Getting Smart: A Summer Studying AT&T’s Smart Cities Initiative
AT&T has put a stake in the ground with our Smart Cities initiative, and it’s a natural fit with our 2025 goal to enable carbon savings 10x the size of our footprint. We are working with city governments and organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to figure out how to measure the environmental benefits of digital infrastructure and build the business case for smart cities.
One of the ways we work with EDF is through their EDF Climate Corps fellowship program, which brings together an arsenal of top talent, resources and expertise in a variety of subject matters and industries to help organizations meet their sustainability and energy goals. We’ve hosted a total of ten Climate Corps fellows, and for the last three summers they have brought passion, expertise and a fresh perspective to our work on Smart Cities.
This summer, our EDF Climate Corps fellow Isabella Wechsler joined us in Atlanta to assess the state of the market and technologies available to achieve Smart City goals. She not only brought her knowledge as a dual MBA and Master of Public Policy student at Harvard but also public-sector experience that helped us further focus on city officials’ perspectives as we work to make Smart Cities possibilities a reality.
Isabella recently talked with us about her project and time at AT&T.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Isabella: I’m a dual MBA and Master of Public Policy student between Harvard School of Business and the Harvard Kennedy School of Governance. Previously, I worked for a variety of public sector and nonprofit environmental organizations, most recently for New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection. The combination of studying business and policy has given me diverse frameworks to work through these complex challenges, like climate change, which has been an interest of mine since high school.
What drew you to the EDF Climate Corps fellowship program?
Isabella: A friend recommended the program to me. As I looked into it, I saw a chance to think about sustainability from the private sector perspective, which is a great complement to the public sector experience I’ve gained to date. My placement with AT&T was particularly exciting because Smart Cities is such a unique space. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to hear about how market leaders, like AT&T, are thinking about and approaching innovative sustainability ideas.
Tell us about the AT&T Smart Cities and IoT project.
Isabella: The goal of my project was to quantify the sustainability benefits that Smart Cities produce by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I looked at adoption trends, procurement and funding models to get a broad look at where the market stands today, and spoke with government officials to develop an understanding of specific needs on the ground. I also assessed different transportation policy metrics across fifteen target cities.
What previous experience do you have that helped you in this work?
Isabella: My experience working in city government for four years has helped tremendously. Cities can be tricky to navigate because there are so many stakeholders involved and numerous policies that they need to comply with, so there are a number of aspects to consider. If you are coming from the outside, it can be difficult to know where to start. It was incredibly helpful to have an understating of relevant pain points and interests.
What were some challenges you faced?
Isabella: The biggest challenge was narrowing my research scope to fit in a ten-week timeframe. There are so many angles to unpack – there are the financial considerations, the way that these products fit with city policies, goals and objectives, and the specific sustainability potential at play. I think starting from your audience’s interests is generally a good way to go about that. Jumping in, digesting information and thinking about how to produce good insights is always a challenge but also a great learning experience.
What would you say was the most rewarding aspect of your experience?
Isabella: I was deeply grateful to have access to senior leadership throughout this summer, which also provided an understanding of how AT&T is strategically thinking about this market. I had the chance to present my findings to senior leaders across AT&T, including the President of IoT, the Chief Sustainability Officer and the Vice President of Smart Cities, among others. To have all those people in the room actively engaging and responding provided amazing insight into how AT&T is thinking about next steps. That was a fantastic amount of exposure for one summer.
The other aspect I found most rewarding was getting to talk to senior government officials about the challenges and opportunities in this space. It was interesting to hear different cities’ perspectives at the same time that I was listening to viewpoints across AT&T.
What advice would you offer to a future EDF Climate Corps fellow?
Isabella: Don’t be afraid to start broad and cast a wide net in trying to understand this space. It’s a fascinating and complicated field, and I recommend diving in and talking to as many people around you as possible. Also, always be mindful of your audience. There is a lot of potential within this field; it’s important to remain cognizant of the interests, priorities and challenges that your audience is facing, whether that is on the public sector or community side or internal within AT&T. It will help you focus on what will be the most useful and allow you to hone the insights that will be most actionable for the people who can carry this forward at AT&T.