I'm sorry I missed out on this excitement, but by over a year. Maybe I'll have another opportunity in the future to consult for DDOE.DC North, Capital Community News — DC GreenEnvironmental Energizer: New Director Envisions DC as a Green Giant
by Elizabeth McGowan
About every waking moment, each cell of George Hawkins’s entire being is dedicated to reinventing his newly adopted city as a model of environmental efficiency and innovation.
In fact, during the few hours he reserves for sleep, the 47-year-old probably even dreams in green.
And that’s just dandy with Adrian Fenty. The mayor has hired a cabinet full of visionary, engaged, energetic and e-savvy leaders who reflect his own up-at-5 a.m. rhythm and go-go-go ethic. And Hawkins, an Ivy Leaguer hired to head a nascent DC Department of Environment, is no exception.
“We’re just getting our sea legs,” Hawkins, donning a low-key green tie, says during an interview. “This is the most demanding of all the demanding jobs I’ve had. But that’s good. I’m anxious to be in a city that’s taking off.”
His fiscal year 2008 budget rings in at $65 million, and he’s still hiring to flesh out what will become a 295-employee strong workforce.
“That’s a lot of firepower,” the former Environmental Protection Agency employee continues, but in line with a department tasked with executing city, county and state initiatives because of the uniqueness of the nation’s capital.
His sixth-floor corner office is a mere stone’s throw from the New York Avenue Red Line Metro Station. From the window, he has a view of Dunbar High School and can trace much of the route he walks daily from his Shaw rowhouse on French Street to his headquarters in a run-of-the-mill red brick structure on a hardscrabble block of N Street NE.
Of course, he also eyeballs acres of flat roofs and asphalt parking lots. The former he eventually wants covered with power-generating solar arrays, and the latter should be mitigated so pollutants aren’t washing into waterways.
However, first things first. Before Hawkins’s arrival, the energy office – now absorbed into his department – was a clunky, hit-or-miss outfit known mainly for trying to offer energy savings to low-income residents. His priority is assembling a nimble, strategic, pro-active staff that is self-assured, well-informed and connected to all city departments – not functioning in isolation.
His monumental “to do” list is daunting but appealing to anybody with an advanced environmental agenda.
Here’s a taste: Cleaning up the forlorn Anacostia River; initiating low-impact stormwater runoff standards within the next six months; advancing a residential and commercial “green” building movement that promotes energy efficiency and encourages the planting of living roofs; removing lead from problem residences before children are poisoned; encouraging tree plantings; accelerating litter pickup; and stepping up energy audits so more residents are purchasing efficient appliances and weatherizing their homes.
Commerce that embraces eco-friendly principles, he emphasizes, can remain robust. That’s why he’s elated by Fenty’s September creation of a Green Collar Job Advisory Council. The idea is to coordinate an effort to train residents as the scientists, architects, horticulturists, landscapers, construction workers, river restorers, energy efficiency experts and lead paint abatement technicians to enable an impending boom in sustainable living.
“We want to reach out to people so they know who we are and why we matter to them,” Hawkins says about his autumn proposal to visit each ward with its respective DC Councilmember.
Hawkins is no naïve rookie, nor is he a stranger to DC. He’s aware that residents of many neighborhoods are suspicious of government’s motives.
“It’s hard going,” Hawkins says. “We have to overcome that. I want more citizens to see us more, and let them know we’re on their side.
“This is a city of such diversity. Housing and jobs included in this green infrastructure need to be set up so people who have lived here for years, with traditionally low incomes, can be part of it.”
Every job on the Ohio native’s resume has prepared him for this stimulating position. After graduating from Princeton University, then earning a law degree from Harvard University in the 1980s, he was an environmental attorney at a law firm with Boston and DC offices.
Hawkins later served at the EPA’s regional office in Boston before moving to DC at Vice President Al Gore’s behest to help streamline the entire agency. Before accepting Fenty’s offer, he spent nine years successively directing two New Jersey nonprofits – Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association and New Jersey Future – that collaborated with local governments to streamline zoning and environmental practices, and advocated for revitalizing communities by generating jobs, providing transportation and housing choices, and protecting natural landscapes. He pops back to the Princeton, NJ, region on as many weekends as possible to squeeze in time with his wife and two children.
Of all the ambitious municipal leaders Hawkins has encountered, he classifies Fenty as “off the charts” on the excellence he invokes. And he’s prepared to exceed the mayor’s expectations.
Soon, DC might be uttered in the same breath as environmental beacons such as Seattle, Berkeley, Calif., and Portland, Ore. Perhaps by then the city’s traditional red and white flag also will be sporting a green stripe to note that monumental leap.
“The environmental bar is moving up,” Hawkins says. “We want to be transparent and upfront. I’m very excited about it. It’s a dawn-to-dusk job, but it’s a worthy one.”