What’s Possible: A New Book on Community Driven Climate Action

How thoughtful investment propels sustainable, prosperous neighborhoods

Join us in-person or virtually for the What’s Possible Launch event in NYC on Friday, May 17th.

As the climate crisis intensifies, its effects are felt most acutely in overburdened and under-resourced communities. Fortunately, recent federal initiatives like the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act pave the way for significant financial investments designed to bolster resilience and sustainability in these areas. Last month, the landmark Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund allocated $20 billion in federal grants and is set to catalyze transformative clean energy and sustainable development projects across disadvantaged communities in the United States.

In response to this unprecedented opportunity, experts in community development, finance, and sustainability across the US have come together to write a collection of 25 essays to inspire all who work on the clean energy transition to reflect on how they center communities in their work. What’s Possible: Investing NOW for Prosperous, Sustainable Neighborhoods developed by Enterprise Community Partners, LISC, and Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and RMI is now available for free online.

The core message of “What’s Possible” is clear: investment in communities requires more than financial input; it demands strategic, collective action to maximize the impact of available resources.

We’re In This Together

Catherine Coleman Flowers, founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice and RMI board member, draws on her deep-rooted experience in activism and leadership to provide valuable insights in the foreword of What’s Possible. She calls for climate resilience strategies that are deeply interwoven with social equity, especially in historically underserved and rural areas. She champions incorporating local knowledge and community-driven solutions to address the compound threats of environmental and infrastructural decay.

Fortifying and transitioning only select neighborhoods will neither materially reduce disaster costs nor make a transformative dent in toxic emissions. It is only through inclusive investments that our whole nation will become economically stronger and more climate resilient.

Her insight is a rallying cry for systemic change, urging that resilience and sustainability are not just environmental objectives but also pathways to rectifying deep-seated social inequities.

RMI was fortunate to contribute to this book and below are previews of those chapters.

Climate Resilience: The Next Frontier for Community Development

This chapter by Ella Mure of RMI, Joyce Coffee of Climate Resilience Consulting, and Rachel Jacobson from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, emphasizes how climate resilience must be proactively integrated into community development to safeguard against increasing severe weather events. The authors highlight the importance of incorporating traditional and local knowledge including — indigenous practices and historical community wisdom — when designing sustainable and resilient infrastructure. This approach can leverage age-old adaptations, enhance community buy-in, and reinforce cultural continuity alongside climate resilience.

This chapter challenges readers to value how investment in climate resilience projects can serve as catalysts for economic diversification in vulnerable communities. By involving local enterprises in resilience-building activities, such projects can spur new business opportunities and job creation in sectors like construction, renewable energy, and environmental management, thereby reducing economic dependency on vulnerable industries.

Building climate resilience is a multi-stakeholder process… community development organizations can bring key insights to the table, strengthening the ability of local groups and residents to engage.

Mitigating the Financial Impact of Energy on Family Budgets on the Path to a Clean Energy Future

In this chapter, RMI’s Srinidhi Sampath-Kumar and Jamal Lewis of Rewiring America, explore the economic impacts of transitioning to clean energy, particularly for low-income households. The authors delve into the need for promoting energy literacy among households to foster behavioral changes that lead to energy savings.

Sampath-Kumar and Lewis advocate for the development of solutions tailored to the specific climates and socioeconomic contexts of different communities. They emphasize the importance of policy adjustments and financial assistance to ensure that the burden of energy transition costs is not disproportionately placed on low-income communities.

As we move forward on the path to a clean energy future, we need to prioritize and promote an equitable transition that is affordable and attainable for all households.

What’s Possible is unique because of its focus on the intersection of community development, finance, and climate issues in communities. Specifically, What’s Possible explores how public-private partnerships can bridge gaps to affordable clean energy solutions, addressing socioeconomic and environmental inequities while mitigating climate risks, reducing costs, and boosting local economies. By featuring real-world examples, the book acts as a call to action especially for financial institutions, aiming to spark nationwide conversations and partnerships, propelling communities on the frontlines of climate change towards economic prosperity and sustainability.

What’s Possible not only outlines the challenges and opportunities presented by the climate crisis but also serves as a blueprint for future action. It stands as a beacon for what can be achieved when diverse stakeholders unite to create sustainable, resilient, and economically prosperous communities across America.

This article highlights the RMI authored articles in What’s Possible, and we encourage you to visit the free, full version of the book online.

Read more stories about RMI’s work in communities in the US and beyond.

Learn more about RMI’s Buildings Program and our work to equitably decarbonize housing across the US.