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Podcast: Resilience & Sustainability with Sarah Hazel, Charlotte, NC

Posted on July 13, 2021


Sarah Hazel - GovLove

Sarah Hazel

Sarah Hazel
Chief Sustainability & Resiliency Officer
City of Charlotte, NC
LinkedIn | Twitter


Resilient Queen City. Sarah Hazel, the Chief Sustainability & Resiliency Officer for the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, joined the podcast to talk about how the City is working to be more environmentally sustainable. She discussed the City’s Strategic Energy Action Plan, working with Duke Energy, and electrifying the City’s fleet. She also shared a workforce training program for sustainability jobs that the City has implemented and her career path into the role.

Host: Ben Kittelson

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Learn More

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City of Charlotte Office of Resilience & Sustainability

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Episode Transcript

 

Ben Kittelson  00:08

Coming to you from Beaverton, Oregon, this is Gov Love,, a podcast about local government brought to you by Engaging Local Government Leaders. I’m Ben Kittelson, consultant at Raftelis and Gov love co host. We have a great episode for you today we are talking sustainability and resiliency in Queen City. But first, the best way to support Gov Love is to become an ELGL member. ELGL is a professional association engaging the brightest minds in local government.

Message  00:30

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Ben Kittelson  00:59

Now let me introduce today’s guests. Sarah Hazel is the city of Charlotte North Carolina’s first chief sustainability and resiliency officer, and she oversees the city’s Office of Sustainability and resiliency. Prior to her current role, she was an assistant to the city manager in Charlotte where she worked on special projects, strategic initiatives, and policy and program development. She’s also been a big supporter of ELGL, and has helped organize events and conferences for us so, and has been on the podcast once before. So we’ll have to, we’ll have to plug that and make sure we include a link to to that old episode. But Sarah, Welcome to Gov Love! Thank you so much for coming on and joining us.

Sarah Hazel  01:35

Thanks for having me! I’m so happy to be here.

Ben Kittelson  01:38

And I’m very excited to talk about your new job and all the good work you’re doing in Charlotte. But we do have a tradition on Gov Love to let our guests warm up a little bit with a lightning round. So my first question for you What was the first album that you bought? 

Sarah Hazel  01:53

Boyz II Men II. 

Ben Kittelson  01:56

NIce.

Sarah Hazel  01:56

Yeah, it definitely spoke to my adolescent heart. 

Ben Kittelson  02:00

Is it still in the rotation? 

Sarah Hazel  02:02

I wish I could find that CD. It’s somewhere. 

Ben Kittelson  02:06

That’s good. And then is there a TV show or movie that you’ve watched recently that you’d recommend? And it’s okay, if it’s a kid show, I know you just had a kid you’ve got two right now, so.

Sarah Hazel  02:16

I do not recommend Cocomelon. And for any listeners who have small children, you will know why. It is very great at distracting children but it is not something that I want to I necessarily enjoy. I will go with Mayor of East town. I like to good murder mystery. Also, I’m from outside of Philly. And so I really enjoy the accents and, and the whole scenery. So it’s really good.

Ben Kittelson  02:45

Yeah, great, like place setting in that show. And so you think the accent work was good, that’s, that’s good to hear.

Sarah Hazel  02:52

I do yeah, I think it was spot on in like the references you can tell that like everybody really did their their work on that.

Ben Kittelson  03:02

Is there a book that you’ve given as a gift most often? I’ve found that this is an interesting question for folks. Because it’s a little different, maybe than what you would you would be reading but is there is there a book that you give as a gift?

Sarah Hazel  03:13

Yeah, so I think right now a lot of the books that I’m giving as gifts, they’re probably children’s books. Seems like everybody is having kiddos these days. There’s this book called All the World and it’s one of my daughter Louella’s favorites. It’s like all about nature and being connected to people and sort of through the eyes of a little kid looking at the big and small things on on this planet with wonder. And so it’s actually like really nice to read as an adult, when you need to just sort of like reset at the end of the day. So I give it to people who are having kids because I find that when I read it at the end of the day, it’s exactly what I need as well as my kids really like.

Ben Kittelson  04:01

That’s beautiful, awesome. And then where do you go for inspiration?

Sarah Hazel  04:07

Inspiration, so I’ll say like one of my favorite places to go is I love going to Lake Champlain in Vermont, which is like this beautiful, beautiful setting where I can go and recharge and you know, Vermont’s awesome because there’s like more cows of people and you really get a sense of like reconnecting. But out here in Charlotte, I take my kids to this area of Charlotte that’s being redeveloped called Camp North End. It’s actually walking distance of where I live. And it’s really cool. There’s food stalls. There’s all these amazing murals by local artists, and it’s all old historic buildings and people just do like creative things. So even if I’m not doing something creative, I feel like when I go there creative things are happening around me. And it’s like a good place to get energized,

Ben Kittelson  05:04

Energized, you can you can draw from the creativity, even if you’re not.

Sarah Hazel  05:09

Even if I didn’t paint a mural, I can say, wow, that mural is fire.

