Leah Bamberger - Director of Sustainability for the City of Providence, Rhode Island

Leah Bamberger - Director of Sustainability for the City of Providence, Rhode Island

Mayor Jorge O. Elorza appointed Leah Bamberger as the Director of Sustainability in April 2015. Leah brings a wealth of experience in municipal sustainability efforts. She previously managed the City of Boston’s citywide sustainability initiative, Greenovate Boston. In this role, she worked on policy and community engagement and led the development of the City’s 2014 Climate Action Plan. Prior to this position, Leah served as a consultant to a variety of local and regional governments and nonprofits in the northeast, supporting their climate and sustainability planning work.

The Sustainability Director’s responsibilities include identifying opportunities to reduce the City’s energy costs, working with community groups, residents, and businesses to implement the City’s first comprehensive sustainability action plan, transitioning residents to the Recycle Together program, and other projects.

Leah Joins Sustainable Nation to Discuss:

  • Providence's climate neutral goal and approach to renewable energy and energy efficiency

  • Development of Providence's Climate Justice Plan

  • The importance of stakeholder engagement in moving communities towards sustainability and social equity

  • Advice and recommendations for sustainability leaders

Leah Bamberger on Developing the city's Climate Justice Plan:

Tell us about creating Providence's Climate Justice Plan, what that's all about and what you hope that that does for the city.

We started this process about a year ago, we have this ambitious goal and we are very eager to focus on the intersection of environmental justice and climate resilience in this effort. It was good timing because we had also recently wrapped up a process where we were looking at our Sustainable Providence Plan and it was painfully obvious that equity was not a part of that plan. That plan covered a lot and built a really good groundwork for this work, but it didn't really dive into the equity issue.

So, back in 2016 we started a process with a group of frontline community members, communities of color that have been disproportionately burdened and continue to be burdened by environmental injustices. We wanted to bring equity into our work and we wanted the people who are most impacted to be leading that work. That's a big part of doing this equity work and that's something that I learned. I had the opportunity to attend trainings and workshops to really understand and think about how I need to do my work differently. Oftentimes we get our credentials, we learn a practice and then we become experts and we start to disregard, or not give credit to, the lived experiences of the people that we are doing this work for.

We created this racial and environmental justice committee to really inform the office of sustainability in terms of how we should be bringing equity into this work. We partnered with frontline communities of Providence to tell us how we can and should be addressing racial equity and sustainability. They did a lot of deep work in the community to get feedback and input and created a very robust document called the Just Providence Framework. It's a set of principles and recommendations of how the office of sustainability and local government can be addressing equity. That framework is being used now to develop this Climate Justice Plan.

Tell us about this different approach to stakeholder engagement and how that affects the plan.

The actions and the work that I see in the results of this plan versus many other climate action plans, is that it's been so fascinating to see how different this plan is because our process was so different. Typically in a stakeholder engagement process, you're getting input and it's a lot of the usual suspects at the table. As a result, those recommendations tend to serve and benefit the people that helped create the plan. Because ours was done so differently, it actually looks a lot different and the strategies and actions coming out of that are very different than what you would generally see in a typical climate action plan.

That process I think is so important. What we're working towards, and we are by no means there, is a more collaborative governance structure where it's not government making decisions for people, but it's people making decisions with government as a mechanism to execute what the community needs. It's almost like a total flip of how we generally think about how government engages and is in relationship with community.