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How Christine Knapp Plans on Tackling Sustainability
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How Christine Knapp Plans on Tackling Sustainability

Mayor Jim Kenney officially was inaugurated over at City Hall, coinciding with transition in the Sustainability Office. We called the new Director of Sustainability, Christine Knapp to follow up our exit interview with Katherine Gajewski.

Along with the director transition, another big change is in store: MOS’s name is likely going to change. The Office of Sustainability will be reporting to the Managing Director’s Office (not the Mayor). No announcement of the new title yet.

Most recently, Wildcat alumna Knapp was Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Government Affairs at Philadelphia Water Department. Her sustainability-related resume also includes stints at the Energy Efficient Buildings Hub (now known as the Consortium for Building Energy Innovation), PennFuture and Clean Water Action.

Without further ado, find out what Knapp will focus on during her tenure as Director of Sustainability, how man caves affect energy efficiency and how her nonprofit background will shape her city government role.

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

What are your biggest goals as director of sustainability?

Christine Knapp: Greenworks was an 8 year plan and is “fired” at this point, so we’ll certainly want to update it. We’ll investigate what that’s going to look like, whether it’s in a useful format or if we want to make modifications.

We also want to talk about energy planning. I think energy is one of the greatest untapped issue areas for the city. Because energy prices are so low, it’s difficult to get any traction on renewables but there’s a lot of interest and opportunity. We’ll want to figure out what the energy plan looks like and how it’s integrated into the average person’s daily life.

Climate work will be important. MOS recently released a climate report, and we’ll want to transform it into something useful for city government and the city-at-large. It will continue to be a growing focus – unless we’re so successful we don’t have a need for it. (Laughs.)

Greenworks is officially ‘complete’ with the Nutter administration. Do you foresee creating a part, 2.0 or creating a new plan?

Christine Knapp: I don’t know what direction it will take quite yet. We’ll work with current MOS staff to get their feedback. I don’t foresee something wildly different – after all, it was the city’s sustainability plan. It’s a good opportunity to consider what’s been successful and how to improve from things that haven’t been ideal. But I’m not far enough into it yet to determine if it will be a complete rewrite or modifications.

I will say this: It has been a city government plan, but I would want to make it more accessible. It’s not just something the city government is doing or asking people to do, but more rooted in local institutions.

DO YOU HAVE ANY GOALS FOR LEGISLATION? (I.E. PLASTIC BAGS, ETC.)

Christine Knapp: I think energy efficiency is where Greenworks has the most room to expand.

Legislation is always difficult because there’s a lot we can do on our own plate. Legislation is for when you run out of carrots. I don’t think I’ll prioritize legislation off the bat.

However, it will be interesting: Council’s come up with really good ideas that haven’t been considered yet, like greener tax credits.

there’s a disconnect with the energy efficiency conversation for residents between accessibility, tax credits and education. What do you think is most important aspect to focus on?

Christine Knapp:  I think they’re all important. It’s difficult for any property owner to tie their money up or invest in something that’s invisible; they want to show off their LEED countertops or man cave or whatever. It’s a hard sell for anyone. We have to consider all the barriers that prevent people from making energy-efficient decisions, whether that’s confusion or lack of capacity to take it on.

I worked at the Navy Yard Department (Energy Innovation Cluster) trying to push energy retrofits in the region. We continuously faced the fact that people are spending too much money on energy, but they don’t have the expertise or time to make the better decision. How can we get more resources to help folks do it better? It’s not always about the funding.

What roles can the city, schools and commercial buildings do to improve greenhouse gas emissions? Commercial buildings can make a huge impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Residents can also help lead by example.

What experience from Clean Water Action and Penn Future do you think will be assets in your new role?

Christine Knapp: Coming from the nonprofit background, I had a good experience working on the outside of city government but working closely with City government. We had a successful model with the Nutter administration because we were at the table at Katherine and Mark Allen Hughes originally. We could craft the plans and give our feedback to help Katherine get what she needed.

We want to replicate that model and I’ve built a lot of relationships in that world. I plan on tapping into that to help government not be that ‘big bad guy’ but actually a partner that affects real change.

Sustainability affects so many aspects of city government (water, parks and rec, etc.) How do you see relationships progressing among different departments?

Christine Knapp: We’ll be playing the role as a point guard (working across all the departments). Working with their strengths and helping to fill in the gaps is an incredible aspect of the Sustainability Department. Plus, Michael DiBerardinis is a big sustainability guy at the core, so having him as Managing Director will be extremely helpful in the sustainability department, considering the work we want to accomplish along with resources.

Every time there’s leadership changes, there’s also opportunities for new relationships to be built and to integrate sustainability into their goals.

Thanks for chatting with us, Christine!

Christine Knapp: I’m very excited and look forward to chatting with you more about where things are headed.

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Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake. View all posts by Julie Hancher

1 thought on “How Christine Knapp Plans on Tackling Sustainability

  1. Congrats Christine! Glad to hear you are the new head of MOS. I look forward to working with you and your team.

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