Office of Sustainability: 2023 Annual Highlights

Students and parents line up along a street on bicycles. Text reads: 2023 Annual Highlights City of Austin Office of Sustainability.


Top 5 Achievements

1 in an orange circle.

Surpassed $1 million in funds provided to Austin-area schools through the Bright Green Future Grants program, showcasing the City's ongoing commitment to fostering environmental education among Austin-area K-12 students through the support of 555 projects since 2012.

2 in a dark blue circle.

Advanced efforts toward a most just and sustainable local food system by awarding 25 organizations with $3,000 grants in support of community efforts to grow, sell, and eat healthy food, while also engaging over 2,000 community members in Austin/Travis County food planning efforts at over 40 events across Central Texas.

3 in a light blue circle.

Received a $1 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to support regional climate planning and began the creation of the Austin Metro Priority Climate Action Plan, which includes Travis, Hays, Williamson, Bastrop, and Caldwell counties.

4 in a light green circle.

Facilitated a second cohort of the Community Climate Ambassadors program and sponsored community projects designed and implemented by ambassadors to advance the goals of Austin’s Climate Equity Plan.

5 in a green circle.

Launched the Climate Co-Lab with UT Austin to study climate impacts on Central Texas, such as extreme heat, wildfire risk, and air quality, providing vital data and tools for City and community-level decision-making.


Top Stories of 2023

Building Green Futures: Supporting Austin's Youth in Shaping a Sustainable Future

Right here in Austin — and around the world — young people are leading the way in our efforts to create a livable future. Over the past year, the Office of Sustainability has continued its efforts to amplify youth voices through two distinct programs: the Bright Green Futures Grant program and the Austin Youth Climate Equity Council, which is facilitated in partnership with local nonprofit EcoRise.

Photos showcasing Bright Green Future Grants program projects.

Left to right: Mayor Watson reviews students' projects at the 2023 Student Innovation Showcase; a student examines natural objects in an outdoor learning environment funded by the Bright Green Future Grants program; a student composts uneaten food at St. Elmo Elementary School in bins paid for by a Bright Green Future Grant.

In 2023 — with over 50 new projects being funded this school year — the Bright Green Future Grants program officially surpassed $1 million awarded to student-led sustainability projects at Austin-area schools since 2012. This landmark achievement demonstrates the program's commitment to fostering environmental education among K-12 students across the Austin area. Initiated with the vision of inspiring young environmental stewards, the program has grown from three initial projects in 2012 to an impressive 555 projects, impacting an estimated 140,000 students. The program’s expansion was made possible through collaboration with various City departments and community nonprofit partners. Six City of Austin departments fund the program: the Office of Sustainability, Austin Resource Recovery, Transportation and Public Works Department, Austin Water, the Development Services Department’s Urban Forestry Program, and the Watershed Protection Department. Learn more about the continued impact of the program on Austin-area youth by exploring the latest outcomes report.

The Office of Sustainability was also proud to continue its partnership with EcoRise in hosting and facilitating the second cohort of the Austin Youth Climate Equity Council. The council's mission is to empower Austin’s next generation of climate champions with the tools they need to become effective advocates in their community. Twenty-five local youth, ages 14–18, representing 11 schools, including public, private, and charter schools, participated in the 2023 Council. Each student designed solutions to initiatives related to sustainability and the implementation of Austin’s Climate Equity Plan, adopted by the Austin City Council in September 2021. After another successful year, at the close of 2023, it was announced that 33 students were chosen for the third cohort.

Members of the AYCEC 2023.

The Austin Youth Climate Equity Council 2023 cohort poses with their EcoRise facilitators.

Through these two programs, the Office of Sustainability elevates youth insights and offers young people the resources they need to build a more sustainable future. “I am so impressed by the dedication and passion that our youth leaders bring to addressing the challenges of climate change,” said Zach Baumer, the City of Austin’s Interim Chief Sustainability Officer. “Their innovative ideas and projects demonstrate that sustainability is not only a necessary goal but an achievable one.”

