State Department Enlists One Tough Diplomat as Chief Sustainability Officer

State Department Enlists One Tough Diplomat as Chief Sustainability Officer

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made his first major foray into climate change, putting his personal stamp on the State Department's approach to the environment by appointing the State Department's first ever Chief Sustainability Officer. The role will be filled by John Bass, current Senate-confirmed US Undersecretary of State for Management and former US Ambassador to Georgia, Turkey, and Afghanistan. Blinken said Bass will drive "the vision for and oversee implementation of the Department's sustainability, adaptation, and resilience goals."

Why This Matters

The State Department is not just the diplomatic arm of the United States, it's also a massive property and logistics operation with an enormous physical footprint, operating in 168 foreign embassies and 732 consulates around the world. Hundreds of properties, tens of thousands of foreign service officers, civil service officers, local employees, and diplomatic security officers and vehicles make up its presence globally. Like a large multinational corporation with a big supply chain, when the Department invests in energy efficiency or resilience or greens its facilities, those emissions reductions have a far-reaching impact.

Blinken hinted at bolder efforts to come, ensuring "facilities are resilient and highlight innovative US technologies...advancing sustainability and resilience in our overseas operations through actions like installing rainwater harvesting systems in drought-stricken areas and installing on-site renewable energy." In his capacity as Undersecretary for Management, Bass has had both the mandate and leverage over resources to make changes happen quickly.

Who Is John Bass?

John Bass is a highly respected US diplomat, who is known inside American diplomatic circles for embracing the most difficult assignments, including serving: as Chief of Mission in Tbilisi, Georgia during Russia's 2008 invasion; in Ankara, Turkey during an attempted coup; and in Kabul, Afghanistan during the Trump years. As foreign service legend James Jeffrey told Foreign Policy magazine in 2021, "There's no better officer in the foreign service. This is the A league.

Bass served as Executive Secretary of the State Department under Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. Former Kerry Chief of Staff David Wade describes Bass as an "innovator and reformer" within the bureaucracy and being "completely mission-driven, with high integrity, despite being a New York Mets fan." Bass was tapped in 2021 by President Biden for the difficult Undersecretary of Management leadership position, a job once described as being "the most powerful guy you've never heard of."