This month, we interview Erin Gill, Director of the Office of Sustainability, Knoxville, TN.
What are you working on right now that you are most excited about?
I’m really excited about our IBM Smarter Cities Initiative. As an IBM Smarter City, we received expert assistance from IBM earlier this year to help us solve a specific challenge. The challenge we posed to the IBM team is that the local community spends millions of dollars annually helping people pay their utility bills. However, these assistance programs aren’t well coordinated with energy efficiency and weatherization programs. We asked the IBM experts to help us think through how to connect these two approaches, ultimately moving away from the “band-aid” response of simply paying utility bills to the more lasting solution of lowering bills through energy efficiency.
We’ve just launched into trying to implement IBM’s recommendations. To do so, we’ve brought together over 20 stakeholders who are already addressing these issues, but haven’t been working directly together. It’s exciting because this program gives us an opportunity to address two notorious issues for energy efficiency: 1) addressing efficiency in lower income housing sectors, where residents have more limited ability to pay for efficiency upgrades, and 2) overcoming the split incentive problem facing rental communities, where tenants face high utility bills because landlords don’t have a strong incentive to invest in energy efficiency improvements.
What do you want to know from others in SSDN? What provocative questions do you have for your colleagues around the Southeast?
Has anyone launched community engagement programs that are targeting lower income communities? What models or lessons learned can you share? Answer here
What led you to this work?
I realized back in my junior year of college that while other interests had come and gone, my passion for promoting environmental responsibility had remained constant. Despite being a History major, I decided to try to make a career out of it. I had the opportunity early on to work with the City of Knoxville during the first few years of their Energy & Sustainability Initiative. That experience confirmed that the local policy scene was where I wanted to be. I loved being able to see the results of my work unfold in the community I was living in, and I found the local approach much more attractive than politics at the federal or international level. Not knowing if I’d be back, I left the City in 2010 to get a Master of Environmental Management degree focused on local, state, and regional sustainability policies. That led me to a private sector job in Atlanta, and earlier this year, I had the opportunity to re-join the City. I’m thrilled to be back and looking forward to shaping the next phase of Knoxville’s Sustainability program!