Interview with Matt Henigan – Deputy Sustainability Secretary for the State of California

What are currently the key focus areas for sustainability in California Government operations?

We work with roadmap templates to set out and meet our mandates per department. We ask departments to report to us on sustainability, explaining their plans and how they will adapt their operations to meet these targets. Each department is very different, they all work differently and have varying goals, from employment development to forest rangers and prison management, We ask them all to present their plans and roadmaps in their own words.

There isn’t one California State Sustainability plan, there are 40 different sustainability plans, one for each department. Implementation is the challenge and takes most of our time and brain power. How do you make a plan achievable for these departments? What can we do to help smooth the path and make it achievable?

What role does reforestation play in California’s sustainability plans?

Trees bring multi-benefit solutions for many sustainability challenges. Trees provide shade to promote biking and walking,  carbon sequestration, erosion control for urban landscaping, water filtration for clear drinking water, offsetting for fossil energy and fleet management, and helping regions adapt to changing climates.

“Growing natural biomass – planting trees – is the ultimate solution for capturing carbon on a massive scale.”

Matt Henigan, Deputy Secretary for Sustainability for the State of California

How have you seen the sustainability agenda in California change?

I’ve been on the job 3 years in November and the biggest shift has been the election of Donald Trump a year ago. This leadership change has thrust California into the spotlight. Where we first played a supporting role in international climate negotiations and climate work in general, now all eyes are on California to represent the US and leadership on the global stage. A good example is that we just passed a 10 year extension for California’s cap-and-trade program with a 2/3 bi-partisan majority, which will continue the program until 2030. Cap and trade requires companies to buy permits to release greenhouse gas emissions.

This bill is critical as it supports our global role as a sustainability leader, I strongly believe sustainability policy is not going anywhere, its getting stronger. More and more sustainability will become intertwined in every part of daily life; from building a home to driving a car – you can’t escape it.

How does California support environmentally friendly businesses and innovation? And why?

Environmental policy in California has pushed business far enough to realize there is a competitive advantage for them. For example, Southern California is fast becoming the “Detroit of electric busses”. This is due to regulation encouraging the use and implementation of electric busses, the industry followed. Now we have an abundance of non-college degree, high paying manufacturing jobs that everyone wants for their state. If the US pulls back from the eco-industrial initiatives (windmills, solar etc) that are in development now, we will miss out on the Next Great (Green) Industrial Revolution.

What do you predict the future holds in terms of conserving and restoring our planet?

A strong new focus in California is promoting natural and working land as a solution for global warming. The Forest Carbon Plan which was recently released (by the National Resources Agency) details how we need to turn our forests into a carbon sponge and not a carbon source as you are seeing now with the wildfires sweeping the state. Another example of this focus on supporting natural working lands is the Healthy Soils Initiative; growing biomass is the most effective way to take CO2 out of the atmosphere. Alternative energy and combatting fossil fuels have been the primary focus of policy makers but more and more we are realising that growing natural biomass is the ultimate solution for capturing carbon on a massive scale.