Rose Kirk


Rose Kirk on the Role of Tech in Building Climate Resiliency

Rose Kirk is the Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer for Verizon. We caught up with her about tech-based climate solutions and why digital skills and connectivity are critical to navigating climate change.

  • December 15th 2023

Verizon is a digital sponsor of the Aspen Institute's Energy and Environment Program.

Tell us about Verizon’s work and impact in the climate space overall.

At Verizon, everything we do is guided by Citizen Verizon, our responsible business plan that leverages the power of technology to drive economic, environmental, and social advancement. A key pillar is Climate Protection-- working with partners on initiatives to help drive climate equity and ensure the most vulnerable communities are protected from adverse climate events.

We launched the Verizon Climate Resilience Prize in 2021 to address this issue. We also recently completed an inclusive research study to engage stakeholders who are most exposed to the immediate and downstream effects of climate change across five U.S. markets. Beginning next year, we’re excited to adopt insights from this research and bring some of the winning Prize solutions to communities with several demonstration pilots.

In terms of our own operations and as part of Citizen Verizon, we have committed to achieving net zero in our operations by 2035 by:

○     Sourcing or generating renewable energy equivalent to 50% of our annual electricity consumption.

○     Using green bonds to fund many green initiatives.

○     Pledging to plant 20 million trees as part of Verizon’s participation in the World Economic Forum’s One Trillion Trees initiative.

Can you share more about the role of tech-powered social innovation in your climate initiatives?

A key goal of our climate initiatives is to support entrepreneurs and startups that are innovating tech-based climate solutions that reach vulnerable populations.

For example, the Climate Resilience Prize focuses on identifying proven companies that are using advanced tech, such as 5G, to power on-the ground climate solutions for in-need communities while also fostering their creativity in strengthening targeted solutions in infrastructure, ecosystems and more. This is our second year of the Climate Resilience Prize, and we awarded a total of $500,000* to four innovative, climate tech solutions providers and will continue supporting them in scaling their businesses through consulting and guidance. (*To date, through the Climate Resilience Prize, Verizon has invested one-million-dollars in climate startups and companies across the US).

As the clock continues ticking on climate change and the need for climate action, what role do you think global companies like Verizon can and should play in using their resources to help offset the impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations?

Through Citizen Verizon, we have the opportunity and obligation to leverage our technology to drive positive societal impact across key areas: Digital Inclusion, Climate Protection and Human Prosperity (preparing unemployed / underemployed individuals for digital jobs to help increase their economic mobility).

As mentioned, one of Citizen Verizon’s key pillars is Digital Inclusion — ensuring individuals have access to digital resources, connectivity and training in education, entrepreneurship, small business ownership and/or preparing for tech careers. Digital inclusion and digital equity are climate justice issues. Our work with partners who have lived through climate disasters has made it very clear that digital skills and connectivity are critical to help first responders and others navigate climate events.

As the CSR Officer at a large technology company, what do you see as your role in bringing Verizon to the forefront of climate action within the industry?

With Citizen Verizon, my team’s goal has always been to create and scale tech-powered social impact initiatives, grounded in innovation, that help achieve equity and equality in under-resourced areas.

With regards to the Climate Resilience Prize, the tech solutions that have been selected as winners in Year 1 and Year 2 (for a total of 7) are focused on scaling to reach more communities. One specific example is HyFi, a Year 1 winner; they use technology to help mitigate flooding, including stormwater monitoring, watershed planning, and flooding response. In the Cleveland metro area, HyFi’s tech is helping municipal managers maximize the performance of their infrastructure by revealing which portions of the city’s infrastructure are in the most need of upgrades. And in Michigan, Hyfi’s tools are used to monitor critical roadways and community locations for flooding in real-time, sending their notifications in real-time to help with response. In brief, winning the Climate Resilience Prize has helped HyFi to scale their operations — they now have sensor networks in three states, including Michigan and Ohio, and plan to continue growing.

In a Fireside Chat with Culture Shift Labs from 2020, you noted that Verizon’s goal of bringing 5G into industries requires you to think about the process of upskilling and reskilling workers. In relation to Verizon’s work on climate change, what do you see as Verizon’s responsibility for upskilling and reskilling as the industry moves towards greener workforces?

In reviewing recent research about our nation’s workforce in general, one-third of workers don't have the foundational digital skills necessary to enter today's jobs. Verizon Skill Forward, in partnership with edX, offers tuition-free, technical and professional pathways across in-demand industry sectors.

Participants can access curated lists of more than 250 courses spanning 84 unique professional certificate programs, many which provide the foundational tech skills, and advanced tech training, needed for jobs across industries. Skill Forward offers foundational tech training as well as advanced training, through free, self-paced, expert-led online courses.

As we know, the US green workforce is growing at hyper speed, and according to LinkedIn’s Global Green Skills Report, a few of the fastest-growing areas include ”wind turbine technician, solar consultant, and sustainability manager,” which require fundamental tech skills. Our Skill Forward initiative is tailored to meet the tech skills needed in this area, as well as in tech and tech-enabled sectors across the U.S.

The views and opinions of the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Aspen Institute.

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