Interview: New Director of Sustainability Christine Knapp


CK headshotPhiladelphia’s new Director of Sustainability Christine Knapp discusses her new job, her first job, and the challenges ahead.

Q: Welcome! You’ve been on the job for a month and a half now. How has it been?

Christine: It’s been a busy and exciting seven weeks! The staff at the Office of Sustainability have been tremendously helpful in getting me up to speed on all of their work and visions for our next phase.  I’ve also gotten a lot of support and encouragement from colleagues throughout City government and from external partners, which has been wonderful.

Q: You have a mix of advocacy and government experience. How do you think that will help you in your new role?

Christine: I think having experience in both sectors helps me to understand the roles that all stakeholders can and should have in helping to meet our collective goals. I believe strongly in the ability of government to lead, but I know it has limitations. I also know the advocacy community can help to drive policy, engage new audiences and hold government accountable- all of which are critical to success.

Q: 2015 marked the end of the original timeline for the city’s comprehensive sustainability plan, Greenworks. What’s next?

Christine: Mayor Kenney is committed to continuing on the great work that has been done by the Office of Sustainability over the last eight years. Our first step will be to update Greenworks as our comprehensive sustainability framework. We want to gather feedback from the community, from issue experts and from other City agencies to create a plan that works for everyone.

Q: Philadelphia is already experiencing climate change – more extreme weather, flooding, and an increasing number of high heat days? What is the City doing from a planning perspective to deal with a changing climate?

Christine: In December, we released the City’s first climate adaptation report “Growing Stronger: Toward a Climate-Ready Philadelphia,” which details the impacts climate change could have on the city and lays out recommendations for action to mitigate those impacts. Luckily, many of our City departments are already taking actions to help adapt to a wetter and warmer climate, such as the Green City, Clean Waters green infrastructure program being implemented by Philadelphia Water, or Philadelphia Parks and Recreation piloting new forest restoration practices to identify practices suitable for our changing climate. We will be looking at how to support City departments in carrying out these recommendations, while also trying to reduce carbon emissions.

Q: We noticed a change in the department’s name – “Mayor’s” has been dropped. You’re now the Office of Sustainability. What’s that all about?

Christine: In November of 2014, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question to make the office permanent. That means we now stand as our own independent office outside of the Mayor’s office. This change creates an opportunity for us to work even more closely with operating departments, whose collaboration and partnership has been critical to our shared success.

Q: We know about your current job, but what was your very first job?

Christine: I worked at a bagelry on Long Island called the Bagel Nook. I’m still a bit of a bagel snob, but Philly has really stepped up its bagel game in the last few years!

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Philadelphia to Take Part in SEED Collaborative

Mayor Kenney announced today that the City will take part in the Standard Energy Efficiency Data (SEED) Collaborative, a free open-source database platform to track the energy performance of buildings throughout Philadelphia.

The SEED platform will help the City’s Office of Sustainability manage energy benchmarking data for nearly 2,000 commercial, municipal, and school buildings, along with 800 multi-family properties to be added to the program in the coming year.

“Philadelphia is an early leader in the benchmarking and disclosure of building energy information, and making use of the SEED platform will only improve that report,” Mayor Kenney said.  “We look forward to being an example for other cities as they look to increase sustainable energy use and limit greenhouse gas emissions.”

In cooperation with the Department of Energy, Office of Sustainability will work to integrate SEED with existing benchmarking reporting platforms, including the city’s groundbreaking data visualization tool (visualization.phillybuildingbenchmarking.com) and custom energy performance profiles emailed to every building owner that participates in the program.

“By participating in the SEED Collaborative, Philadelphia will have the opportunity to guide the development of the SEED tool and contribute toward the DOE goal of doubling American energy productivity by 2030,” said Christine Knapp, Director for the Office of Sustainability.

The city’s Greenworks sustainability plan has emphasized building efficiency as a key component of climate action; buildings account for 60 percent of the city’s carbon footprint, as compared to just 19 percent for transportation.