Ben Kittelson  05:13

Awesome. And one of the for close listeners to the podcast, they know that I’d like to ask like how folks ended up in local government, and we’re obviously going to talk a lot about your your recent role change at the city of Charlotte. But how did you end up in this career path? Like what what led you to local government and to the city, Charlotte?

Sarah Hazel  05:33

Sure. Well, when I graduated undergraduate school, I was an English major and a political science major. And I like studied, like ancient political theory. So literally nothing that anyone would think was an employable set of knowledge. But I did get into campaign work. And I did a lot of environmental work and a lot of work around social issues. And, and at the very grassroots level, I did that for about seven years, which I found really, really wonderful getting people elected, who represented the things that I valued and cared about and all that, but but then I was really looking at wanting to make a career shift and be a little bit both closer to sort of like the results of the work that I had been doing, but also just a different challenge, and kind of a more sustainable life for myself. So I went to graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill, thinking I would get into government in some form or fashion, but local government really spoke to me because, you know, I had spent a lot of time in that first seven years out of college, where I was doing this campaign, were working to get people elected, who would do the right thing. But then there’s just so much that happens between getting someone elected, and like great things happening in a community. And so I was really excited about local government, because one you’re just like so, you get to implement those great policies that when great people and visionary folks are elected, you get to help develop some of those things. And then you also get to see the results of your work and be really connected to it. So that’s how I came to be involved in local government. And it was kind of like a perfect fit, that I didn’t really even know was there until I started exploring graduate programs, and then actually ended up at UNC with such a focus on local government.

Ben Kittelson  07:35

Yeah. Did any of that work doing campaigning, because I mean, that’s probably not maybe a traditional background for folks that are maybe in MPA school or in local government, or maybe not as common has that, did any of that work like, does that inform like what you do now? Or does that does that help you in any way with kind of like some of the work you’ve done for the city of Charlotte, having that kind of background in campaign work? 

Sarah Hazel  07:58

Oh, yeah, definitely. I think in a lot of ways, well, one, I was able to kind of jump in and run an operation or multiple operations, by the time I left with, with very little experience doing that. So I gained a ton of management experience, which is so helpful, because then when I went to graduate school, we were talking about organizations and how they work. And I could really draw from that experience that I had. But I think probably the biggest way that it influences me is just really thinking about sort of the that the end users are just people in communities because we were doing grassroots work, where we were, we were hiring, whether it’s volunteers or staff to go out and to talk to individuals one on one about, you know, policies or people who were running for office and what they stood for, and why that would actually make a difference in their life. The sort of like that whole centering around, you know, the person that you’re talking to at the door, or the volunteer that you’re calling, and, and how what you’re really asking them to do is going to make a difference in their life at the end, you know, if they take some action, whether it’s vote or, or volunteer to get people out to vote, or provide funds that can sustain an organization that is doing meaningful work. So I try to think about that a lot in my current job, which is, you know, in government, we can get like so bogged down in like bureaucracy and jargon but at the end of the day, it’s like about the people in our community. And so how do we connect with them on that level and think about them, and then also speak to them in that way? Because, you know, we’re obviously all of us together with all of our work.

Ben Kittelson  09:50

Yeah, it’s almost like helps to remember to center that the person that we’re serving not just like the the system or the process or the whatever. 

Sarah Hazel  09:59

Yeah, the acronym or you know, exactly.

Ben Kittelson  10:02

yeah. Then I know, for folks that work in government Assistant to the City Manager, I mean, everyone knows what that is. But obviously, that could look very different place to place. So what were some of the things that you got to work on in that role? Like, how would you describe what that that role was for in the City of Charlotte?

Sarah Hazel  10:22

It is an awesome job, I would highly recommend that anybody is interested in that role when it becomes available again in the future. But I got a chance to work on really relevant citywide policies or programs or initiatives that were, you know, important to the city manager, important city manager, because they were important to our city council and, obviously, our community. And so like everything, ranging from really important work around sustainability, to, you know, supporting some of our goals around violence reduction, and reimagining policing. So like, you know, as our community is bringing values forward, and you know, as current events are happening, it was just great to be to be in that role, because I was getting a chance to sort of immediately take a concept or a policy goal, and then figure it out, and then get have the ability to work with this awesome organization that is really huge, Charlotte has, know, almost 8,000 employees, figure out how to make it real for people. And so it’s like, I could do that job forever. And it was super interesting. And with really great people here. 

Ben Kittelson  11:54

Yeah. Well, I know, I mean, and you mentioned this, but you were able to do some sustainability resiliency work in that role. So like, I assume your curl is almost like an out, maybe this is wrong, but maybe an outgrowth of some of that work, or like, what was that? How did that kind of the chief sustainability resiliency officer kind of role evolve out of or how did that come about?

