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A seasoned philanthropic and climate leader, Sarah Christiansen will serve as McKnight’s new Midwest Climate & Energy program director.
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Ready to Expand Its Climate Commitment, McKnight Announces New Program Director

Scientific research has long demonstrated that the climate crisis requires a dramatic shift to a deeply decarbonized economy, meaning cutting greenhouse gas emissions to levels that will stave off the worst impacts of a warming planet. The Midwest has a critical role. The region is one of the biggest emitters of carbon pollution in the US, and the US is one of the biggest emitters in the world. Curbing emissions in the Midwest would make a significant difference for the world.

Seizing this leadership opportunity, the McKnight Foundation is expanding its Midwest Climate & Energy (MC&E) program significantly. The Foundation will double its grantmaking budget over the next two years to meet this goal: take bold action on the climate crisis by dramatically cutting carbon pollution in the Midwest by 2030. Earlier this fall, the Foundation announced and began grantmaking with its updated strategies, which include transforming the energy system, electrifying transportation and buildings, sequestering carbon on working lands, and strengthening democratic participation.

“We imagine a future where clean energy powers every home, business, and vehicle,” said McKnight board chair Debby Landesman. “And we imagine communities enjoying the myriad of benefits that come with such a transformation—from cleaner air to clean energy jobs and a thriving and sustainable economy.”

McKnight Welcomes Sarah Christiansen as Midwest Climate & Energy Program Director

Sarah Christiansen HeadshotMcKnight is pleased to announce that Sarah Christiansen has been selected to serve as program director of the expanding MC&E program starting January 4, 2021. With a career that spans more than 30 years, Christiansen is a seasoned philanthropic leader dedicated to finding multiple pathways toward achieving an equitable and carbon-neutral economy.

Christiansen will work closely with McKnight board members and senior leaders to build a skilled team that uses every philanthropic tool available to reduce carbon pollution in the transportation, buildings, power, and agricultural sectors. McKnight is grateful to Brendon Slotterback for serving as interim lead of the program during the search process. The Foundation is in the middle of its search for two new MC&E program officers.

Christiansen comes to McKnight from the Solidago Foundation of Massachusetts, where she currently serves as program director. She brings experience in a range of climate strategies, from place-based approaches to global solutions. Notably, she served as a funder delegate for the Conference of the Parties (COP), the supreme decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In this role, she strategically supported leadership inside and outside the COP while bridging climate-resilient grassroots solutions with grasstops policy platforms in cities and rural lands.

A catalytic strategist, Christiansen has developed a deep understanding of the many levers required to address climate change. She cofounded the Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund, which supports civic engagement, capacity building on climate equity policy, and narrative shift, and builds power in the communities most impacted by climate change. By activating new community voices in alliance across sectors, the climate movement becomes better positioned to advocate for clean energy jobs and investments. From Virginia to New Mexico to Minnesota and beyond, the work of her grantee partners has led to gains, including moving bold renewable energy portfolio standards, increasing energy efficiency for municipal buildings, and investing in climate-resilient public infrastructure, as well as other comprehensive shifts from government policymakers and business leaders forging a just transition to a clean energy economy.

“We’re delighted to bring on someone as innovative and inclusive as Sarah,” said Kara Inae Carlisle, vice president of programs. “She widens the lens on ways we can build a groundswell of support for effective climate solutions.”

Minnesota Roots

A past Fulbright scholar in Cameroon, Christiansen holds an MS in sustainable development and conservation biology from the University of Maryland. She has served as a senior conservation specialist and program officer for the World Wildlife Fund and is principal of Breaking Wave, an independent consultancy serving foundations, individual donors, and donor advisors on climate and democracy strategies.

Christiansen grew up in Minnesota and received a BS in ecology, evolution, and behavior from the University of Minnesota. She was a naturalist and environmental educator for the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden & Bird Sanctuary in Minneapolis early in her career and looks forward to returning to her home state.

Topic: Midwest Climate & Energy

December 2020