Individual Action, Collective Impact: Meet the 2023 Net-Zero Heroes

We’re proud to share the stories of community members working in their own ways to support the mission and vision of the Office of Sustainability.

Amal Morse

Amal Morse

Amal is an Austinite, documentary filmmaker, and passionate climate advocate. While Amal focuses on living a green lifestyle in all her daily actions, in 2022, she got to go on the experience of a lifetime as one of 170 participants in the 2041 ClimateForce Antarctic Expedition. We spoke to her about her trip and how it serves as the inspiration for her next film.

Chivas Watson smiles in downtown Austin.

Chivas Watson

Chivas Watson is the Founder and Lead Administrator of WorkingGroup512 (WG512), which provides direct service to individuals and families across Austin and the Central Texas region. We joined Chivas as he journeyed around Austin for his work with WorkingGroup512 and spoke about how sustainable practices are integral to his life and organization.

Girl Scouts stand in water with snorkel gear on.

Girl Scout Troop 40348

Meet the first and only Girl Scout scuba troop in the country! From wearing ocean-safe sunscreen to organizing watershed cleanups, the scouts of Troop 40348 are committed to finding ways to conserve and support clean, sustainable watersheds locally and across the world.

Aileen Chen holds recycled looms of fabric in her studio.

Aileen Chen

Winner of the 2022 Circular Austin Showcase, Aileen is a maker, mother, and entrepreneur who gives otherwise-discarded materials new life by creating “modern, functional home goods that don’t burden the planet.” We spoke with Aileen about starting and scaling a sustainable business and what inspires her to keep going.

Sagar Kumashi and Saket Sripada stand behind their bikes in the Seaholm District.

Sagar Kumashi & Saket Sripada

We celebrated National Bike Month with friends and bicycling enthusiasts Sagar Kumashi and Saket Sripada. Sagar and Saket spoke with us about their passion for biking, their favorite outdoor spaces in Austin, and their advice for future riders.

Matthew Gaston wears a colorful floral shirt in the edible garden at Zilker Botanical Garden.

Matthew Gaston

Matthew is the Educator Director at the Zilker Botanical Garden, a TikToker, a native Central Texan, and a friend of plants. We highlighted Matthew during Pride Month to discuss his role at the garden, his success in creating plant-themed social media content, and the connections he feels with nature as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Nitakuwa Barrett Orsak looks into the distance while standing on a bridge at the UT Austin campus.

Nitakuwa Barrett Orsak

For some, the relationship between health and climate change might not be so obvious, but for Nitakuwa, the connections can’t be unseen. Nitakuwa is a trained naturalist who transitioned from a career in the outdoors to becoming a community health program manager at UT Austin’s Dell Medical School. Nitakuwa spoke with us about her travels as a naturalist, her partnerships in the community, and the advice she has for others.

Kiana Salazar pulls a plastic bag through a loom.

Kiana Salazar

As an artist and AmeriCorps member, Kiana uses her creative skills for good. This year, Kiana served with local nonprofit Creative Action to build an art project that turned discarded plastic grocery bags into woven mats to give to unhoused people in Austin. We met with Kiana during a community weaving circle she facilitated, where we learned how to create the woven mats and spoke with her about her experience with the project.

Jason John Paul Haskins stands on a red balcony with a building stretching behind him.

Jason John Paul Haskins

Jason John Paul Haskins is an architect with Hatch + Ulland Owen Architects (h+uo), a firm focused on sustainable and socially responsible design. Jason led the way on the Roosevelt Gardens project, a transitional home for residents who are living with HIV and have experienced chronic homelessness. We met with Jason at Roosevelt Gardens to discuss their views on architecture and sustainability, the need for affordable housing, and how Catholicism influences their work.

Reza Cristián smiles outside. There is a bright blue sky and greenery all around her.

Reza Cristián

Through everyday actions and community organizing, Reza helps others understand that living a sustainable lifestyle can start small. As the founder of SUSTAIN THE MAG and co-founder of the Slow Fashion Festival, Reza believes that there is a place for everyone in the sustainability movement — especially for those whose experiences have been historically left out. Our conversation with Reza focused on climate and mental health, her online publication SUSTAIN THE MAG, and how growing up in a Mexican-American family shaped her sustainability journey.