Sarah Hazel  12:17

Yeah, well, it’s funny, because like, I was thinking about some of my former mentors in, in local government, Flo Miller from the town of Chapel Hill, she, I was an intern there, like many wonderful ELGL members before me, were interns to the town Chapel Hill. And she told me that, I should really always sort of keep my options open and be open to new paths and things that you might not have initially been interested in. And I just don’t think that I ever, like entered local government thinking I’m going to be a sustainability or resiliency professional, you know. But it was very much that type of work and very much, like near to my heart, and also very closely related to the type of work that I was doing working on campaigns, and I was advocating for good environmental policy and, and organizing people around that stuff. So I think I just would find myself getting involved in those types of projects and programs. But then when our former sustainability director left the city, the city manager called me up and asked me if I would take on the role in the interim capacity. And that was like one of those moments where I could like hear Flo saying, like, be open to things that you hadn’t initially thought of. And I was like, Yes, that that would be amazing. So I took on that role of when I guess, back in 2019. And I, I was just so excited and motivated and inspired by it. It became probably like 75% of my job anyway, at that point. So when the City Manager wanted to make that and now, you know, a permanent decision on the role and he he put me into that role is that as now the new elevated Chief Sustainability and Resiliency Director, it was, it was really like the most exciting thing because I had already had a chance to dive in and dig into the city’s goals and our approach and our strategy at that time when we were really developing it so I felt both like this is going to be a great growth opportunity for me, but also that I had some good experience and ready to go.

Ben Kittelson  14:51

Yeah, well and definitely to get into the more specifics of the work going on in Charlotte, but that’s such like good career advice that you said but, and there’s I think a component of this that I want to ask more explicitly about is like, there is obviously a fair amount of on the job learning to, like, get familiar with sustainability resiliency work, like understand, like, you know, what’s going on. And, you know, like you said, help build the policies that they all are working on. So like, what’s been the, like, learning on the job? What was that like? And then like, how have you like, now that you’re like more in this role permanently, like, what what are you doing to like, catch up maybe, on stuff that you maybe weren’t, didn’t have as much familiarity with that you have more familiar with now?

Sarah Hazel  15:32

Yeah, yeah. That’s a really good question. I, I think it’s funny, right? Because like that, but having a Master’s in Public Administration, it’s like the ultimate generalist about everything, and nothing about, doesn’t know everything, doesn’t know – gosh, what is that phrase Ben? You know, a little bit. about everything and not a lot of things. We don’t even learn how to say that phrase right with a graduate degree. But so, you know, so I was super comfortable being a generalist. But diving into this, like, I really wanted to understand how things work because I represent the city. And so like, the first thing I did was, I just really listened to the people who were both on my team and, you know, there’s a lot of people who are doing sustainability work in Charlotte, who don’t have sustainability in their title and who have been pretty instrumental in a lot of projects over the years. And so, I just ask a lot of questions. And to, maybe, if you had, like, had a candid conversation with some of the people who are on my team, or talking with them, like maybe painfully so like going through presentations and saying, explain to me exactly what this is, tell me again, how, how this works, and how, you know, we are looking at our energy usage and buildings, you know, things that I had never had to dig into in great detail. And so I just did a lot of that. And then as I am in, over time, you know, I’m getting more and more comfortable, comfortable with some of the details. But now I’m, I’m excited to learn from other cities. And so I’m getting engaged more with direct, the Sustainability Directors Network, there’s, there’s a national network and also a southeast network. And that’s really, really helpful, because it’s both cities that are large, like Charlotte, and also small, where there’s, you know, one person in the role and not a ton of budget or support. So it’s, it’s a, it’s a good mix of folks with different opportunities and challenges, and also things that I can draw from. I think the good news is I didn’t, some of the stuff that like I’m comfortable with, like organizing people, across departments and around initiatives, but probably some of the most challenging pieces of where we are in the city right now is building a culture of sustainability and resilience and addressing climate change and talking about climate change. And so I was really comfortable with that part. Which I think really helps me. So I guess that that that MPA degree, this is like a shout out to Bill Reichenbach and others at the School of Government, because all that stuff, which probably could really bog me down I felt so comfortable with but they, I really just needed to get into the content.

Ben Kittelson  18:36

Yeah, yeah. Well, like work like this that cuts across departments like you’re going to need that generalist skill set to like do, like you said, the organizing of the people and like figuring out who needs to be at the table like that, that’s an important background to have even if you, you know, you don’t come in with all the sustainability knowledge that that may be a subject matter expert would. 

Sarah Hazel  18:54

Yeah. 

Ben Kittelson  18:56

Very cool. So like, what I guess, let’s, let’s talk more about the work in Charlotte. What does what does sustainability and resiliency look like there? What do you, you know, do you have staff in an office? Like, you mentioned that there are folks that do the work that maybe they’ll have that in their title. Are you kind of you know, cajoling folks in departments that and kind of informally working with people like what what does that look like?

