City & State Hosts On Sustainability Conference to Address 'Urgent' Need For Change

by Micaela Heck

City & State’s On Sustainability Conference recently took place at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The event included speakers from the governor’s and mayor’s offices, as well as many leaders of organizations like The Community Preservation Corp and the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, all of whom came together to speak on issues ranging from energy efficiency to improving water quality.

“Urgency” was the word of the day, repeated consistently throughout each of the event’s three panel discussions.

“Urgency is something critical for us right now,” said Mark Chambers, the Director of NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, during the morning’s first panel on Energy Efficiency. “We have to do the things that are hard.”

The panel we were most interested in, of course, was the discussion on the Future of Food Sustainability, moderated by David Kanter, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at NYU.

“‘Can we feed the world and save the world?’ is one of the most important questions of our time,” Kanter stated in his opening words. He then proceeded to point out the agricultural devastation that Maria has caused in Puerto Rico, which he noted serves as a wakeup call for the rest of the world.

Kanter went on to moderate a discussion between panelists Gale Brewer (Manhattan Borough President), New York City Councilman Antonio Reynoso, Michael Hoffmann of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions, and Sophia Leonora Mendelsohn, the Head of Sustainability at JetBlue.

During the panel, Brewer and Reynoso spoke about the importance of getting New York City to commit to composting organic waste. “We spend $300 million on sending garbage to landfills,” said Reynoso, who went on to point out that not only does composting save the city money, but also residents who start to see how much food they are composting will learn to adjust their just how much food they actually need to buy.

Brewer also spoke about working with schools and other institutions of New York to source more of their food locally, citing that Grow NYC has created its own alternative entry point for small farmers to bring their crop into the city. “Hunt’s Point [Food Distribution Center] can be intimidating for smaller producers,” explained Brewer of the area where most of NYC’s produce comes into the city.

Mendelsohn spoke excitedly about JetBlue’s BlueBud program, which partnered with Grow NYC in 2015 as a way to mentor startups and smaller food producers by immersing them in JetBlue’s operations and culture. Recently New York’s own Hot Bread Kitchen took part in the program, and some participants even have a chance to partner with the airline to have their products sold on board.

Cornell’s Michael Hoffman rounded up the discussion well, by highlighting how a focus on agriculture is a good way to get people to really recognize the the urgency of doing something about climate change. “Food is a good leverage point,” he said, citing that the current state of coffee bean crops—a near universal staple—are in trouble right now across the globe.

The point is not to panic, however, but to continue to educate and adapt. The worst thing you can do is not try. As Hoffman put it, “If you give up, you’re pretty useless.”

We here at HRN certainly aren’t. Here’s to continuing to spread the message, and thanks to City & State for the educational day!


About City & State

City & State New York is the only media company devoted solely to covering government and politics in New York. Formed from the merger of City Hall and The Capitol newspapers in 2012, City & State provides insightful and detailed coverage of the politics, the policies and the influential individuals and organizations all over New York.

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