Climate, Sustainability and Energy
In the Hot Seat
Jane Gilbert's job is to mitigate Miami's heat.
- Education: Gilbert studied environmental science at Barnard College in New York, where she was awarded an Anne David Fellowship, and she earned a master’s degree in public administration at Harvard Kennedy School, specializing in urban community development and education.
- Background: She relocated to Miami from Boston, worked for five years as a vice president of community affairs at Wells Fargo and has been focused on sustainability and resilience for most of the last decade. She was Miami’s chief resilience officer from 2016 to 2020.
- Position: Her post as the world’s first chief heat officer was created in partnership with the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center. Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava chose Gilbert for the role.
Miami-Dade was the first community in the world to appoint a chief heat officer in 2021 when Harvard-educated environmental scientist Jane Gilbert accepted the role.
Government health and environmental agencies say that the region’s rising temperatures — Last November was the hottest November on record in Miami-Dade — exact a toll on human health and economic productivity, including lost work days in outdoor industries such as agriculture and construction and put pressure on tourism.
Gilbert’s job is to make the city more livable and workable. She says approximately 300,000 outdoor workers are subject to extreme heat days in Miami- Dade alone. Statewide, extreme heat and humidity costs $10 billion annually in lost productivity, not to mention costs of medical care, according to an August 2021 report by the Adrienne-Arsht Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center.
To find potential solutions, Gilbert co-chairs the Climate and Heat Health Task Force with physician Cheryl Holder, a founding member of Florida Clinicians for Climate Action. With support from the Health Foundation of South Florida and Baptist Health South Florida, the clinicians group provides free medical education to health professionals on the front line of the heat waves.
Gilbert says there is a strong business case to be made for addressing the issue. “The environment is the economy,” she says. “Extreme heat was our No. 1 concern. The solutions not only help us adapt and mitigate, but also will result in higher quality of life … making this a better place to live.”
The business community is increasingly aware that heat is bad for business, not only in lost workdays for the existing workforce but also as competition for top talent grows more intense. Miami already ranks high in housing costs and home insurance, and it’s well-known for its sunny day flooding, factors that workers might consider when contemplating a relocation.
Miami-Dade’s Extreme Heat Action Plan was developed with input from 300 stakeholders, including developers and landscape architects, Gilbert says.
Demonstrating private-sector support for climate innovation, Gilbert points to the new Future of Cities Climate + Innovation HUB, a project from real estate entrepreneur and Wynwood developer Tony Cho. The newly opened center in Little Haiti aims to accelerate and scale climate solutions by connecting startups with global capital and education, collaboration and mentoring resources. The 60,000-sq.-ft. facility — which also serves as Future of Cities’ headquarters, Cho’s urban development and venture platform and think tank — is designed to be Miami’s first net-zero office. Its features include 193 solar panels, a Tesla Powerwall, a rainwater reclamation system, sustainably sourced furniture and a garden of native trees and palms.
Another example of corporate buy-in that Gilbert points to is from Costex, which exports replacement parts for heavy machinery. Costex installed more than 4,000 solar panels on the roof of its 450,000-sq.-ft. warehouse and headquarters northwest of Miami International Airport. The array on average powers 90% to 100% of the building’s energy needs.
Other measures to cope with the heat include preserving and enhancing the urban tree canopy, to which Miami-Dade County has dedicated an additional $2.5 million in 2021, de-paving heat-trapping surfaces in urban areas and converting rooftops to “cool roofs” with white coatings to reflect heat, which can reduce air-conditioning costs by up to 40%, Gilbert says. “The biggest emissions are related to transportation and the built environment,” Gilbert says.
Promoting public transit, expanding adoption of electric vehicles, and building streetscapes friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and reduce heat generated by conventional modes of transportation.
The county requires all buildings it owns and affordable housing developments to which it contributes funding to have LEED Silver energy-efficiency certifications, Gilbert says. Expanded tax credits for residential and commercial solar installations are on the way via the federal Inflation Reduction Act.