Sarah Hazel  19:21

Sure, so my work is primarily focused around climate action and climate mitigation. So we’re, we’re really focusing on how we address our greenhouse gas emissions. And I have two amazing team members on my team. And two climate advisors through Bloomberg American cities climate challenge, who are dotted line on my team, but who actually worked for the National Resource Defense Council, NRDC, and then the way that I have organized our efforts around our strategic energy action plan And that is grew out of a resolution that our City Council passed in 2018, it was called our sustainable and resilient Charlotte resolution. So that was the resolution that said that Charlotte would work to do two things, one to become zero carbon in our fleet and our buildings, and then to become a low carbon city, and a cleaner building for 2030, a low carbon cities, emitting less than two tons of co2 per person, on average by 2050. So there’s this resolution that said that, and a lot of cities are putting forth these really great goals. But then we, our city went a step further and developed a plan called the strategic energy Action Plan, which was the plan to guide how we hit that resolution. And so that, you know, those are like very aggressive goals. And even though we, I have a really great small team, we could not do that, even if we got a number of more, you know, staff members on the team. So we, we developed a group that we call our operations team, and it has representatives from every single department, sometimes more than one, but folks who have decision making authority, as well as folks who are very focused around sustainability efforts, and we meet regularly. And through that team, we’re able to implement policies and bring policy work up for, you know, a group of people to vet, and also then go into the organization and champion. And it really doesn’t hurt that our, our, you know, our city council has unanimously adopted that plan has pretty much unanimously, knock on wood, like passed all of the projects and initiatives have come through that relate to this plan. And, and so I think the big reason for that is that we have a lot of different brains at the table. And and that really helps to move things forward faster, and also not just faster, but probably in a better way. So that policies aren’t just like sitting on the shelf, but that they’re really becoming implemented.

Ben Kittelson  22:15

Yeah. Well, and that that ops team, how did you identify folks that need to be at the table for that? Is it just kind of based on their job responsibilities? Or is it folks that are interested in that topic? Or what, how did that come about?

Sarah Hazel  22:29

Yeah, well you know, I worked, you know, I was working in the city manager’s office, and I was working with one of my assistant city managers sitting down and we just looked at, okay, look at each department. And if there’s somebody at like an assistant director level, or Deputy Director level, or level where they actually have influence over people and resources, because, because we need to, we need to make sure that that is the case, to implementing city wide, and then what, who are the sustainability people. So for example, our airport has a sustainability professional. You know, our, our Charlotte water utility has folks who really focus on a lot of sustainability work. So there were some obvious people like that, who should go become a part of this team that we could, we could learn from and also leverage. And so we just sat down and mapped it out. And then, you know, worked with the city manager and sent an email to all the department directors and said, Hey, like, this is important, we need people at this level and kind of bet at the left and got some additional folks and then made a really big deal out of that. I mean, the city manager kicked off some of the meetings. It made sure that everyone realize this is not just like a fleeting moment, like this is about our, this is a way that we are going to work forever into the future. And this is an honor and like you’ve been deputized to be a part of this group, like, we’re going to change the world because we have to and not to be all doom and gloom, but like, this is urgent people, you know, we have a huge role to play. And so we you know, I remember just like saying, well, you are deputized, we are doing this. You are, you are important. And, and so, you know, that’s one way that we do it. And then there’s also a bunch of other sort of small subgroups that focus on different pieces. A lot of those groups were already existing, but I think what I’ve worked to do is is like, see how best they can be leveraged towards some of our strategic energy action plan goals, like some of our fleet groups, and our buildings group. So not trying to like recreate everything, but like really lean on what is great that already exists to

Ben Kittelson  24:56

Yeah, like yeah, take advantage of that skill set and that that knowledge that’s already there?

Sarah Hazel  25:00

Yeah. And nobody wants new meetings for no reason, so if there is a meeting that already exists that we can jump on that would be great. 

Ben Kittelson  25:08

Yeah. Well, I think I mean, I want to underline something you said. That like getting that showing that this is a this has buying from the top like, it’s not just like you the chief sustainability resiliency officer saying that folks should be doing this, it’s the city manager cares about this, it’s a huge priority, then the council like, this is a unanimous thing that the organization needs to focus on, like, showing that there’s that buy in, because it’s not, like you said, it’s not just a fleeting thing that’s, you know, going to be cool for this year, but might not make it after that. 

Sarah Hazel  25:37

Yeah. Exactly. And I think, I think also, what we’re trying to do is communicate our progress, you know, up and down the organization, all the way up to Council, and then all the way down to the people who are doing it. So that the folks who are doing it now, like this is appreciated and seen. And then city council says, wow, I’ve seen this investment in solar last year of $2 million and we just like this, this council items that we are authorizing right now is for like, eight to 10 buildings with solar on it, like we are seeing this happen right now. And here’s how much energy you know we’re going to be yielding. And here’s the cost savings, and here’s the impact it’s going to have on our goals and that kind of stuff. So we we I think I spent a ton of time on that, thinking about that, because I feel like, I feel like that really helps keep the momentum.

Ben Kittelson  26:37

Yeah, yeah, keeps the ball rolling, and well and it closes the loop. Like they say, here’s, here’s something that we care about, and then to never hear about it again, it would be like, probably disappointing for a Council Member.

Sarah Hazel  26:51

Yeah, or, or hard to sort of like, I think sometimes they say something, and then it sort of flies under the radar. And they’re like, Well, whatever happened to that? And then you know.

