Interning at the NRDC During Spring 2020

Jessie Kaliski
During the spring of 2020, Jessica Kaliski (MBA/MPA '20) interned at the Natural Resource Defense Council. Read on to learn more about her time there:

Name: Jessie Kaliski
Year: 2020
Hometown: Wellesley, MA
Specialization: Finance & Strategy (Stern School of Business) and International Development Policy and Management (Wagner School of Public Service)

Briefly describe your internship experience (org/company, department, your focus projects/deliverables, how you came to find this role)
I had the opportunity this past spring semester to continue my part-time work with the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) – and, in fact, am working part-time throughout the summer. Compared to last semester where I spent 50% of my time on internal finance-related awareness projects for NRDC, and the other half on the American Cities Climate Challenge (a program funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies designed to help US cities meet (and ideally surpass) their carbon reduction goals), this semester I’ve focused solely on the ACCC. In particular, I’ve been researching ways cities can incorporate the price of carbon into their decision-making processes – whether that be in the form of a shadow price or carbon fee or more drastically via a parallel carbon budget in conjunction with the typical financial budget.

For those who are not aware – I was not aware before this internship (!) – a shadow price puts an implicit price on carbon to help evaluate its impact on investment decisions; however, no money is actually paid for the carbon that would be emitted. In comparison, a carbon fee is a program that charges a fee for investments and / or activities that result in emissions in order to encourage more carbon-friendly changes.

In your own words, why do you think this work is important?
An interesting discussion many city governments are having is what to do next and how do we spend our limited budgets? City governments, in comparison to the national government, cannot run deficits. As a result, there might be tendencies to ignore sustainability initiatives in lieu of the current pandemic; however, this is exactly what we cannot do. Rather, cities need to ensure that every dollar spent has multiple benefits – dollars need to be spent in a way that is sustainable and equitable. This will mean developing creative solutions; and the development of creative solutions will require a collaborative approach, particularly as we enter this new normal. The efforts could range from expanding access to energy-efficient AC systems to low-income households, providing much needed AC in the summertime both at a lower cost and a lower GHG rate. It could also entail greater investments in public spaces which will be all the more essential given social distance protocols, but can, at the same time, act as carbon sinks and encourage “more friendly” transportation options.

Now more than ever we need money to be spent towards sustainable efforts so that our cities and communities are more resilient to future pandemics and crises. It’s a hard sell to make and one that might result in long-term gains, as opposed to immediate (and short-lived) ones; yet, is one that needs to be made and accepted. NRDC’s efforts via the ACCC are exactly at the forefront of this change.

How do you define sustainability as it relates to your work? What are the biggest challenges and opportunities that this sector faces with respect to sustainability?
I think the challenge with sustainability is that it tends to be housed within one department and is not fully integrated into all city government departments and agencies. This means that data is siloed and there is minimal alignment regarding financial decisions and carbon goals and caps. Given this environment, it is often difficult to advocate for additional funds – which is particularly true in times of shrinking budgets.

That said, a more integrated and holistic support, such as through carbon pricing, can help ameliorate some of these challenges. It, of course, won’t be easy and will require a lot of small baby steps and pilots before its full integration (and acceptance). Throughout my research at NRDC, one city that has stood out for its abilities to integrate its financial budget with a carbon one is the City of Oslo. If you’re interested, I recommend checking out its efforts! (Here is a good article).

Did any of your classes/projects at Stern prove helpful for and/or complement this experience? How did this experience shape the rest of your time at Stern? How did it shape your future career path?
During my second year in my dual program at NYU Stern and Wagner School of Public Service, I was part of Stern’s Leadership Fellows program. One of the exercises included writing down our mission statement – something I now have hanging up in my apartment wall. My mission statement acts as my north star and has helped me make decisions of what opportunities to and to not take, and what roles to play within these opportunities.

One of the key reasons why I decided to pursue this internship at NRDC – and am continuing it into the summer – is that it is directly aligned with my mission statement: I seek to create an ecosystem for a more resilient and equitable world by acting as a bridge between the business and “idealistic” worlds. NRDC has provided me with the opportunity to get a deeper glimpse into the valiant and difficult challenges cities are tackling, and also the necessary private sector links required to accelerate and enhance these initiatives. As I continue to explore the best way for me to have an impact and create a more resilient and equitable world, this internship has shown a light on the role city governments play, as well as pockets of opportunities that exist where the private sector – or other involved parties – can play a stronger role.