Local Climate Leadership: Salem Afeworki

Posted by on Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Salem Afeworki, LEED GA, ENV SP is the Founder of Value Sustainability, an Orange County consulting firm that provides sustainability, climate change, and community engagement advisory services headquartered. She is a United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Local Pathway Fellow, One Young World Ambassador, a member of the LA County Sustainability Council and serves on the City of Irvine’s Green Ribbon Committee.

Tell us about your work on climate.

As a program director at Value Sustainability, I work with public agencies, private sector and nonprofits to integrate sustainability and climate change consideration in a way that benefits their bottom line. We help our clients deliver on their GHG reduction/sustainability targets, mitigate future risks and educate on the opportunities and challenges related to climate change and clean energy.  

What inspired you on your career path? And what or who inspires you now?

My first job was working for the United Nations in a peacekeeping mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (Africa), where I learned the importance of multidisciplinary and holistic approach to problem solving. Once I joined the private sector after grad school, I easily saw the business case for sustainability — how it guarantees business continuity/competitiveness and early adopters benefit the most through cost reduction, revenue generation, risk mitigation and brand building.

I am passionate about sustainability and knowing that I am a small part of the solution (not making the problem worse) — gives me the energy and motivation to keep on going!

What are the barriers you face in work — and what could make your job easier?

The greatest barrier in terms of getting my clients/communities to act on climate change/sustainability-related initiatives is lack of understanding how these actions benefit them or their families directly. Protecting polar bears is great, but it doesn’t inspire actions for the majority of the people. I believe highlighting the direct benefits (financial/economic), including how it helps create jobs and opportunities are key to advancing the agenda towards a sustainable and inclusive development.

A genie grants you two wishes that will help fight climate change. What do you ask for? The third wish is for anything you want (sky’s the limit!).

  • A political will and adequate government incentives to decouple economic growth from carbon emissions.
  • More investment to incubate and develop small businesses/social entrepreneurship (blend business methods with environmental and social goals) to promote clean technologies and solutions.
  • More focus on social sustainability as much as we work towards environmental sustainability. Owners (public or private sector) to address issues such as equity and environmental/climate justice as they design and build  projects.
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