Ben Kittelson  26:59

It turns out there’s all this work done. Yeah.

Sarah Hazel  27:01

And City Council goes, “what do you mean, what do you mean all of this stuff?” Yeah, of course, but like, there’s a million things going on, you know, like so like, sometimes you have to, like, try to really get it in, not in somebody’s face in the nicest possible way.

Ben Kittelson  27:18

So what are your strategies for that? So obviously, like there’s some, some thought put into around like communicating that up and down, what are the ways that y’all have gone about doing that making sure that, you know, the council members know that the work has been done, but also that, like, you know, that the folks on the front lines that are having make changes, like they understand kind of how this fits into the bigger picture. What are your, what’s been your approach for kind of like, the way the way that you’ve approached and strategize for that?

Sarah Hazel  27:45

Yeah, well, I think for, for city council, it’s like, consistent, consistent projects coming to them. So you know, whether it’s, we were taking Duke Energy’s green source Advantage program, you know, city work to procure this large solar farm in our region and build it. And so like, really, first of all, it’s very, this is one of those things where I was coming on, and we were working on it. And I was like, explain this to me, again, I’m going to need to explain it and it’s very hard to explain, if you’re not like really in that world, but I mean, it’s cool. We’re building a huge solar farm in our region, which is going to create jobs, and it’s going to make our energy grid, greener, meaning that Duke Energy doesn’t need to like burn as many coal fired power plants. And it’s going to hit get us about 25% of the way towards our goal for becoming zero carbon in our building once it comes online. So like really trying to, like, bring that stuff to city council and explain it. And some people want to get into the details. Totally cool. But then, like, explain it in a way that is understandable and trying to work with, we have a great communications team. So they pitch this stuff to the media, to some people are really interested in that. That stuff, too. So they’ve worked to do that, so that we do get some traction that people see, hey, like, look at this action. This is a big deal. Because a lot of people were working on the RFP and there was a ton of people’s brains who went into like developing this, this project over the course of the year. And so trying to that, and we also we do an annual report. So trying to give kudos to the people who did the work and show both to the council in the operations team staff and the staff who worked on this stuff, this annual report and have them provide input into the report. So we do a lot of kind of probably a lot of reporting, but trying to make it visually appealing and, and, and make sure that when we do have things coming before city council that we’re like really thinking about like how can we share this information with the public with our communications team so that people are seeing it, because it’s, it’s an investment in our future.

Ben Kittelson  30:08

Yeah, rather than just being an agenda item, it’s like, this big opportunity to communicate about, like, all this work, right?

Sarah Hazel  30:15

Yeah. And I mean, at the heart of it, right, like, you’re like, oh, cool off site, solar, but then, but then it’s like really trying to like, so what that means is like, we’re just, we’re really trying to make it so we don’t see as many coal fired power plants. So kids don’t have asthma. You know, like, so people can be, can live a healthy life, like, that’s kind of, like at least taking it like a couple steps further. And so people can have jobs, you know, versus just like we are, we’re lowering our carbon footprint. And then there’s like, like one section of environmentalist who were like, That is awesome. And then everybody else was like, what’s that? What is that?

Ben Kittelson  30:54

I know, this is, this touches on something that I always find interesting about, like, sustainability and resiliency work, and like, especially in a place where you’re the city or the county, isn’t the electrical provider. Like, what’s that relationship with Duke like? Like, how do you, how do you work with them, because obviously, like, if you’re gonna have an impact on carbon footprint, that’s like the not probably not low hanging fruit, that’s probably the wrong word. That’s the most maybe bang for buck.

Sarah Hazel  31:19

Yeah, like our fates are intertwined. We cannot hit our goals without Duke working aggressively towards the goals they’ve put out, as well, to reduce carbon. And so we have an MOU with Duke Energy, and that sets the stage for good partnership. And we have done some really, really valuable partnerships. Actually, right now, our bus fleet is partnering with Duke new e-fleet as a different sort of side of the house program, but they’re going to work with us on a pilot to electrify our entire bus system. And so it’s like having that MOU opens the door to to some of these conversations that and partnerships that evolve, and that is huge. And then we also participate in some of the regulatory proceedings. So with North Carolina Utilities Commission, and when Duke plans for how they’re going to, you know, for how they’re going to make energy for the coming years, it’s called the integrated resource plan, IRP, we, we, we took some time to really outline what our priorities are in the city as one of their largest customers, in that part, and being, you know, addressing energy burden in black and brown communities. And in, you know, our jurisdiction. You know, we know that people are paying more for energy, per square foot, who are low income, and are also the same folks who are most impacted by health impacts from climate change. And so we really outlined those priorities as well as some of the strategies that we think could help them procure more renewable energy and be closer to zero carbon because obviously, if they are, they are coming very close their goals we, we don’t have to do as much. They hit our goals. But but we have to be constantly sort of evaluating what their grid mix is in order to do that. So we have a good relationship, Duke energy’s actually headquartered here. And I think that that actually really helps.

