October 27, 2023
Maria Cosentino

Four Experts On Harnessing Climate Innovation To Drive Economic Growth

The need for solutions is transforming regional anchor industries and shaping the green economy.
Moderator Lindsey Greene and panels Zach Kolodin, Lacy McManus, and Cecilia Kushner onstage for the first panel at New Climate Futures. Photos by Annie Forrest.

On Thursday, September 21, in Brooklyn, NY as part of Climate Week NYC, Newlab hosted NEW CLIMATE FUTURES – a day of workshops, panel discussions, keynotes, and announcements from industry partners across the sectors of energy, mobility and materials. 

The first panel entitled “Harnessing Climate Innovation to Drive Economic Growth was moderated by Lindsay Greene, President & CEO of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation and featured panelists Cecilia Kushner, Chief Strategy Officer of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Lacy McManus, Executive Director of Future Energy at Greater New Orleans, Inc., and Zach Kolodin, Chief Infrastructure Officer for the State of Michigan

The conversation delved into the transformation of anchor industries in each of the panelists’ regions, their roles in addressing climate challenges, and the opportunities they present for economic growth.

Reshaping the Anchor Economy in Louisiana

Lacey began the discussion by shedding light on Louisiana's traditional identity as an oil and gas state. This industry has been the economic backbone of the state for generations. However, Louisiana is now facing dire consequences from climate change, with land disappearing at an alarming rate. Lacey pointed out that around 60% of the state's carbon emissions originate from industry, far exceeding the national average of 17%.

Despite this predicament, Lacey highlighted the immense opportunities that have arisen in the energy landscape. With the support of recent federal initiatives, such as blue hydrogen and green hydrogen production, Louisiana is poised to transition its industrial sector toward lower emissions. These initiatives not only preserve existing jobs but also create new economic prospects, leading to a promising path forward for future generations.

Lacy McManus, Executive Director of Future Energy at Greater New Orleans, Inc, speaks at New Climate Futures.

The Automotive Industry in Michigan

Zach spoke about Michigan's deep-rooted connection to the automotive industry, emphasizing the critical role it has played in the state's history and economy. However, the automotive industry is undergoing a major transition as it moves towards electrification and the decarbonization of transportation. While this transition presents challenges, it also holds the potential to build the next middle class.

Zach stressed the importance of policy choices in shaping the industry's future. Michigan is actively working to ensure a smooth transition by supporting union labor, incentivizing EV manufacturing, and facilitating the development of clean energy technologies. Initiatives like the Department of Energy's $2 billion fund to help ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) automotive suppliers transition to EVs are vital in achieving the state's goals.

Real Estate and Building Decarbonization in New York City

Cecilia shared insights into New York City's unique position, with its dense urban environment and the need to address building decarbonization, given its 1.1 million buildings. The city's aggressive initiatives aim to force the market to accelerate the transition toward greener buildings. She highlighted the importance of de-risking innovation in the building sector, making it more accessible to developers and building professionals. New York City is actively piloting innovative projects, such as mass timber buildings, to promote the transition to greener construction methods.

Through programs like the Founder Fellowship and Waterfront Pathways, the city is also supporting diverse founders and contractors, aiming to increase equity and workforce development in the green economy. These initiatives not only address the climate crisis but also provide economic opportunities and create middle-class jobs in underserved communities.

Equity and Collaboration: A Transformative Moment

The panelists underscored that this is a unique moment in history where governments, at various levels, are working together to address climate challenges. The collaboration between federal, state, and city governments is vital in channeling resources and achieving shared goals. The focus on equity, environmental justice, and involving impacted communities in decision-making processes is paramount.

Moreover, government policies and regulations play a crucial role in shaping markets and ensuring that projects are developed with equity in mind. Supporting entrepreneurship, workforce development, and innovative contracting practices are essential to involve underrepresented communities in the green economy.

In summation, the panel discussion highlighted the opportunities and challenges in transitioning anchor industries and the importance of inclusive, equitable, and collaborative approaches in harnessing climate innovation for economic growth. This transformative moment, where government plays a significant role in shaping the future, holds immense promise for a sustainable and prosperous future.

To learn more about Newlab’s role in economic development, contact us here.

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