Cities Drive Change Through Innovative Sustainability Programs

My name is Haley Falconer and I am a civil engineer and sustainability professional from Boise, Idaho. After being accepted into the UNLEASH Lab, I was immediately in awe of the tremendous work going on around the world by this amazing group of young people. I struggled to summarize my ‘expertise’ because my experience is broad and varied. Through this reflection, I now appreciate that the experience I bring, from both consulting engineering and from implementing sustainability and water programs at a city government level, is unique and important to the solutions development we want to achieve.

Growing up in Montana, we spent every summer going to the lake. We would fish, swim, canoe, catch turtles, watch for beavers, and float the river. From a very young age, these experiences shaped my love for water and the environment. Flash forward 20 years, and my career has focused on water and sustainability.

At the core, my passion is water. Water is fundamental to everything we do and can serve as a connection between all of the sustainability development goals. A few examples of this connection based on my work at the City highlight the importance of each area we are working on for the UNLEASH Lab.

· Water conservation provides energy conservation

· Fossil-fuel based energy production requires tremendous water use thus a transition to renewable energy often has a secondary benefit of reduced water consumption

· 70% of the worlds water consumption is for food production — we need water solutions to produce food for a growing population

· 20% of the world’s population lacks access to clean water and sanitation. Sanitation is a public health concern as water borne diseases are prevalent.

· Availability of clean, consistent water supply drives economic development

None of these areas can or will be solved in isolation. At the City of Boise, I served as the first Sustainability Coordinator and now as the Environmental Manager. Through these roles, I have experienced what it takes to move ideas through a city process and help them become reality. I have an appreciation for some of the biggest hang-ups — they could be public education rather than a technical solution. Or it could be a regulatory structure that does not (easily) allow for innovation. These challenges are the realities of making transformational change in any of the sustainability development goals.

We know that urban growth is a continuing trend around the world. Additionally, city governments are often structured to be nimbler than counterpart state and federal governments. Because of this, cities are where action is occurring around the world. Cities can move more quickly to set goals, change codes, provide incentives, and educate the public. Cities also can make long term investments without a focus on short returns on investments that often drive corporate decisions. These factors highlight the need to partner with and engage local jurisdictions in the implementation of SDG solutions. Cities drive changing infrastructure and regulatory needs, lead by example, set the pace for change, and are the foundation to implementing the SDGs.

The amazing thing about this program is that it is bringing together technical experts, academic professionals, and entrepreneurs for each of the SDGs. This combination of expertise and background is incredible and will inform what hopes to be a tremendous 9 days of work. I plan to return to the City of Boise and my work as a WEF volunteer with ideas on how we can advance our work on water, energy, and sustainability issues.

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