Current Position

Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space for the City of Boston

In the summer of 2006, as he was wrapping up an internship in Barack Obama’s office, Austin Blackmon (MBA 2013) received some advice from the Illinois senator. “He took us aside and said, listen, if you want to have the greatest impact over the course of your lifetime, you should consider the areas of education, energy, or national security,” Blackmon recalls. Out of college, he tested the waters in all three, at one point working at the nexus of energy and national security as a consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton. “I fell in love with the energy work,” Blackmon says simply, and applied to HBS to broaden his understanding of the field.

“I love the scale of the impact you can have on people’s lives, in terms of making an entire city a healthier, safer, more innovative place to live.”
“I was deliberate in the choices I made both inside and outside the classroom,” he continues, describing his involvement in the HBS Energy & Environment Club and as co-chair of Harvard’s Council for Student Sustainability Leaders, a role that required coordination across the University and one he describes as “formative” in preparing for his current role as chief of environment, energy, and open space for the City of Boston, a job he’s held since January 2015. “Right now I have the honor and privilege of leading 400 City of Boston employees, in addition to overseeing an operating budget of $40 million and a capital budget of over $20 million,” Blackmon says. “Having those extracurricular experiences was extremely helpful in developing the capacity to work across different constituencies.”

He also cites the case method’s natural tendency to foster time management and quick decision-making skills—both useful qualities for a role that encompasses three city departments, including Parks and Recreation, Inspectional Services, and Environment. “If you have only 90 minutes to discuss a case and analyze an organization’s strategy, before summarizing your thoughts to some of the smartest people you’ve met in your entire life—you become very efficient and comfortable with forming an opinion with limited information,” Blackmon says. “That’s something that occurs all the time as an executive. You have to understand what’s really important, identify the key decision points quickly, make a decision, live with the consequences, and move on.”

Among the many data-driven efforts overseen by Blackmon and his team is Climate Ready Boston, an initiative that considers the impact of rising sea levels and urban heat islands as the city’s climate warms. The study suggests solutions the city can implement as well as cross-sector partnerships to help prepare for the future. However, this is only half the equation since drastically reducing emissions could prevent the most severe impacts of climate change. “Our goal is for Boston to be carbon-free by 2050,” he says. “So what are the policies that we need to start putting in place now to make that happen? That’s a really interesting part of the work we’ll be doing over the next year.”

Looking back over career experiences that range from consulting and finance to clean energy startups and nonprofit work, Blackmon remains most enthusiastic about government. “You get to work with people who are passionate about what they’re doing, about helping others,” he says. “And I love the scale of the impact you can have on people’s lives, in terms of making an entire city a healthier, safer, more innovative place to live.”