The Atlanta and Columbus, Ohio regions are nearly 600 miles apart, one in the Southeast, the other in the Midwest. But they have much in common.

They each boast fast-growing populations and robust economies. They’re also state capitals and home to large universities. And they face similar challenges when it comes to managing growth in an environmentally sustainable way.

On October 15 and 16, the Atlanta Regional Commission will join with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) to host an environmental conference that brings together more than 500 community leaders to explore and share ideas and best practices for resiliency.

We sat down with the executive directors of both organizations — William Murdock of MORPC and Doug Hooker of ARC — to discuss how the 2020 Summit on Sustainability came to be.

How did this partnership between ARC and MORPC come about, and why a sustainability summit?

William Murdock: MORPC and the Atlanta Regional Commission are kindred spirits in the regional council world. Our teams share a passion for helping local governments excel and tackle tough issues. We’re both very engaged with the National Association of Regional Councils, and our staff has shared their lessons and leadership on a number of key issues, including sustainability.

Doug Hooker: What we’ve found is that our regions face many of the same challenges, such as developing resiliency in the face of climate change, housing affordability, transportation, and racial equity. Both organizations have established programs to support local governments in their sustainability efforts, and we expect this to be a great opportunity to learn from each other.

Why is it important to address resiliency as a region—and what does it mean to do so?

Doug: Climate resiliency will be critical for maintaining any region’s economic competitiveness and ensuring a high quality of life. And that is certainly true our two regions.  Things like air and water quality, flooding, drought, and extreme weather events affect everyone in a region, so they must be addressed from a regional perspective. No single community can move the needle on sustainability; it requires collaboration across local governments.

William Murdock: It’s never been more urgent to focus on resiliency. The COVID-19 crisis not only shed light on the challenges within our region that make us more vulnerable to environmental changes and economic downturns, but also spotlights and magnifies the impact of regional disparities. In a changing climate, how can we make sure that our businesses, infrastructure, and, most importantly, our most vulnerable residents are protected?  To be successful, we have to bring people together from across our regions, seek different perspectives, and challenge ourselves to be bold enough to create real impact.

You mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic. At this time, when so much public attention is focused on the issues of healthcare, and on the social justice movements we’ve seen all over the country, why focus on sustainability?

William Murdock: Sustainability and resiliency are often major threads in issues of health, environmental justice, and prosperity. We can’t talk about any of these issues in a vacuum, which is why a summit on sustainability can help draw focus on how these issues affect each other.

Doug Hooker: I’ll give you an example. Energy efficiency and water efficiency are often tied to equity because the associated health and budget implications disproportionately impact lower income communities. In fact, Atlanta ranks fourth nationally among cities with the greatest number of residents struggling to pay high energy bills. Climate change and extreme weather also disproportionately impact minority communities — and these are some of the issues we’ll be discussing at the Summit.

Learn more and register for the 2020 Summit on Sustainability.

What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.