Earth Month Message from Lucia Athens, Chief Sustainability Officer

Mar 31, 2016 - 1:14 pm

If you are reading this message, there’s a pretty good chance that you already do a lot of the earth-friendly actions we hear about over and over again. You probably already recycle and compost, minimize car trips, shop at the Farmer’s Market, and set your thermostat correctly. You may even have a rain barrel or rain garden, a smart thermostat, an electric vehicle, and solar panels on your roof. Your commitment paves the way for others, and we need more people to follow your lead. But many of these things are very personal and accomplished on an individual level. To be sure, if everyone does them the impact adds up. But for this Earth Day, I’m asking you to think bigger. By bigger, I mean that I want you to think about your relationship to your community and your neighbors.

Resiliency is a big sustainability topic these days.

It has to do with the ability for us to bounce back after a stress or a shock. Austin has experienced large disruptive events such as the Halloween Floods that can cause not only loss of life and property, but also have long-term impacts on families and the strength of community ties. We also experience shocks when a neighborhood business closes or a much-loved building is torn down to make way for new development. At an even more personal scale we may lose community members due to old age, illness, or even homelessness.

What we know is that communities that are well-connected and have built strong relationships with one another are able to withstand and recover from disruptive events and stay strong together. This might mean neighbors pitching in to help a local business in need, banding together to attend neighborhood meetings so they can weigh in on development decisions, or offering to pick up groceries for a single parent or elderly resident. It could mean organizing a community cleanup or food bank, or stepping in to help a lost dog or a lost child.

How well do you know your neighbors? And how well do they know you?

Are you willing to slow down in your busy life to walk your block, talk to others, and possibly step outside your comfort zone to have a conversation with someone who is different from yourself? These are simple actions that take time and care. If you already know your neighbors, bravo! But if you don’t, now might be a good time to start. Spring is perfect for having a conversation with someone about how pretty their yard looks, or offering to help clean it up if it doesn’t look so good. Spring is for picnics at the corner park and ball games with kids young and old. What you may not realize when you do these things, is that you are helping to build a stronger more resilient community that can help one another if the going gets tough.

Austin is a city undergoing rapid change, which creates great pressures on community resiliency and goodwill. Now is the time to think bigger about sustainability within your community.