Establishing sustainability in the US water market

8 November 2021
Ramboll Water is a global company with a local presence. With offices around the globe, we have worldwide experience and knowledge covering the whole water cycle. Meet Emory Lee, our recently appointed Climate Adaptation & Resilience Lead in the Americas.  
Emory Lee

Emory Lee

By Sara Toustrup Kristensen

What does your title as Climate Adaptation & Resilience lead for Ramboll in the Americas entail? 
I am based in New York, NY which is also where I have been working for the last 13 years. With more than a decade of experience working in the New York Metropolitan area, my role at Ramboll as Climate Adaptation & Resilience Lead will be intrinsically linked to the city and surrounding region.  

My role is characterized by dual functionality – I spend my time both working with clients and leading projects, as well as with market development focused on crafting strategies to increase Ramboll’s market presence in New York City. I primarily specialize in resiliency studies, area wide master plans, integrated water management program development, and some ecological restoration and resilience projects.  

Locally, there is incredible momentum behind climate adaptation across the public and private sector. In fact, the New York City Council recently passed legislation that will require the city government to create a comprehensive plan identifying strategy to make the city more resilient to climate change’s hazards. There is palpable demand in the region to improve understanding of how to protect, and continuously develop, critical infrastructure and urban environments for future generations, and my new role aims to help meet that demand. 

What was appealing to you about Ramboll as a workplace?  
The philosophy and ethos that defines Ramboll attracted me – from how Ramboll was founded, to the types of projects that Ramboll works on each day. In Ramboll I see the company mission and values play out in our day-to-day work and culture, and, in how Ramboll employees respect one another.  

Can you tell a bit about a key water challenge within your field in the US?  
A major challenge in the market and to our clients is that climate adaptation and resilience work is not yet a priority everywhere in the US – although this is changing rapidly. There are state and local legislatures, politicians, and multiple layers of jurisdiction that all have a stake or interest in water resources. I believe a key water challenge for the US within climate adaptation and resilience is the continued struggle to control water and our natural environment at large.   

In recent years, the US has experienced an increasing number of devastating natural disasters, such as wildfires, hurricanes, and flooding. The consequences of climate change are becoming more of a reality for a greater proportion of the county’s population. There are more frequent discussions on how to prevent severe weather and climate-related events like the extreme flooding New York and other areas experienced during Hurricane Ida. It often takes a catastrophic event for people to shift their mindsets, but I think we are in a moment of mass realization that these disasters and extreme events will not only happen again, but also more frequently.   

Any specific trends in the US water market in general? 
I see trends in the US water market related to how we can find new ways to apply technology to water resource management and to climate adaptation and resilience planning.   

The focus in the US water market is very much on the effects of hydrologically based extreme weather events, such as flooding, storms and now cloudbursts. Government officials are beginning to look outside the borders of the US toward climate risk mitigation and adaptation approaches like the Copenhagen Cloudburst Masterplan. Ramboll’s use of digital tools to improve our understanding of extreme weather patterns and how to ideate and design nature-based solutions at various scales (e.g., site, district, citywide, watershed, regional) is an example of how we can utilize digitization and technology to advance the threshold of innovation.  

What are your ambitions for Ramboll regarding climate adaptation and resilience in the US? 
My primary goal for Ramboll is to become the #1 climate adaptation and resilience consultancy company in the US and a preferred provider in the New York metropolitan area. With the US in the early stages of its decarbonization journey and in efforts to mitigate impacts of a changing climate, Ramboll has the expertise and experience to help shape the country’s progress. Because my focus is the New York metro area, I will be working primarily in that geography.  

When I envision what New York looks like in 50 or 100 years, I see is a city where our urban infrastructure is more tightly, and harmoniously, integrated with natural features. New York City recently released a new Extreme Weather Report which recommends implementation of transformational neighborhood-scale stormwater strategies, or cloudburst neighborhoods. It is exactly this type of approach that I believe we need to make our urban futures possible.  

Ramboll is already doing this work in cities across the US and around the globe, and I am working to bring the company’s nature-based solutions and blue-green infrastructure expertise to the New York/Mid-Atlantic market, and to other regions in the Americas including New England, the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest and eventually the Southeast/Gulf Coast.  

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