C40 Voices: Sarah Potts, CCI/C40 City Director in Los Angeles

Last week I was fortunate to participate in the Women in Green Forum in Santa Monica, California. The Forum brings together female environmental leaders, including corporate sustainability officers, academic researchers, policy-makers, technology developers, and owners of small sustainable businesses that are all working to advance the development and uptake of green technologies and sustainable environmental solutions around issues including energy, transportation, and education (to name a few).

The Forum was, for me, a strong reminder of why I have chosen a professional career focused on global sustainability, and the powerful role that women are playing in driving this sector forward.

One truly stand-out session included speakers Ann Davlin, Director of Development for the Carbon War Room and Nancy Floyd, Founder & Managing Director of Nth Power. Their topic of discussion: the challenges and opportunities of financing clean technologies and renewable energy solutions. Both women gave powerful presentations highlighting their respective work tapping private sector investment in this area. But when it came to discussing the role of global, national and state-level policy in driving private capital investment, Davlin and Floyd held somewhat contradictory - though no doubt complimentary - views.

For Davlin, government policy can be a “lock-box” – chronically plagued by its slow pace of reform and an inability to bring about the necessary market investments in clean energy as quickly as we need them. Floyd did not disagree that the pace of policy can be slow, but contended that government policy is a critical linchpin in providing a more certain foundation for private sector investment in clean energy solutions, and thus it must remain a top priority.

I moderated a panel discussion that came on the heels of this session, entitled “Cities As Accelerators.” Our panel built on this debate and examined the powerful role that some cities are currently playing – through policy measures and private sector engagement – to drive the green economy at the local level. For me, Davlin and Floyd are both right:  Policy can be slow; unlocking private capital markets is essential; but if developed strategically, the two together can be far stronger than either alone.

Teresa Sanchez, Director of the Los Angeles Green Retrofit and Workforce Development Program under Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, highlighted this most clearly in my opinion: Teresa described how the City of Los Angeles is strategically using policy in conjunction with innovative ways of leveraging capital to improve the efficiency of the City’s municipal building stock. Building directly upon Mayor Villaraigosa/Los Angeles City Council’s existing building energy efficiency mandates and policies, the City of Los Angeles is leveraging some of its American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus) funding to access up to $12 Million USD in Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds to create a revolving fund to maximize energy savings and local job creation during a time of scarce resources.

In this case, a strong policy framework and the capital market are wed together to produce stronger financial and environmental end-results for the City of Los Angeles and its residents. One without the other would be, at best, far less impactful.

While this debate will no doubt continue on, all of these women, in addition to the many others that spoke over the two-day Forum, highlighted the powerful voice that women have in transforming our global economy and driving real environmental change on the ground – both of which will, undoubtedly, create a more sustainable future for us all.