Ben Kittelson  33:43

Probably helps. Yeah, very cool. Yeah. I’ve always found that, I mean, those local governments I’ve worked for have never been electric providers. I know there are ones out there that that do that utility. But like in order to, like truly make an impact, you have to have them at the table and and thinking hopefully, that everyone can be in alignment and like making a difference and having the same kind of vision for climate action and for sustainability. But I can imagine there are places where maybe that is not the case, then that might be more a pill fine. I mean, that’s so that’s obviously a big undertaking is working with them and thinking about that, but what are maybe some of the more internal actions that the city’s taken? I was reading that sounded like there’s some, and you mentioned the bus electric vehicles that but there’s been some fleet stuff, and is there anything else that you want share that they all have done to to make an impact on kind of that carbon footprint?

Sarah Hazel  34:40

Yeah, I think two policies have been some of the biggest impact action that we took over the past couple years. Well, really over the past year and a half. One was our sustainable, resilient fleet policies that essentially puts out there that the city will replace vehicles with the lowest emitting vehicle available on the market. Use and view the total cost of ownership model. So even if we have to pay a premium up front, we’re looking at how we will recoup those funds, you know, over time that sort of allows us to say, okay, we’re going to do maybe we’re going to do something that’s not the lowest cost car, but it’s the most sustainable vehicle, and it’s worth it. So like that both financial justification, but also the, the, you know, the binding policy. And that’s citywide. So like, not that there hasn’t, we haven’t been looking at transitioning to electric vehicles before. But you know, different departments have different preferences, especially around vehicles. And so we’re using this automatic vehicle locator data that we’re installing and all our install parts policy, installing in our fleet, we’re using that data to say, Okay, what vehicles really our candidates to become electric, not just like, do you do you want electric? Like, would you take it? So what are candidates, what are candidates, and then as long as it’s not like, it still meets that model of total cost of ownership so it’s not like extremely that expensive that we wouldn’t, we wouldn’t be able to justify it, we’re going to be replacing our vehicles with with electric vehicle for this year, it’s like 22 sedans, I believe, as well, as you know, we’ll have 18 buses and cabs through this pilot with Duke, we have five buses in our airport circulators. So we’re just seeing sort of the exponential growth of our fleet because of this policy that we’re implementing and making it sort of much easier and easier to map out, like where we need to go. And then the other one is our sustainable buildings policy updates that we did to bring it into alignment with our strategic energy action plan. So this is things like, mandate temperature set points, in buildings, so like, someone couldn’t call in and be like, I’m hot, like, make it cooler. If you need some kind of adjustment, you have to like, it has to be for a reason and a temporary one, and there’s like more, there’s more of a process, so that we then have a standard set point. So we’re gonna saver on energy, it’s like big time there across the entire city. Because we’ve always been conscious of that, but we haven’t had like, you know, bounds around it. So you know, so just this, this will be a big deal. It also ensures that when we’re building buildings, we’re building them with solar. So we used to build solar ready buildings, now we’re just building buildings with solar so unless it’s pro, unless it’s, you know, doesn’t make sense because of the size of the building. Or it, it’s like too shady, it’s like not a good candidate for solar, we are putting solar on every roof. And we are building electric vehicle charging stations, and ready parking areas for EVs. As well as we are now going to be publishing a report of our benchmarking report on our, our energy usage publicly. So it’s like there’s like these components of data and transparency, building things more sustainable with energy generation and energy efficiency components. That’s also supporting our fleet and how we operate the buildings being more sustainable. So this is like citywide, we’ve been on this road show. And I say we but like I it’s I’m I was on maternity leave. So like, the team who is leading this is a combination of my team and another division, just like around the city to make sure everybody knows what their role is and what they have to do from this because this is one of these things where you could like, totally get this policy in place, like good job, but then like, you know, a lot of people are involved in the building of a building. We’re building across a really huge city. And so I’m super psyched about that, and seeing the results of that with with our new buildings that are going to come online.

Ben Kittelson  39:24

That’s so cool. Yeah, we’ll have to, I’m sure the policies are on your website, but we’ll have to put those in the show notes so folks can can find that because that’s that’s good, best practice information.

Sarah Hazel  39:36

Like it’s an awesome, one other thing I’ve learned about the Sustainability, the network of people is totally like, you know, the just local government networks to where it’s like, oh, please take the thing I did. Please don’t do it. Don’t feel like you need to like recreate the wheel. You know, like, please take this good thing that I did. We probably took half of it from somebody else for this thing and we need, we want everybody to, to take once again from it.

Ben Kittelson  40:02

That’s very cool. Very cool. Well, I read you guys also did some workforce training on renewable energy and efficiency is that the roadshow is that is that some different?

