Portland hires new sustainability leader
Michele Crim started out in college hoping to become an astronaut.
Now she's trying to keep the skies clear — of additional greenhouse gases.
Crim, who has led Portland's climate action initiatives the past decade for the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, was promoted last week to chief sustainability officer. Overseeing a staff of 40, Crim is now in charge of all the sustainability projects of the bureau, such as green buildings, energy efficiency, business assistance, EVs, and other endeavors. She'll essentially fill the job once handled by Michael Armstrong, who left several months ago to become a consultant.
Portland, under the leadership of bureau director Susan Anderson and Armstrong, has won plaudits for its many sustainability initiatives, especially its innovative Climate Action Plan. With Anderson leaving her post next month, Crim will be the veteran trying to maintain Portland's cutting-edge work on climate and other environmental issues.
Crim, who helped prepare the city/county Climate Action Plan update in 2015, acknowledged these are challenging times, with President Donald Trump dismissing the threat of climate change and actively promoting greater use of coal and oil, two of the biggest contributors to global warming.
"I think we're out of time on a lot of things, in a lot of ways," Crim said, during a break from a conference of the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance in Boulder, Colorado. But reversals on the national front have caused more cities to step up their efforts, she said.
"It's brought more cities to the table, and there's great strength in that," Crim said.
Portland is an active member of the C40 group of major world cities trying to lead the charge on climate change policies. The cities in the group reason that most of the planet's carbon emissions stem from urban areas, and they have the bulk of the world's population, so they are a fitting vehicle to seek the necessary changes when their national governments fail to act.
In coming months, Crim said her bureau will try to mesh its sustainability policies with the city's growing gentrification, housing affordability and related transit challenges. It's about improving peoples' lives, she said.
The Climate Action Plan that Crim helped author also calls for expanding the city's role to target carbon emissions stemming from consumption, whether it be from food or electronic equipment.
The bureau needs to help figure out "what's the role of a local government in terms of trying to influence what people are buying or eating," Crim said. Though those products may be produced elsewhere, "we can't continue to think of them as somewhere else in the world and not a problem."
That's more challenging than some of the lower-hanging fruit earlier tackled by the city's sustainability efforts, she said.
Crim, 47, attended college at the University of North Dakota, where she initially was drawn to become an astronaut. She later switched and earned her undergraduate degree in environmental geology.
She moved to the Northwest to get a masters at Washington State University in environmental science and regional planning.
She settled in Vancouver, Wash,. after grad school to run Panasonic's environmental programs at its Clark County manufacturing plant.
Three years later, she moved to Portland and became the first sustainability coordinator for Portland State University. After three years, she moved to the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, where she has worked the past 14 years.
A national search will be undertaken soon to replace Susan Anderson, who retires next month. In the meantime, the bureau will be led by Joe Zehnder.
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