The detrimental impacts of climate change have become even more apparent by the day. Record heat in every corner of the country. Unprecedented storm surges from extreme weather events and floods that displace thousands of people and upend the lives and livelihoods of American families. Wildfire smoke that engulfs entire regions and creates dangerous air quality conditions.
The White House and Congress have taken historic steps to address the climate crisis with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. These three pieces of landmark legislation provide around $500 billion in federal funding — along with private-sector incentives and investments — to address the climate crisis through decarbonization and energy transition.
To make the most of this historic funding and execute our sustainability agenda, government agencies should lean into three key strategies: Installing effective leadership, investing in a climate-ready workforce and using data to drive execution.
Enable leadership in sustainability
Sustainability officers are becoming more prevalent at the federal, state and local levels. Their responsibilities can include modernizing systems, instituting policy changes within their departments, enhancing measurement capabilities and ensuring environmental performance across the organization.
While placing more leaders in sustainability roles is an important first step, these leaders should be given a seat at the table during larger policy discussions and empowered to add environmental context to all proposed government action plans and initiatives. Their efforts should also be backed with appropriate resources to achieve climate and sustainability goals.
To define the required resources, sustainability officers should conduct regular audits to assess the maturity of their agency’s climate-focused programs. This includes identifying the unique circumstances and challenges their respective organizations face, as well as going beyond current compliance activities by engaging the right stakeholders to develop transformative climate strategies.
After this evaluation, leaders should tailor an approach that best suits their organization’s needs – whether that’s challenging the status quo, raising concerns with other leaders, brokering initial strategy conversations or injecting new life into long-dormant efforts.
Build a climate-ready workforce
Agency leaders need to prioritize programs to develop a climate-ready workforce. This includes infusing climate education into standard employee training programs and encouraging environmental stewardship across agency workforce cultures.
Some of these efforts are already underway in response to White House policy directives and spurred by individual agency actions. But it will also require actively identifying individual roles that will be acutely affected by climate change – like those in infrastructure planning, public health and emergency response – and providing those employees with training and resources to fulfill their missions.
Instilling this sense of environmental consciousness across the federal workforce can also inspire action at the state and local levels. For example, the State of Maryland — home to a number of federal agencies and employees — created the country’s first state-sponsored climate leadership academy to train state and local government officials and arm them with tools and strategies to effectively address the climate crisis in their local communities.
Adopt data-driven climate action
The ever-increasing volume and diversity of data can certainly help us measure the success of sustainability efforts and guide effective decision-making around climate action. But the ability to successfully analyze and derive meaningful insights from that data is paramount.
Data sharing must accelerate across multiple levels of government and through public-private collaboration to allow for more efficient and data-driven climate action. For example, the federal government has already created a number of mapping tools that layer several different sets of climate data into one easy-to-use platform.
Government agencies at all levels can also tap into the growing array of low-cost sensors and satellite data to strengthen their data-gathering systems. Proactive and ongoing partnerships with the private sector can help agencies stay informed about powerful data-analysis tools and sensing innovations. The integration of climate, infrastructure, economic planning and community social needs is critical for decision-makers at all levels of government to holistically approach these challenges.
The road ahead
With a trio of historic climate investments at our fingertips, we have a tremendous opportunity to execute an impactful climate strategy – and government can lead the way.
By empowering sustainability leaders, invigorating a climate-ready workforce and adopting data-driven climate action, agency leaders can meet this historic moment.
Climate change is the most pressing global issue of our time. To adequately address the crisis, we’ll need sustainability leaders that champion workforce education, multi-stakeholder collaboration and cutting-edge technologies.
Josh Sawislak, a managing director at Deloitte Consulting LLP, helps lead best-in-class sustainability and climate adaptation efforts for public sector and private sector clients. He is an internationally recognized advisor on climate resilience and sustainable infrastructure.