Climate change is one of the most pressing global challenges confronting the world today. Perhaps not surprising, President Joe Biden has said that combating climate change will be a priority for his administration. GDIT has a 40-plus year history of environmental and earth science support to federal agencies, and the newly formed GDIT Climate Change Initiative will proactively and holistically support our customers’ and the country’s collective effort to address this critical priority.
Darby Chellis Bade, GDIT Environmental Protection Agency account manager and a demonstrated leader in the company, has been tapped to lead this initiative. And for good reason: she has nearly 25 years of experience providing environmental, data science and IT support to EPA and other agencies. We sat down with her to talk about this new responsibility and what it means for GDIT.
You were recently named Executive Lead for GDIT’s new Climate Change Initiative; what does that mean?
In addition to being the lead for EPA Programs, I will also lead GDIT’s corporate strategy to identify, coordinate and support new climate-related opportunities in a coordinated effort across the company. I will be responsible for assembling and leading a matrixed workgroup to ensure GDIT has a multi-agency strategy, aligned with individual agencies. It’s all about making sure GDIT is able to continue to meet our customers’ missions as they increasingly – and importantly – involve climate considerations and initiatives.
How did you first become interested and involved with climate change initiatives?
I often say that the support of environmental policies and programs is my life’s work, and it is; it’s all I’ve ever done, from childhood on. I was the kid who spent my weekends and summers taking marine biology classes; the high schooler who volunteered at the National Aquarium in Baltimore and worked on the water taxis there, taking and comparing water samples between stops; and the college student who studied in London just to be able to intern at Hyde Park to help create an environmental curriculum for its first children’s environmental education center. I also interned for a county environment office to understand drinking water programs and at a paper company just to understand the properties of recycled paper.
Supporting EPA and environmental programs has been my first and only job since graduating from American University. I went to graduate school at the University of Virginia to earn a master’s degree in Management Information Systems in order to understand the role technology can play in analyzing, addressing and solving environmental data and problems. GDIT is, like we are in a lot of ways, on the forefront of creating a position such as this to focus on climate change opportunities.
What are your priorities in the year ahead, and how is GDIT positioned to advance them?
This year, I would like to create a coordinated forum and approach within GDIT and lead conversations on climate change among federal and private industry. In addition, a primary focus of mine will be to meet with our customers who are being called upon to address climate challenges to get a really strong understanding of where their focus and struggles are.
I am GDIT’s executive sponsor for the American Heart Association’s STEM Goes Red program in Baltimore, providing insight and opportunities to female high school students pursuing STEM careers, and I would like to introduce a climate change component into the work that we do with them.
GDIT, from an overall corporate responsibility perspective, has a great infrastructure and track record of getting involved and making an impact. That history, plus the support from executive leadership, as well as our fervent commitment to our customers’ missions, tells me that we will do great things in support of climate change initiatives!
GDIT has done work at the EPA for years, which you’ve led. Can you talk about that work and what it’s meant?
GDIT has proudly supported the EPA for more than 40 years. During this time, we have worked on both the scientific and IT sides of the agency. We have been partners to some of these programs for more than a decade, others for more than three decades, and we have demonstrated not only a commitment to the work, our clients and the public, but also the ability to evolve and think proactively about how to leverage emerging technologies to address challenges.
Our staff is deeply committed to EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment, and we are active in supporting initiatives in our communities as well. It is immensely gratifying to support a mission so important to so many of us.
Why is climate change an important issue for the whole of the federal government, including our Defense, Intelligence and Homeland Security agencies?
Climate challenges are global challenges. From extreme weather events to cleaner fuels, reusable energy to green investing and vulnerabilities on military installations and infrastructure, climate challenges have permeated our business thinking and approaches.
While people most often think of agencies like the EPA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Energy or NASA when it comes to dealing with climate challenges, each service agency within the Department of Defense has incorporated the potential impact of climate change into their strategic plans.
The Department of Transportation is faced with an ongoing challenge of decreasing greenhouse gases. The Department of the Treasury will have to continue to explore the economic impacts of climate change. It is now recognized that every agency will be affected by our climate challenges and must rely on science-based knowledge to play a role in addressing them.
Of course, agencies will also have to rely on their private sector partners, as they always do. This is why it’s so important that GDIT has created this initiative; it’s how we’ll continue to support our customers while at the same time tackling an incredibly important global challenge. And I think we’re really well positioned to do just that.
You’ve been working with the EPA for more than 20 years. How has the effort to combat climate change evolved in that time? What’s been the most positive development, and what should hold our collective attention going forward?
I took a class in the mid-‘90s on atmospheric science and that was what really kick-started my interest in climate change. Looking back on what I learned in that class versus where we are now, there are areas that show some positive signs, and there are definitely areas where our concerns have grown.
What impresses me the most right now is the generation of young people who are active and adamant about addressing our biggest climate challenges. They are focused and creative, and they will literally change the world. And we need them right now. We’re seeing global extreme weather patterns, the global average temperature increasing, sea levels rising rapidly, massive ice loss in Antarctica and the rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
What I think is so compelling is a real understanding of how race, environmental justice, economics and climate change are all intertwined and cannot individually be addressed in a vacuum. What I also think is compelling is there seems to be a real focus on climate change right now – the Pew Research Center found that more than two-thirds of Americans favor a variety of initiatives to reduce the impact of climate change across political groups, and we are seeing bipartisan Congressional support for a number of climate change policies.
Climate change is no longer a niche issue, and I hope a decade from now we can look back on the 2020s and say: this is the decade we really addressed climate initiatives.
Why are you optimistic about the new administration and the signals it’s giving about its commitment to climate change?
President Biden has made it clear on his campaign trail and in his appointment announcements that climate will be an overarching theme across many of his agencies. The appointment of John Kerry and Gina McCarthy and potential appointments at the Department of Interior, the Department of Transportation, and the EPA for example confirm this.
John Kerry has said “America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is.” So, I’m thrilled that we can expect to see focused and driven initiatives that deliver long-term changes!
How is GDIT doing its part as a corporate citizen to mitigate its impact on our climate?
GDIT has long been a strong supporter and advocate for the environmental work we do and support alongside our customers. Additionally, we understand that one of the most important ways that we can support our communities is by proactively reducing our own environmental footprint.
As an IT services provider, GDIT’s biggest climate impacts come from our facilities. We manage and reduce impacts from our facilities as much as possible, promote more efficient use of energy and materials and provide opportunities for our employees to be better stewards of the planet. Moving forward, I will be working with our leverage teams to further advance our corporate environmental efforts.
Like everyone, there’s more we can do and we are committed to doing it. We see it as both a responsibility and an imperative.
Learn more about GDIT’s commitment to climate change and sustainability.