Bill Nye, "The Science Guy," speaks at Cal State Fullerton in 2014. Nye will address federal employees in April.

Bill Nye, "The Science Guy," speaks at Cal State Fullerton in 2014. Nye will address federal employees in April. Leonard Ortiz / Digital First Media / Orange County Register via Getty Images

White House Pitches Feds on Sustainability

Biden administration looks to influence culture at federal agencies through speaker series on climate change.

The White House on Tuesday ran its first event to educate federal workers about the impact of climate change and how they can better incorporate sustainable practices into their personal and work lives, kicking off a series it hopes will lead to more resilient agency operations. 

The Biden administration launched the series to support the president’s Federal Sustainability Plan, which he rolled out in December. The plan sets various targets and deadlines for agencies to reduce their emissions from their buildings, vehicles and activities, with the goal of making federal operations carbon-neutral by 2050. The White House designed the speaker series, put on by its Council on Environmental Quality, to help educate the federal workforce about President Biden’s plan. 

“Through this series, employees will enhance their sustainability and climate literacy, learn more about the President's Federal Sustainability Plan and their critical role in the shift to more sustainable and resilient operations,” a White House spokesperson said. 

In the first event, federal employees tuning in heard from Katharine Hayhoe, a professor at Texas Tech University, chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy and an author on the most recent U.S. National Climate Assessment released in 2018. Hayhoe told the nearly 3,000 attendees at Wednesday's talk the basics of climate change, the history of the science behind it, examples of its catastrophic impacts and tips for how to engage others on the topic. She urged federal workers to share stories of what their agencies, and what they personally, are doing to combat climate change. 

“Do something, anything, and then talk about it,” Hayhoe said on the Zoom presentation. She praised the Biden administration for taking “sticky” actions that will be difficult for future administrations to reverse, noting: “It’ll be more work to turn the Titanic around than to just let the Titanic go its way.” 

Andrew Mayock, the federal chief sustainability officer, said during the presentation that the administration hoped to "enhance federal employee engagement on sustainability" by adapting it into the government's culture, identifying staff and resources needed to conduct the work and incorporating climate preparedness into agency operations. He explained the administration is building goals on an annual basis so agencies can scale up their solutions over time. He also encouraged participants to engage with their agencies' chief sustainability officers to see how they can be of assistance. Mayock stressed the important role the federal government has to play in the fight against climate change, as it is the largest real estate owner, consumer of electricity and fleet operator in the United States. 

Biden also pushed that point in a letter to federal workers when announcing his sustainability plan last month. 

“As public servants, we owe it to the American people to be good stewards of government resources—and each and every one of you has a critical role to play in that effort,” Biden said.

Wednesday's event was the first of four the White House plans to put on, with the subsequent presentations coming in April, August and December. The next speaker will be Bill Nye, a television personality and climate activist.