our team here in the United States and around the world—regardless of what they look like, where they come from, how they worship or who they love.”  Also in November, UPS CEO David Abney affirmed, “We cannot reap the benefits of a diverse workforce without doing everything in our power to ensure all people have the opportunity to reach their potential.” These statements join those of states, cities, conservation organizations and many others.

There is much more work for corporations, cities and all of us to do to ensure an equitable and sustainable future and the issues we face are great. The power of American innovation, perseverance and integrity, however, is greater. To overcome the climate and environmental challenges of our time and ensure a more equitable and inclusive society, we need to support local strategies and progressive businesses to drive more effective implementation of solutions from which all Americans can benefit. 

My work at CMI focuses on that task by building partnerships to identify ways to implement and support market-based financing in energy efficiency, affordable housing, clean energy, water infrastructure, better food and integrated urban infrastructure. This work is about helping people live healthier lives by making it easier to invest in clean energy and other solutions that save money, improve quality of life and create durable economic opportunities. As part of a collaborative initiative that strives to connect the dots between affordable housing and energy efficiency, we work to drive down energy waste, save money and reduce carbon emissions. Working in partnership with diverse state coalitions including environmental, affordable housing, consumer rights, and environmental justice organizations we have helped increase access to energy efficiency and clean energy for low-income neighborhoods throughout the country.

As I look to the future and think about the direction of my work within the environmental community, now more than ever our job is to build on the strength of these interconnections. It is a job CMI sees as fundamental to meeting the goals to clean our air and water and create a world in which all people and communities can succeed and thrive. Through perseverance, innovation and partnerships we will continue to move forward toward a brighter future.

This is the first in a series of reflections and analyses by the NRDC Urban Solutions team on our commitment to climate action in cities and neighborhoods in the face of systemic inequality.

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