Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

The Green Issue

March 24, 2014

March 2014


Bruce Schlein, Director

Corporate Sustainability, Citi

Communities, people, and the natural and built environments within which they live are, and always have been, inextricably linked. While this is stating the obvious, it is pointed out in the context of this issue of the CDIR because the disciplines and organizations that seek to improve communities and the environment have not always been as linked as the constituent parts they serve.

There are good reasons for this, perhaps the most notable being that disciplines require degrees of specialization that can create silos. Optimizing the balance between specialization and integration is a longstanding challenge. Too much specialization and we might miss out on critical connections and opportunities. Too much integration and we run the risk of tackling everything, and therefore nothing.

Community development and environment are illustrative of this dynamic. There have been strong interdisciplinary efforts, particularly community groups that have pursued environmental issues from the perspective of social justice. And there have been isolated efforts, ones that have delivered results in one but not both dimensions, and in the worst case actually come at the expense of the “other” dimension.

Several trends are driving more interdisciplinary efforts, including increasing environmental pressures, urbanization and digitization. Climate change, for example, and resulting intense weather events, as well as urbanization and growing populations, are both putting pressure on urban infrastructure and systems. Digitization is providing community and environmental groups with new tools for understanding and managing integrated issues and solutions. All of this taken together is driving new approaches to community and environmental issues with direct bearing on community assets, employment and enterprise opportunities, and public health.

This issue of the Community Development Investment Review highlights a number of deliberate, innovative interdisciplinary efforts that seek to concurrently and holistically address community development and environmental issues. Many of them focus on cities and their surroundings. They are diverse in the combination of issues they touch and address including air quality, climate change, water access on the environmental side, and education, health, and affordable housing on the community development side. And they are diverse in their range of approaches and partnerships. 

Contributors and their organizations and partners are finding and leveraging direct and ancillary benefits. CFED’s Andrea Levere, in her piece “Mixing Asset Building with Energy Efficiency: A Recipe for Financial and Environmental Sustainability” shows how cost savings associated with household energy improvements and behavior change builds assets and reduces environmental impact. Kim Dempsey and Jennifer Afdahl Rice of Capital Impact Partners explore how green schools can have a direct impact on student health and performance in “Charter Schools Ripe for Green Investments.” And ACEEE’s Casey Bell, in “Understanding the True Benefits of both Energy Efficiency and Job Creation” helps illuminate issues related to green jobs. Connections within and between articles illustrate the complexities and potential of multidisciplinary efforts and co-benefits.

Interdisciplinary partnerships at Citi–both internally and externally–have been instrumental to our understanding of these issues and the related development of solutions. Citi has had the good fortune to collaborate with many of the groups that contributed articles as we have worked together to pursue finance solutions that help scale activity and impact. Many of the examples in this issue explore fragmented and decentralized activity; activity that needs to be aggregated and standardized to reach sufficient scale and for more efficient execution, including with respect to deploying capital. Through the Citi for Cities platform, Citi is leading the pursuit of solutions in this space. 

This issue of the Review, with respect to Citi’s role, was a partnership between Corporate Sustainability, and Citi Foundation and Citi Community Development; the latter represented by Kristen Scheyder and Laura Sparks (now with William Penn Foundation). About two years ago, Laura and I met, discussed our respective bodies of work and realized untapped ways in which they were complementary. That prompted a conversation with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s David Erickson, who gave Kristen and me a green light to develop an outline of articles and authors. I would like to thank all of the aforementioned individuals, the authors in this issue, and Citi’s heads of Corporate Sustainability and Citi Foundation, Pam Flaherty and Brandee Mchale for their leadership and support.

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