Meet a Member: The City of Kansas City, Missouri

We recently chatted with Andy Savastino, Chief Environmental Officer for the City of Kansas City, Missouri, to learn more about what the city is currently working on and its goal for a resilient future.

Savastino has worked for the city for 28 years and has been the Chief Environmental Officer for about 2 1/2 years. He started there in 1994, after graduating with an Environmental Science degree, at essentially the same time the city created an environmental office. This, he says, gave him the opportunity to help build the city’s environmental programs from the beginning.

Over the course of his career, he says he’s seen a shift toward sustainability. Savastino states, “I’ve learned that in the environmental business, you have to focus on what the hot issue is, and right now it’s climate change and sustainability.” 

As Chief Environmental Officer, Savastino oversees the city’s Office of Environmental Quality, a small but mighty team of eight employees, three of whom focus on sustainability. Savastino has taken the time to hire a talented team of individuals and has worked to remove barriers for them so they can drive sustainability progress within city operations.

Their role, he says, is to oversee sustainability in the city’s programs and ensure compliance with environmental regulations. The city has just over 300 facilities, and a key component of their job is to ensure that all are complying with the various environmental laws and regulations, from the airport to the zoo.

In addition to the Office of Environmental Quality staff, the city has four interdepartmental green teams that focus on different areas of regulations and policies. This allows individuals within other city departments to help drive sustainability efforts, too, Savastino says. 

The biggest project his office is currently working on is a Climate Protection and Resiliency Plan. It’s an update of the city’s 2008 Climate Protection Plan and a process that began last year after the City Council approved new goals for Kansas City to become climate neutral by 2030 for city operations and 2040 for the community. Savastino says, “In this particular effort, we’re moving beyond just mitigation strategies and moving into adaptation strategies as well – and probably a little bit of sequestration.”

They hope to bring a draft of the plan before the City Council in January. He notes that Kansas City had one of the first climate protection plans for this region back in 2008 and is a leader. Savastino says that increasing renewable energy options for the region, including more residential homes with solar, will be critical. He says Kansas City’s ability to be resilient is “very much subject to what happens on the grid.”

Savastino is proud of the fact that about 20% of the city’s facilities, including KCI, currently get 100% of their energy through wind power. This renewable energy comes from a farm in Kansas and has placed Kansas City in the number 15 spot on the EPA’s top 30 municipal list for renewable energy use. 

Despite their success, Savastino says they still face barriers to fully achieving their sustainability goals, including funding, staffing, and resistance from state legislature or laws already set in place. He says that he and his staff navigate as they can and move forward.

The City has been a part of the Green Business Network since it started in 1999 and has always had a relationship with Bridging The Gap.

Savastino says, “The Green Business Network creates that networking opportunity and a good chance to exchange ideas while making connections for future endeavors that may come along. It gives the opportunity to see, hear, and learn about projects that were implemented in other locations. We’re a government agency so we do things differently. We are a little bit more restricted in some regards, so sometimes we need to get outside of what our norm is and see what’s going on in the private sector. I think that’s been the most valuable part.”

The city has four interdepartmental green teams that focus on education and outreach, green infrastructure, resource management, and regulations and policies, from multiple departments of the city. This allows individuals within city departments to focus on sustainability.