Sarah Hazel  40:12

It’s different, that’s a partnership with our economic development department. And so this actually, we’re able to leverage a half million dollars from CARES Act funding last year to work with Urban League, here at Central Carolinas, and as well as goodwill to provide paid training, like a living, living wage paid training, in HPAC and electrical trades, which is really the foundation for a lot of sustainability type work. So it’s like a, it’s a 12, or 13 week course that teaches those skills, and it’s paid. But the cool part about this is that we also partnered with corporate partners, and our corporate Advisory Council, and they’re essentially making commitments to hire these graduates, once they leave. So we know that these are skills and jobs that are in demand. But we now have these relationships with people who are saying and we want, we need these people. And so we’ve seen like a between 65 and 70%, rate of employment after graduating, and that is, that is pretty great. And also, because a lot of you know a lot of work for some programs that they kind of like they give you the certificate or the skill, but don’t sort of follow you through to the job that is in that field. And that’s what we’re working to do with this program. So our, our economic development team, in partnership with sustainability team and our climate challenge advisors really, really did an Awesome job with this program. So I’m excited to see where that goes. Because we’ve got some good corporate partners on this one, and, and it’s going to really take, you know, it’s going to take really good corporate partnerships and other types of partnerships to make this make these goals a reality.

Ben Kittelson  42:07

Yeah, um, I wanted to ask about that corporate partnership pieces, how did you get those folks to the table? Or is that something that, you know, they, they have a need, and you know, the city’s offering this as kind of a resource, and it was kind of a win win or like, yeah, how did that how does that work? Yeah,

Sarah Hazel  42:24

I think I think it kind of goes back to like, leveraging our internal city expertise and relationships. So our, you know, one of our former economic development directors, was really bought into a program like this before this was completely formulated. And he and, and through our, some of our support that we had in our office, came together and brought together folks in the field and just had a had a number of conversations. And so that’s true that the the council was established, that would support renew. And and I think that’s like, again, it’s like, so many people have been working on these initiatives. But it’s really helped, I think, make make it successful. And we’re seeing some other cities reach out to us and say, How can we do something like this? Because this is that we know that that’s the industry there is there are green jobs that are growing, and that will continue to grow. And so how do we train people for jobs where they can actually make a really good wage? I think like entry level wages are for like nearly nearly $50,000. And, you know, in this trade, and it’s growing, and it helps us hit our goals. So we have enough trained people who can help us become, you know, operate buildings efficiently from a low carbon city. It’s like a win win.

Ben Kittelson  43:57

Very cool. That’s awesome.

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Ben Kittelson  44:44

Well, I know we’re getting close to the end of our time together but what what’s next what do you have? There’s been a lot of a lot of work done so far and but what do you what do you have planned or what’s kind of the next big, you know, policy or work around sustainability resiliency that that you’ve got on your radar?

Sarah Hazel  45:00

Yeah, we are really focusing now on implementation. So the past two years we developed these policies and so Psyched this year, our city council, in our city manager’s proposed budget, they, you know, were excited to grant us, we had $3 million last year and this year, we have 4.75 for the next three years to make capital investments in sustainability. And so now we need to use these policies that we have a place to ensure that we and our data to make sure that we are funding these investments to maximize our impact. So this year, we’re going to be focusing on obviously doing that with this year’s allocation, but also setting up the systems for the next several years. So that like we can, we can really ensure like highest and best use of these funds, towards our goals. So that’s a really big thing. Publishing our benchmark report and, and ideally, looking outward towards our corporate community and saying, join us in publishing this type of data and having a conversation about how we, how we reduce our energy usage and and become low carbon in our buildings, or zero carbon, really. And so I think those are some of the big things just on the horizon. Over the next, like, six months here, and then we have a new new corporate partner, so I’m excited to see what what will come but Arrival is an electric vehicle company that just located their north of their United States headquarters. They’re from Europe, UK, and they’re here. So hey, how are we going to partner with them? So I think there’s some stuff that might emerge. And I’m super excited, you know, with the Biden administration’s goals and rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement. How can we leverage federal funding to do more and so we just submitted a grant, as a partner and a grant to explore how we can stand up an electric vehicle Car Share at corporate housing, in a couple sites in Charlotte. So fingers crossed for the and the submittal that are our nonprofit partner is putting forward so we can figure that out, because really now looking towards how we can build not just like with our own buildings and fleet, but citywide, more sustainably and, and really look at how equity is a core value that’s reflected in that I think is like, so important.

Ben Kittelson  47:51

So on that note, what you mentioned equity, how does equity kind of get worked in to this? Like, what how are you guys kind of working that into like, the work you’re doing or the way you’re rolling out some of this stuff? Because I do think that’s a fascinating aspect of, of sustainability and resiliency stuff is like, how do you make sure, like, you know, we address past injustices that the cities may have been a part of, and then make sure it’s done that the changes that we do make don’t have disparate impact. So what’s been the approach in Charlotte?

