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Reflections on Progress Toward Greater Economic Sustainability

by Luke Hollenkamp

As I write this at 34,000 feet on the way back to the Twin Cities from Washington D.C., I am reflecting on an experience over spring break that illustrated the importance of cross-sector relations in making progress toward greater sustainability in the economy.

Last summer, I was an intern at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) working on a greenhouse gas inventory of the agency's 18,000 person-strong headquarters in Bethesda, MD. Talking with my boss this week about potential fulltime employment upon graduation, he spoke about the importance he placed on someone in my position making connections within NIH, across to other federal agencies, and to the larger spectrum of private industry. In striving for sustainability in federal operations, he had often seen a silo culture that was difficult to bend and even harder to break. This has led to great difficulty in accomplishing goals, especially important ones to the agency and the country like climate stewardship. In a siloed culture, the wheel is often reinvented, as outside communication and cooperation are lacking with those beyond your immediate vicinity.

This, at its core, can lead to a great amount of inefficiency, as many actors strive for the same goal, unaware of each others' failures and successes. The point was also made clear that cross-sector was not simply working with the lab scientists in the next building over or going to downtown D.C. to meet with Department of Energy employees, but communicating effectively and proactively with others in state and local government, groups at consulting firms, and academics in the lab reviewing and creating policy and innovation.

It is often easier in the short-term but more taxing in the long-term to stay within our silos. The challenge is to have the foresight and gumption to leave our desk and reach out to a variety of players, all seeking the same end goal, but with different means, experiences, and perspectives.

At its heart, that is what I see the Cross-Sector Leadership for the Green Economy: Integrating Research and Practice conference as aiming to achieve. First, it takes that immediate step of getting leaders from diverse perspectives in a common space to discuss our drive toward sustainability and how we, together, get there. Second, the conference builds those relationships among attendees and lays out exactly how we get to the green economy by creating a roadmap to our destination. Though a few days at a conference in a period of increased workload and reduced budgets may seem like a large burden, it will pay dividends over the long-term in creating relationships with other leaders, building a roadmap to future success, and the gained knowledge of what works and what doesn't in strengthening the economy while also growing our responsibility to the planet.

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