Mayor John Cooper announced Tuesday the appointment of Dr. Kendra Abkowitz as his chief sustainability and resilience officer.
Abkowitz comes with more than a decade of pertinent experience and is expected to bring Cooper’s renewable energy commitments to fruition, which includes the objective of Metro Nashville sourcing 35 percent of its energy from renewables by 2025. She will begin her role on Oct. 13.
In a press release, Cooper also attributed sustainability projects for Metro Water Services to Abkowitz going forward, which consolidates waste and wastewater management, stormwater management and the maturation of Nashville’s tree canopy under her supervision.
“We know America’s cities are on the front lines of preserving and creating green spaces, protecting our limited natural resources and reducing carbon emissions,” Cooper said in a release. “With her passion for sustainability, resilience and environmental justice, Kendra’s work will be central to ensuring Metro leads by example in creating a more livable Nashville.”
Under Abkowitz, the Cooper team hopes to see the creation of a sustainability advisory committee and the development of a utility-scale solar power array, which the release characterized as marking a third of the requisite progress to source general operations completely from renewable energy. This would also make Nashville the first municipality in the Tennessee Valley Authority service area to become so renewable dependent.
In her new role, Dr. Abkowitz will endeavor to see nearly 10,000 solar panels installed at three Metro Water Services plants per a joint contract between Metro Davidson County and Lightwave Solar LLC. Metro Council authorized the contract — accounting for the design, construction and administration of installing photovoltaic solar infrastructure — when it unanimously approved an ordinance on March 2 for updating the Central Wastewater Treatment, Omohundro Water Treatment and the Whites Creek Wastewater Treatment Plants. Carbon emission reduction is expected to be equivalent to removing 600 vehicles from the road.
Abkowitz currently serves as assistant commissioner and director of policy and sustainable practices at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and helped outline the best water infrastructure investments the state could make using American Rescue Plan funding. She was also a TDEC senior policy analyst who led the early efforts to design a regulatory framework for water recycling statewide.
Before joining TDEC, Abkowitz worked in Vanderbilt University’s sustainability and environmental management office for four years. She is also a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency appointee for its local government advisory committee.
Abkowitz received her doctorate in environmental management and policy from Vanderbilt University, her MBA from Middle Tennessee State University, another master’s degree in sociology from the University of Chicago and a bachelor’s in sociology and economics from Vanderbilt University.