Toward Zero Emissions

Mike Roos ’05, policy advisor for the City of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and Environment.

Since earning his Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia University, Mike Roos ’05 has been committed to working on issues related to the fight against climate change. Recently Roos has focused on public transportation as a means of reducing planet warming greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. After nearly four years with Sound Transit, he transitioned to a policy advisor role with the City of Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment.

“I was drawn to climate action as a career direction in college,” Roos says. “It became clear to me that climate change is the planet’s largest, most persistent challenge for the foreseeable future, and I wanted to have a career that made a difference.”

While in grad school in New York City, Roos became interested in city government, inspired in large part by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s strategic focus on municipal sustainability initiatives (“PlaNYC”).

“I got my foot in the door at the New York City Housing Authority, where I worked analyzing utility data and building energy performance,” he says. “I eventually moved over to NYC’s Division of Energy Management (DEM), which oversees utility activities for city agencies [including police, schools, sanitation, transportation] and seeks to reduce emissions from municipal buildings through energy conservation measures and on-site renewable energy installations like solar photovoltaic.”

At DEM, Roos managed large volumes of data, facilitated building energy benchmarking—annually reporting the energy consumption and emissions of a building to track its performance over time—for the municipal portfolio, and analyzed data to identify opportunities for greenhouse gas emission reductions.

“Transportation is the largest sectoral source of GHG emissions in the U.S.,” Roos says. “Transit, particularly in cities, is a climate solution because each transit rider is an individual who would otherwise likely be driving in a single-occupancy vehicle to their destination. Each passenger mile traveled on [public transit] actually offsets greenhouse gas emissions because single-occupancy vehicles consume more fuel per person than transit vehicles.”

At Sound Transit, his focus was on tracking the sustainability performance of the agency and greening performance. Roos says the nation must face the challenges of mitigating the significant environmental footprint of public and private fleets, namely the diesel emissions of heavy-duty vehicles like buses and trucks. While transit-related emissions may be a relatively small component of overall transportation emissions, they are a critical component of the Seattle region’s emission reduction strategy, he says.

“As a small sustainability team tasked with facilitating sustainability initiatives and programs across a large agency with many stakeholders, it can be a challenge to get the buy-in from the frontline staff necessary to implement our initiatives and programs,” he says. “Motivating institution-wide adoption of climate-friendly technologies and practices is a common challenge faced by sustainability teams across industries and sectors. Overcoming silos within an organization requires ongoing relationship management across the agency.”

This paradigm comes into play with regard to the transition of transit vehicles from conventional diesel-powered models to zero-emission alternatives, Roos says. “The gradual integration of zero-emission buses—battery-electric or hydrogen fuel cell—into agency operations is a challenge that requires extensive planning, stakeholder engagement, and a holistic culture shift.”

Combating climate change will need to be an economy-wide effort to move our planet to a zero-emissions future, he says.

“I want to play a small part in the world’s transition to a decarbonized economy. Whether in my capacity as a data analyst or a project manager, I want my work to have a positive impact on the institution I work for.”