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Exit Interview: Katherine Gajewski on Success, Regrets & Paris Climate Talks
Philly

Exit Interview: Katherine Gajewski on Success, Regrets & Paris Climate Talks

It’s official: Mayor-elect Jim Kenney has officially named Christine Knapp the new Director of Sustainability.

Christine will be taking the reigns from current Director of Sustainability Katherine Gajewski. No stranger to the blog, we wanted to hear more from Katherine to reflect on her time in office. We chatted with her about her ups and downs in office, the recent Paris Climate Talks and what she’d recommend to both her successor and constituents.

How are you feeling about your time in the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability?

Katherine Gajewski: I’m obviously in a reflective mode as I think back and plan forward. As we’ve been looking at what we hoped to accomplish during this administration, I feel really good and think we put a strong foundation in place.

There’s such a strong network of stakeholders and leaders both inside of government and outside. I feel really encouraged that Philadelphia has not only positioned themselves as a leader in integrated sustainability planning but is really well positioned to catapult forward to make some big moves.

There are a million areas where I wish I could have gotten something done, but overall, this was a great team effort. I’m really pleased that things are in such good shape going into the transition.

If you could change one thing about your time under Mayor Nutter, what would it be?

Katherine Gajewski: I think a challenge that hit us both in terms of work we wanted to do within city government’s footprint (as well as citywide) was to deploy energy efficiency at a much greater scale. Although we got to do some really effective phase one work with federal recovery dollars rewarded, the scale and need is so much bigger than what there’s funding and currently demand for. A lot of that rests with the fact that energy prices are such a low, the demand is low and the payback isn’t compelling.

That’s an area where we saw a lot of need and the impacts environmentally and beyond were huge. But we weren’t able to move the dial as aggressively as we wanted to because the market conditions aren’t there yet.

What accomplishments are you most proud of from your time at the Office of Sustainability?

Katherine Gajewski: We wanted to make sure that this wasn’t an initiative that was tied just to Mayor Nutter – as his thing, and then go into the wayside to the next administration. We see that time and time again in cities across the country, where one mayor will be big into sustainability and climate, and his/her successor feels that they need to make their mark elsewhere and doesn’t take up sustainability.

My top line goal was always to build a baseline of support to ensure this was living beyond one mayor. Any number of champions or leaders moving forward could take this on and make it their own. I think we were really successful and there is going to be continuity in this work.

What are the biggest sustainability goals do you think Christine Knapp should focus on for the next mayoral term?

Katherine Gajewski: I think that a lot of the low hanging fruit has been picked, which means there’s a strong foundation – in terms of data, knowledge & support to build from. I think the challenge going forward is going to be focusing on the outcomes you want to achieve and the scale you want to be driving.

Some of the programs that might feel good may not be getting us to (for example) energy or carbon reductions. The world we’re living in now is one where we’re really looking to focus more on transitioning to a low-carbon economy and environment.

Moving forward, it will be important to make sure the outcomes are equitable and affecting as many Philadelphians as possible. This leads to many of the scale questions that I hope Christine brings her thinking to.

How do you think the Paris Climate talks will inspire change?

Katherine Gajewski: What was really interesting about the climate talks is that even though it was an agreement across the national level, there were so many references to essential roles of cities in developing and deploying climate solutions. As practitioners on the ground, we know that. But there’s no official role for cities at the table.

I think that dynamic will change between now and the next talks. I’ll be curious to see if there’s any policy, funding or other implications. The Paris agreement was an acknowledgement that cities have to be at the core for this process.

To me, this was a real validation of progress we’ve been table to make to date. I don’t think cities will be going anywhere with the role that we’re playing.

What do you think Philadelphia constituents (hint, that’s you guys, readers) should do to continue the sustainability movement forward?

Katherine Gajewski: All of this needs to be a city-wide dialogue, and we have to work together to see where Philadelphia wants to go. I’ve always felt that it’s really healthy to have a strong and engaged stakeholder and advocacy community pushing government, educating government, learning from government. I hope the network of supporters outside of government gets stronger and more diverse over the years. I think that brings the best outcomes when we can have a robust, healthy diverse dialogue on these issues.

So what’s next for Katherine?

According to an email, she’ll be “leading the development of a new foundation funded venture – City Scale, continuing in the urban sustainability field to set up an aligned intermediary that will work across sectors to support, accelerate and scale work happening in cities across the country.”

Congrats to Katherine for her time in the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. Good luck in your new role at City Scale and moving forward!

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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

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