Office of Sustainability: 2022 Annual Highlights
Top 5 Achievements
Published a new edition of the State of the Food System report featuring updated data, challenges and opportunities, and quantification of the impact of Austin’s food sector on climate change.
|Awarded 25 organizations with $3,000 grants to advance food justice in Austin, supporting community efforts to grow, sell, and eat healthy food.|
Created two key communications pieces supporting the Climate Equity Plan — a StoryMap offering an introduction point to climate-related issues in Austin and an Implementation Dashboard to track the plan’s progress.
Launched the second Community Climate Ambassadors cohort, recruiting nine individuals to create community projects and lead engagement efforts with groups that have been systematically excluded from climate change conversations.
Awarded Bright Green Future Grants to 34 Austin-area schools for sustainability-focused projects and education. Over half of the grant recipients qualify for Title 1 funding, which includes schools with higher numbers of students from low-income families.
2022 Awards Won
Green Infrastructure Strengths and Gaps Assessment ASLA award
The assessment received a Merit Award from the Texas Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.
American Cities Climate Challenge
Bloomberg Philanthropies presented the City of Austin with a recognition award for completing the three-year American Cities Climate Challenge.
Three awards for excellence in Communications and Marketing:
The Net-Zero Heroes of 2022
Here’s a look at the Austinites we highlighted this year.
Olaniyi is an artist and changemaker known as Akirash. Originally from Lagos, Nigeria, Olaniyi’s work has been shown around the world. An important part of Olaniyi’s mission as an artist is to use upcycled materials in his pieces. In doing so, he breathes new life into the forgotten or discarded items that surround us every day.
Stephanie is a community advocate, founder of Decipher City, and member of the Bicycle Advisory Council. We spoke with Stephanie about her work, her experience as an East Austin resident, and this year’s Black History Month theme of “Black health and wellness.”
Gaby is a poet and nature advocate who worked on the Winter Storm Project, an art anthology that incorporated poetry, photography, essays, and other artistic accounts of Winter Storm Uri from Texans’ firsthand perspective. “Art is such a powerful tool for processing emotion, traumatic events, lived experience, and for communicating with one another. Being able to connect with other people in these ways gives me the energy I need to keep moving forward,” said Gaby.
Marcos is the Managing Librarian for the Little Walnut Creek Branch Library. From serving as a Zero-Waste Block Leader to supporting sustainability programs at his branch, Marcos has found many ways to help his neighbors in their own sustainability journey.
David Yeomans is KXAN’s Chief Meteorologist and a three-time Emmy Award winner. In his role, David supports our community daily in understanding our local weather. Through all his work, David’s passion for climate action shines through, whether he’s reporting on Austin’s wildfire risk or sharing the local impacts of climate change.
Leatha is the Genesis Gardens Coordinator with Mobile Loaves & Fishes and a resident of Community First! Village. In her role, Leatha works to provide healthy food choices to her neighbors. Leatha spoke with us about life at Community First! Village and what it means to her to work with the land.
Frances is the Climate Resilience Lead Organizer with the local nonprofit Go! Austin/Vamos! Austin (GAVA). Frances told us about what inspires her to do this work and offered tips for Austinites to deal with climate shocks and stressors.
Erika Thompson is a local beekeeper and viral TikToker. In 2022, she advocated for Austin becoming a Bee City USA, an initiative that City Council unanimously approved. We spoke with Erika about why bees are important and what everyone can do to help the local bee population.
Trey works with local firm Forge Craft Architecture + Design and is a LEED Accredited Professional, Certified Passive House Consultant, and serves as a member of the Austin Passive House Alliance Board and the national Passive House Institute Alliance Council. The renovation of his 100-year-old home was featured during the AIA Homes Tour.
Through their work with The Parents’ Climate Community, Eileen and Lizett help Central Texas parents and caregivers find ways to engage in the climate movement. “Raising kids can be an incredibly lonely and isolating endeavor. The Parents’ Climate Community believes that coming together for climate action can also be a means of addressing our own needs as adults for socialization, friendship, and support,” said Eileen.
Skye is Potawatomi and Ottawa, a proud mother, and a passionate community organizer. She also serves on the board for the Great Promise for American Indians, which hosts the annual Austin Powwow, the largest one-day powwow in the United States. Skye spoke about her work celebrating and sharing Native and Indigenous heritage throughout Central Texas.
Dr. Murillo is the Executive Director of El Buen Samaritano. Among other services, El Buen manages a year-round, no-cost food pantry and a community garden where clients can grow their own healthy food. Dr. Murillo has worked to center community resilience, justice, and hope throughout her time at El Buen.
We’re so grateful for these inspiring community members taking action against climate change and helping make Austin a better place for all.
Know someone in our community who should be highlighted in 2023? Nominate a Net-Zero Hero.
Engaging and Empowering Youth
Bright Green Future Grants
In 2022, we awarded funding to 34 Austin-area K-12 schools to implement 43 student-led sustainability projects on local school campuses. These projects will offer hands-on learning opportunities, make school campuses greener, and provide tangible benefits to surrounding neighborhoods. Over half of the schools receiving a grant qualify for Title 1 funding, which includes a larger percentage of students from low-income families.
