Last week, Glenn Barnes wrote about a public forum for which we hosted a wide range of environmental finance experts to speak about the future of environmental finance: the opportunities and the challenges ahead. It was a broad topic, no doubt, but some common themes arose. One theme echoed throughout the forum was that the past is not coming back. In other words, the previous and prominent options for funding environmental projects are not going to be as available in the future. In some ways, the same also holds true for the future of the Environmental Finance Center.
So like many of the organizations that we work with, we are reflecting on our strategic direction and business plan(s). To help with this, we kept the group of speakers after the public forum and pivoted the discussion specifically to the future of the Environmental Finance Center. The timing is right. Over the past six years, the Environmental Finance Center has grown a great deal in the breadth and depth of our work, captured in this Prezi infographic (credit to Lexi Kay for building the Prezi). When walking the advisers through our past, it was amazing to visually see the increase in projects and people since we started as the University of North Carolina EFC in 1998. Each bubble on the graphic represents a significant project, from which we expanded our knowledge base and partnerships and built momentum in the industry. Each line on the bottom of the graphic represents a critical member of our team.
We want to ensure that we maintain this momentum, continuing to answer the critical “how to pay” questions for protecting the environment and public health through three primary methods:
- Applied Research
- Program Design and Evaluation
- Education & Outreach
We have found these efforts to be effective and complementary to one another. For example, our applied research work feeds directly into our education, outreach, program design, and program evaluation. And in turn, our education and engagement work fuels our research. We learn of informational gaps through the discussions fostered in our educational programs. And, of course, when we directly engage with a community or organization and assist with the design or evaluation of an environmental finance program, we are able to pull that experience into the context of our research and education.
While we have a good mix for the things that we do, we are thinking about how to do it better and potentially bigger. Like many others, we are challenged to do more with less. We are driven to provide solutions to those that many times have the least ability to pay for our services. And we strive to engage in a meaningful way that produces real outcomes in environmental protection (and all the better if we can capture and communicate those outcomes). We must balance the quantity and quality of our work, with a deep-rooted knowledge that we cannot forsake our integrity.
Our strengths lie in our ability to overcome these challenges, to connect on a community level, and to serve as an unbiased knowledge base. The applied nature of our work keeps our research relevant and accessible. The faculty, staff, and students that we work with come from a myriad of disciplines that lend themselves well to the multi-faceted (and growing) considerations of financing environmental protection.
We will continue to work towards enhancing the ability of governments and other organizations to provide environmental programs and services in fair, effective, and financially sustainable ways by enhancing the ability of our own organization to do be the same.
Mary Tiger is the Chief Operating Officer of the Environmental Finance Center at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.