Director, Office of Sustainability, County of Santa Clara

Twelve years ago, Demetra left her job as a lawyer and producer in the film industry after a chance encounter with Al Gore and the cause of climate response at a dinner party left her “riveted, captivated, inspired, feeling as though there was a great deal of focus and purpose there.” Driven by this purpose ever since, she has worked tirelessly, first in Florida and now in California, to bring together the best sustainable innovators in cutting-edge public projects. Today, as Director of Santa Clara County’s Office of Sustainability and Climate, she spearheads initiatives as innovative as the Silicon Valley, the region she calls home.

Pursuing public-private partnerships is key to her efforts. Enabling her success is her office’s large network of contacts, from Silicon Valley and non-profits to governmental agencies, research institutions, and universities. Whatever the sector, she looks for opportunity leaders who “see how an impact in one system cascades into others and how you can use that dynamic to develop ideas that have a multi-dimensional impact.” Exactly because of its complexity and far-reaching implications, Demetra thinks “sustainability is becoming more of a standard in organisations both in the private and public sectors.”

Creating the right partnerships is not without its challenges, however. “In my work with the private sector, I constantly hear ‘we really want to work with government but it’s hard to trust them to be nimble, responsive and innovative’.” To respond to this need, Demetra is working to create innovation incentives “where we are more in focus, more on the fast track and more flexible in terms of innovation, so we can work more on the same clock as the private sector.”

Demetra’s approach is working. With the Silicon Valley 2.0 project, she and her team have spent four years creating a regional climate adaptation platform that shifts the focus from climate mitigation to adaption, emphasising the cost of inaction rather than action. The platform not only includes a geospatial map of climate impacts for 2050 and 2100, but also 40 asset layer maps for of areas such as transportation, energy, water, and communications infrastructure, as well asecosystem services, parcels, and buildings. “The tool allows you to assess the economic impacts of the loss of those assets. When people were introduced to the tool, the conversation
got quite different.” Where people previously saw climate adaptation as a far-off and expensive reality, they now see it as a necessary current investment. “We find that adaptation has become, in California and places like Miami and New York, a means to optimise the present and liberate the future,” she says.

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