GUEST OPINION: On choosing the right person to lead the county’s sustainability office – Prince William Times

guest-opinion:-on-choosing-the-right-person-to-lead-the-county’s-sustainability-office-–-prince-william-times

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This past April, after months of advocacy from Mothers Out Front and the Greater Prince William Climate Action Network, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors finally adopted a new budget for fiscal year 2022 that included, for the first time in the county’s history, funding to create an office of sustainability, a sustainability commission and a climate action plan.

This funding will allow the county to achieve the targets set in the climate resolution the supervisors passed last November, which includes the goal of sourcing 100% of Prince William County’s electricity from renewable sources by 2035. Among other commitments, the resolution emphasizes the need to incorporate equity principles and environmental justice into the county’s comprehensive plan. 

We were thrilled to see the county board advance ambitious climate targets with dedicated funding. But in order to make these targets a reality, we need the county’s first leader for the new office of sustainability to be someone who listens to and represents the community.  

Staffing is one of the earliest and most important steps in establishing a county office of sustainability and developing a climate action plan. Now is the time to get this right. For this crucial position that will set the stage for sustainability for years to come, we need to hire a candidate, preferably a woman of color, who approaches this work through an equity and environmental justice lens.

Historically, senior staff leadership of environmental organizations have been white and male in the United States. According to Green 2.0, an organization focused on the intersection of environment and race, in 2018, the percentage of senior staff of color at large environmental non-governmental organizations was 21%. This type of homogeneity results in mainstream environmental policies that may reduce some carbon emissions but will not prepare low-income and communities of color for climate impacts. 

We see this in Prince William County, for example, in areas where communities with higher proportions of minority residents have life expectancies up to 17 years shorter than the predominantly white communities. This is the case for Bull Run, a largely Hispanic community that has a median income three times less than the predominantly white Haymarket.  

To ensure we attract candidates outside the white and male dominated norm, we must prioritize community engagement skills, lived experience and diversity in the staffing process. Finding someone with innovative ideas and experience in engaging historically excluded communities is crucial for effective sustainability policy and projects. Therefore, the job description should explicitly say that both experience working with underrepresented groups and lived experiences will be valued in the hiring process and the position itself. 

Ultimately, taking diversity and equity into deep consideration when hiring the manager of the county’s office of sustainability is critical. We need this office to represent our county and support a climate action plan that ensures climate justice -- not just for current residents of Prince William but for future generations.

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