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Charlottesville unveils new office to achieve ambitious climate goals

Charlottesville is revamping its commitment to the battle against climate change.

While it’s already following a Climate Action Plan, City Manager Sam Sanders has now established an Office of Sustainability, formerly known as the Environmental Sustainability Commission.

“This change provides a designation of priority for climate action and elevates its focus to work across the entire city organization as an extension of the City Manager,” Sanders told City Council in a December report.

The difference between the commission and the new office is that the former was a division of Charlottesville Public Works. The Office of Sustainability will not be part of any department, but rather a wing of the city manager’s office.

“This is like a restructuring,” Kristel Riddervold, who directs the new department, told The Daily Progress. “It takes that team out of one of the divisions and makes it an office that is directed and endorsed and encouraged to work with all the other departments and the city to really push climate and sustainability goals.”

Those goals are ambitious.

The Climate Action Plan asks the city to reduce its emissions by 45% by 2030 and to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Riddervold noted that those deadlines are approaching fast.

“This office was set up to deliver, and that’s what we’re going to work really hard to do,” she said of her five-person team.

Now that the office is no longer part of any single division, it will be easier to work with the city’s many departments, according to Riddervold, all of which can contribute to climate goals in their own way.

“Our perspective is everybody’s job is a climate or sustainability job. It’s just a matter of identifying what element that is,” Riddervold said.

Whether it be the parks, utilities, transit or public works department, the city has said it believes each can contribute to its climate goals in some way or another. The Office of Sustainability will be charged with coordinating with all of them to achieve those goals.

Riddervold was with the city when it first launched its formal environmental program in 2002. Once it broadened its scope of work, it became the Environmental Sustainability Division and operated under that title for a decade. The Office of Sustainability is the most recent iteration, although designed to be nimbler and more comprehensive than in previous years.

Public Works was a big department in 2002, with a lot of environmental issues under its umbrella, so Riddervold feels it made sense to put the environmental program there. But times have changed.

“As the program has evolved and community expectations have evolved, it’s really important for it to be a city posture. We know we’re at a very historical moment in terms of federal funding and opportunities around climate work, and we know on the international scale there are historical commitments to doing this work,” Riddervold said. “We are going try to keep things moving in the positive direction and work hard at the local level intensely to make progress."

The list of the office’s objectives is a long one. It will be supporting other departments, which will mean assisting with the transit department’s alternative fuel study and the Parks and Recreation’s forest management work. It also will be looking at establishing an internal green building standard and how to deploy solar across city buildings while improving energy performance.

In addition, it will mean keeping a strong relationships with officials in Albemarle County and the University of Virginia, so that the entire region can cooperate to achieve common goals.

“We are going try to move the needle,” Riddervold said. “Progress means everybody is served well, that we’re thinking about equity implications of different programs and access to resources. It’s really super important to do this work good and well and fair.”


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