The Urban Energy and Environment Lab, one of five labs that are part of the University of Chicago’s new Urban Labs initiative, has hired Emma Berndt to be the executive director. Berndt comes to the Lab from Opower, where she served as director of Market Development & Regulatory Affairs. She previously served as the Chicago City director for the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, and before that as a program director for the Clinton Climate Initiative.

“Emma brings to the Urban Energy and Environment Lab considerable knowledge about the markets and institutions that govern energy and environmental policy,” says Michael Greenstone, the director of the Urban Energy and Environment Lab and of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), which houses the lab. He is also the Milton Friedman Professor of Economics at the University. “Emma’s intelligence and real-world ability to get things done will greatly benefit the Urban Labs as we work to find solutions to the energy and environmental challenges faced by cities here in the United State and, even more acutely, in today’s developing countries. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work with her.”

With urban areas growing at a rapid pace, so too is their use of energy and natural resources which can result in environmental damages to our health and climate. The Urban Energy and Environment Lab, as with all the Urban Labs, will confront the challenges of growing urbanization using an evidence-based approach. Working hand-in-hand with communities, businesses and civic leaders in Chicago and in cities and regions throughout the world, the Lab will identify and test ways to meet future energy needs essential for urban economic growth through practical public policies that limit environmental and social damages.

To gather the best ideas from those who know their cities best, the Urban Labs will hold an Innovation Challenge that seeks to generate evidence on what urban policy interventions work, for whom, and why. The inaugural competition is looking for promising ideas that can be implemented in the City of Chicago and beyond. Berndt is leading the outreach of this competition that is now underway and soliciting ideas until May 1st.

“Finding practical and innovative solutions to the challenges urban areas face has been a passion of mine throughout my career” says Berndt. “I’m excited to be leading this truly innovative effort and believe that our focus on strong partnerships and rigorous evaluation will allow us to make a real difference in people’s lives and the health of our planet.”

“The University of Chicago got very lucky when they recruited Emma Berndt to lead its new Energy Lab,” said Jim Kapsis, VP of Global Policy at Opower, Inc. “She is a well respected energy industry expert who has a strong track record of advocating for sound policy that advances the public interest while also taking into consideration the demands of the market.”

Berndt has been helping cities confront their energy and environmental challenges for over a decade. She started her career as an urban fellow in New York City, before getting her masters in regional and urban planning at the London School of Economics.

Areas of Focus: Environment
Producing and using energy damages people’s health and the environment. EPIC research is quantifying the social costs of energy choices and uncovering policies that help protect health while facilitating growth.