Himadri Patel and Niki Mungcharoen stand outside near the Asian American Resource Center's community garden.

Himadri Patel & Niki Mungcharoen

Having recently moved to Austin, both Himadri Patel and Niki Mungcharoen were looking for ways to connect with and explore their new community. After meeting at the Asian American Resource Center, they bonded over being new Austinites and regular bus riders. They shared more about their experiences moving to Austin, tips for riding the bus, and some of the ways they’ve forged connections in their new city.

Andrew Cortes stands in front of a playscape at T.A. Brown.

Andrew Cortes

Andrew Cortes saw a need for shade in his local park — and stepped up to address it. Andrew worked to secure funding through the Austin Parks Foundation and the Office of Sustainability’s Bright Green Future Grants Program to plant native trees in the T.A. Brown School Park. Andrew spoke with us following a tree planting day to talk about reforestation, what it means to include his kids in his efforts, and project management advice he would share with others.


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 2024? Nominate a Net-Zero Hero

Earning Local and National Recognition: Awards Won in 2023

Marcom Awards

Three awards for excellence in Communications and Marketing:

AVA Digital Awards

Three awards for excellence in digital creativity, branding, and strategy:

Clean Air Awards

Partner of the Year: The City of Austin’s Office of Sustainability was presented with the Clean Air Force of Central Texas’ Partner of the Year award.

Looking Ahead

A Regional Focus: Collaborating on Food and Climate Action in Central Texas

In 2024, our office is working on expanding the impact of our work. Recognizing the interconnectedness of environmental and sustainability challenges, we are collaborating regionally — forging partnerships and initiatives that extend beyond the boundaries of Austin. This approach aims to foster cooperation and coordination among neighboring communities to increase our effectiveness and collective strength in addressing the challenges of a changing climate.

Building a Movement: Austin/Travis County Food Plan

Throughout 2023, our staff was out and about at over 40 events to engage more than 2,000 community members in regional food planning work. The feedback and comments received during this process are shaping the upcoming food plan for Austin/Travis County. When complete, it will be the very first food plan for our area and will include goals and strategies related to key areas of our food system, such as food waste, production, processing, access, and more.

A group of folks outside in front of picnic tables.

Participants at a 2023 Food Planning Picnic, an event hosted as part of the Austin-Travis County food planning efforts.

Through the food plan, we aim to set clear goals and strategies to move toward a more equitable, sustainable, and resilient food system and provide a coordinating structure for all food-related initiatives — both within Austin and, thanks to our partners at Travis County, the larger area. We’re currently working on developing goals and strategies, with the ultimate goal of having an adopted food plan in 2024.

Regional Climate Action: A Collaborative Approach

In 2023, the City of Austin received a $1 million grant through the EPA’s Climate Pollution Reduction Grants program. Using the grant, our office hired staff to help us collaborate with partners not only within Austin but across the Austin Metropolitan Statistical Area, including Travis, Hays, Williamson, Bastrop, and Caldwell counties. This partnership is vital, as we know that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a challenge extending beyond Austin’s city limits.

In addition to hiring staff in late 2023, we convened a community and stakeholder advisory group to ensure that many voices and perspectives are heard throughout the planning process. Our immediate focus for 2024 is creating a regional Priority Climate Action Plan, which will identify high-priority actions to lower emissions at a regional level. Identified priorities will be the focus of future grant applications, ensuring implementation and allowing the benefits of our collaborative efforts to be felt across the region. 

Folks gather around a table looking at papers and chatting with one another.

Participants in a 2023 workshop for the Austin Metro Priority Climate Action Plan.

Setting our Sights on 2024 — and beyond

These projects represent our dedication to building a sustainable and resilient future for Austin, Travis County, and our neighboring counties within the Austin MSA. Together, we can create a more just, equitable, and environmentally responsible community that serves as a model for others to follow.

Logo for the City of Austin Office of Sustainability