At Patton Elementary, a Bright Green Future Grant will be used to create a community-powered gardening program. Through the project, the school hopes to provide educational opportunities for students and bolster the campus as a public environmental anchor in the community.
“The Bright Green Future Grants program helps guide our campus’s focus on environmental awareness and engagement,” said Brittany Platt, a parent at Patton Elementary School. “The funding we receive has allowed us to be creative and intentional with projects and incorporate ways for our community to be more environmentally engaged.”
Austin Youth Climate Equity Council
Youth voices prioritize justice, resilience, and health in conversations about climate hazards that affect our communities. Now in its second year, the Austin Youth Climate Equity Council gives youth voices a platform and connects them to City initiatives and leaders. Twenty-five local youth, ages 14–18, representing 11 schools, including public, private, and charter schools, were selected to work on the council during the 2022-23 school year. The students will design solutions to initiatives related to sustainability and the implementation of Austin’s Climate Equity Plan.
“As a member of this youth council, I hope to help affect real change,” said Amber, an Austin Youth Climate Equity Council Member. “It is so difficult to see that there is a major problem facing our society but not have the resources to help. This youth council will be a unique opportunity to create solutions, fight for our planet, and work with like-minded individuals.”
The young leaders on the council are learning about sustainability, civic procedures, environmental justice, and how they relate to improving their community’s health and well-being. The council members will use this knowledge to work on climate-related projects with their peers. In the program’s inaugural year, the council worked on projects related to rainwater gardens, air quality sensors, and the environmental impacts of gentrification.
Building Food Justice in Austin
To support communities in their efforts to grow, sell, and eat healthy food, we awarded $3,000 grants to 25 organizations working to build food justice in Austin. First launched in 2020, the Food Justice Mini Grants program provides funding for projects and programs that help build transformational change around how food moves from the fields to our forks.
One of the organizations awarded, Aleph Cookery, leads a community-supported grocery concept that redistributes food that may have otherwise been wasted. The group used Food Justice Mini Grant funds for a “free fridge” project that supports the unhoused community near Republic Square. Free fridges are sites where neighbors can share food with others in need while preventing food from going to waste.
Another organization, Kalpulli Texas Quetzalcoatl, plants fruit trees and further builds upon the indigenous community’s knowledge of plant-based food options. They used grant funds to host an event on native food systems. “As an indigenous-led organization, we understand clearly the effects of colonization on our spiritual traditions,” said Maribel Falcon, who runs Administrative Support for Kalpulli Texas Quetzalcoatl. “We believe that plants and food systems are integrated in this issue. Many of us remember how our grandparents used certain plants for certain ailments. Together we share this knowledge and reclaim these practices.”
Creating Austin's First-ever Food Plan
To plan for the future, it is important to first understand the past and present. In 2022, our Food Team took this sentiment to heart in preparing to embark on the first Food Plan ever created for the Austin-Travis County Region. To begin this process, the team created a new State of the Food System Report, which offered a baseline of new data and analysis around the health of Austin’s Food System.
Among the many findings shared, the report helped highlight food insecurity in our community. While Austin is home to a vibrant food scene with world-class grocery stores and farm-to-table restaurants, not everyone has access to all this bounty. Approximately 14% of people in Travis County experience food insecurity. Another troubling statistic is that less than 1% of food consumed here is produced here.
A Food Plan can help outline goals and strategies to address deficiencies across the various sectors of our food system – from where food is grown to how it’s delivered, produced, consumed, and wasted or recovered.
Over the next year, we’ll launch a community engagement and co-creation strategy to help shape the Food Plan. We’ll be partnering with and listening to nonprofits, businesses, institutions, policymakers, funders, community organizations, leaders, and individuals. Stay tuned for future opportunities to provide feedback in 2023 and for the launch of our new community engagement website.
We look forward to seeing what this community can imagine and do together.
A Fond Farewell to Lucia Athens
Sharing well wishes with Austin's outgoing Chief Sustainability Officer
Since its founding in 2010, the Office of Sustainability has been guided by the vision, leadership, and insights of Chief Sustainability Officer Lucia Athens. Having served the Austin community for over a decade, January 2023 marks Lucia’s retirement from public service.
In her 2018 Earth Month message, Lucia wrote, “When we remember that we exist within an eyeblink of deep time, we realize that our path is one of many steps in a long continuum. Even though we can’t and won’t be able to ‘do it all’ or ‘save the world’ with a single well-informed action, every action does count, especially when we remember that our lives are connected across time with those who will inhabit the future.”
We thank Lucia for spending part of her “eyeblink” with our team and for every action she has taken to support a more thriving, equitable, and resilient Austin, and we wish her the best of luck on her path forward.
Following Lucia’s departure, Zach Baumer was appointed as the Acting Chief Sustainability Officer. Since 2011, Zach has led the City of Austin’s Climate Program, providing strategic direction to meet our city’s goal of net-zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.