We are delighted to congratulate Joel Howrani Heeres on his new role as Detroit’s first Director of Sustainability! Since his time at EcoWorks as Director of Sustainability Planning, Joel has demonstrated every facet of sustainability leadership imaginable; I can’t imagine a better person for the role.
Launching the Office of Sustainability
The creation of Detroit’s Office of Sustainability is a major milestone in Detroit’s journey toward institutionalizing priorities that advance economic, social, and environmental justice for the benefit of all residents. The Office is also, I hope, a launch pad for the next level of leadership, transparency, and greater collaboration with residents and local organizations. Its creation is a timely reminder that cities like Detroit can lead on climate and sustainability, even in the face of federal opposition and the vacuum of presidential leadership.
Institutionalizing sustainability through this office has been a longtime goal of many and a framework was, until now, a largely unfulfilled part of 2012 amendments to the City Charter. The office is the result of a steady call for action from staff within the Coleman A. Young Municipal Building and numerous non-profit leaders, particularly my colleagues at the Detroit Environmental Agenda coalition. I’m grateful to all who had a hand in making the dream a reality.
Why Joel Will Be An Outstanding Director of Sustainability
When the position was first posted, it was hard to think of people who would bring all the skills needed to do the job justice. What single person could drive city facilities and operations toward ambitious and measurable goals, meaningfully partner with non-profits and residents, and navigate the complex web of offices that comprise Detroit’s city government? Who could bring the technical expertise needed, while also uplifting the ideal that sustainability is about improving the health and quality of life for residents? Who can work collaboratively, with vision and integrity? Dwelling on these questions was daunting, and the list of strong candidates who came to mind narrowed to very few.
Joel has been working tirelessly to advance sustainability in Detroit for many years, and his ability to embrace sustainability at seemingly disconnected scales has always inspired me. At the micro level, I witnessed Joel’s personal commitment by watching him bike (or ski!) to work…and ride 100 miles on January 1st to benefit Back Alley Bikes. He farms more than his family can eat and captures thousands of gallons of rainwater off his roof for irrigation. But Joel isn’t one to keep sustainability to himself; he believes deeply in collaborative work and immerses himself in the messiness of it. Many of Joel’s evenings are spent in community meetings, where he is a patient, trusted relationship-builder and a superb facilitator. His work on Detroit’s Open Data has given residents and community leaders greater access to information about the city than ever before.
During his time at EcoWorks, his work centered around coalition-building, from working with dozens of municipalities on energy and climate planning to representing EcoWorks in the Detroit Climate Action Collaborative and the Detroit Environmental Agenda (DEA). There, he played a key role in developing the DEA Report and 2013 Voter Guide, an impressive state of the city document with policy recommendations and responses from mayoral and city council candidates.
I am thrilled that the City’s Office of Sustainability will be guided by such a capable, collaborative, and committed person with deep roots in Detroit. We look forward to working closely with Joel and the Office of Sustainability for many years to come and to hosting him at our 2017 Annual Breakfast.
Source: Eco Works