Sarah Hazel  48:22

I mean we’re working to, and it’s a work in progress because there’s such a legacy of, of inequity and racism embedded in our organization, just like every organization, but definitely here. We’re working to really integrate it into all the work we do, but like, for example, with our electric bus work, ensuring that when we’re testing these electric vehicles and their routes that we are focusing on our corridors of opportunity. And those opportunity corridors are located in areas that you know, have had heavy internal combustion vehicle traffic, air quality, lower air quality, and so ensuring that those assets are being deployed in areas where they have not been deployed. Those types of you know, better technology and supporting public health assets are deployed in those areas. We’re also doing that with electric vehicle charging stations, we are ensuring that we have a couple mobile charging stations that are powered by the sun, they’re really cool. And we are looking at them in the corridors of opportunity. So we’re looking at geographies in some of, some of these ways. Obviously, with workforce development, you know, I think that’s a big area where we can look to support upward mobility. And and I think it’s just like continuing to Question every time we we’re making decisions, like how does this affect people? And are we really using an equity lens here? So, so, to be continued.

Ben Kittelson  50:14

Fascinating. Well, and so the air quality pieces that like data that y’all had to go collect to be like, what are what? What is the current like? 

Sarah Hazel  50:23

Air quality.

Ben Kittelson  50:24

Yeah, is that something that y’all had to go get or was, was that out there and you’re able to like, then overlay, you know, your different services and be like, how can we have an impact on this?

Sarah Hazel  50:33

Well, It’s just one of the awesome times when the city and the county do different services that would make sense to be together, that would make it much more helpful to do. But you know, air quality monitoring is a county function. But we have very strong advocates, at the grassroots level on the community level, who have installed air quality monitors on their own. And so we are having conversations with some of those neighborhood advocates who are saying, well, we installed these air quality measures, so so we’d love to share this information with you government, and how can you help? Because you need to. And so to a certain extent, it’s also neighborhood advocates who, who have come to us. And so we’re working to be responsive, because, you know, they’re they’re building capacity in their communities to do really great green initiatives. And if we can align our work with some of the work they’re already doing, even better. 

Ben Kittelson  51:38

Yeah. Yeah. Well, I know, we talked about this at the beginning of our, our time together, but has there been like a an engaged, it sounds like there, there may have been kind of naturally, but has there been like a community engagement component of, of your office’s work, where like, either you’re doing education and outreach, or there’s already active groups that want to be that want to partner and like, do work with the city?

Sarah Hazel  52:03

Yeah, um, we have just like I was talking about our internal operations team, we have external stakeholder groups. And when we started, they were split off by different sectors. So energy generation, buildings, transportation, and workforce development. And this year, we’re, we’re sort of putting them all together, but still, with individuals having different areas of focus. There can be community members who care about the strategic energy action plan and who were instrumental in getting it passed. And so they are, have a vested interest in the outcomes, and so they’re really looking at how do we hit these 2050 goals in the community and some really cool things that come from those groups. A group of folks put together at a Greening our Faith Summit, where they brought together religious leaders from churches across the city, and from different faiths to talk about solar and other sustainability and energy related opportunities, and how to go about, you know, taking advantage of some of the existing resources that are out there to be a more green organization as a faith organization and I though that was so cool. That came that came out of one of our groups, but we were not leading it, we were just there to be supportive and, and to facilitate kind of the, the ideas. And, and so we, we meet with them quarterly, to both share information about what we’re doing, get feedback on things that we’re doing, and also give us a platform for, for these leaders and different aspects of the city to share the work that they’re doing, or the work that they need support doing and connections have been made that I think have been really cool and beneficial as a whole. So we’re going to continue to meet with those groups, at least quarterly, but then we also just, you know, our our doors open for, for folks when people have ideas or just want to partner on things.

Ben Kittelson  54:17

Very cool. Awesome. That’s, that’s so cool. All right. Well, so our traditional last question on Gov Love is, if you can be the Gov Love DJ, what song would you pick as the exit music for this episode?

Sarah Hazel  54:29

Do you play this music on?

Ben Kittelson  54:29

 Oh, yeah. Yeah. 

Sarah Hazel  54:33

Man, that is so cool. It’s like the same question. It’s like when you walk out if you’re like on a baseball team, you know, you’re like, whatever that song is the Baseball players come out to. So I will go with, Eye of the Tiger, both because of my Philly roots and also, because to be doing this work and fighting climate change and building a healthier community. It’s not for the faint of heart that you really have to get yourself pumped up to go out there every day. So that is a really good pump up jam. Eye of the Tiger.

Ben Kittelson  55:06

That’s awesome. So next time you see Sarah presenting at a council meeting, you know, she’s listened to Eye of the Tiger mere minutes before. 

Sarah Hazel  55:14

Doing punches you know, before I get out there.

Ben Kittelson  55:18

That’s perfect. Awesome. Well, that ends our episode for today. Sarah, thank you so much for coming on and talk with me and sharing your expertise and your experience. This has been great.

Sarah Hazel  55:28

Well, it’s been really nice to catch up. So thank you for having me.

Ben Kittelson  55:32

Yeah. For our listeners, Gov Love is brought to you by Engaging Local Government Leaders. You can reach us online at ELGL.org /GovLove. Or on twitter at the handle @GovLovePodcast. You can subscribe to Gov Love on your favorite podcast app. If you’re already subscribed, go tell a friend or colleague about this podcast. Help us spread the word that Gov Love is the go to place for local government stories. Thanks for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.

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