Aug 15, 2022 - 10:50 am CDT

The owners of Just Right Design Co., Claire Dollen (left) and Ashleigh Straub (right).

In the fall of 2021, Ashleigh Straub and Claire Dollen landed on an idea that felt just right. At the time, Ashleigh was hoping to purchase greeting cards from Claire. Claire had dabbled with the idea of selling her artwork, but the business aspects stressed her out. Within a few weeks of their initial conversation, Ashleigh approached Claire with an offer. As Claire describes it, “She approached me and was like, ‘Okay, mull this over: what if we did it together? We could team up and use our different strengths?’”

Ashleigh and Claire had met several years earlier while studying at Elon University in North Carolina. Claire is a native Austinite and illustrator who studied graphic design. She moved back to Austin upon graduating because, “it's a great place to be a creative person.” Ashleigh, a business major, also found her way to Austin after graduating and quickly reconnected with Claire. With Ashleigh’s offer, Just Right Design Co. was born.

Illustrated greeting cards in small boxes.

Greeting cards ready for packaging at Just Right Design Co.’s home studio.

Just Right Design looks beyond adorable corgi stickers and Austin-themed art prints. Throughout their business, Claire and Ashleigh have found ways to center sustainable practices. “When we were starting the business, we recognized that we were going to have a larger footprint than we have right now as two individuals,” says Ashleigh. “There is only one earth that we live on, and we want to do whatever we can to make sure that it is as clean, safe, and sustainable as possible.”

For Ashleigh and Claire, this meant putting time and research into finding solutions that were sustainable and scalable. “Pretty early on we walked into a card store together and saw an entire wall lined with plastic wrappers that were going to be thrown away minutes after the cards were purchased,” Ashleigh shared. “It felt so unnecessary.”

Just Right Design packages cards in recyclable cardstock belly bands and online orders are sent in biodegradable glassine bags as alternatives to single-use plastics. After learning that the recyclable shipping labels they were originally using had unrecyclable liners, they researched alternatives and have now transitioned to a fully zero-waste option.

“We’re taking that extra step and doing the research on how to execute our vision in the right way,” says Claire. “It is possible and that’s been really rewarding.”

Ashleigh and Claire stand at their desk organizing packing materials.Claire and Ashleigh work on packaging greeting cards in recyclable belly bands.

Claire and Ashleigh work on packaging greeting cards in recyclable belly bands.

This summer, the City of Austin welcomed Just Right Design into the Austin Green Business Leaders program in recognition of the many ways they are working to address the climate crisis and protect our environment. What advice do the owners of Just Right Design have for other businesses trying to adopt sustainable practices? “Figure out what’s important to you and don’t compromise on it,” says Ashleigh. “It’s so worth it, can differentiate your business in a really good way, and your customers are going to appreciate it.”

“Just because an option isn’t initially clear, doing the research is worth it,” Claire adds. “Opportunities do present themselves and digging one level deeper is always worth it to execute what you want.”

Ashleigh laughs with Claire in Just Right Design Co.'s home studio.


Austin Green Business Leaders logo

Is your business a green business?

If so, we encourage you to join Just Right Design Co. by becoming an Austin Green Business Leader. Austin Green Business Leaders get recognized for doing good work in our community. Learn more.

 

Aug 08, 2022 - 05:10 pm CDT

 Ericka smiles at the camera holding a frame full of bees and honeycomb.

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by saving the bees!

In celebration of National Honey Bee Day on August 20, we buzzed up to Elgin to meet with local beekeeper, viral TikToker, and our newest Net-Zero Hero: Erika Thompson!

Erika has been interested in insects for as long as she can remember, routinely asking her parents for books on bugs as a kid. In 2014, she founded Texas Beeworks, which seeks to put “hives before honey.” Since its founding, Erika and her work have amassed a large public following, with her being featured on such shows as Good Morning America, The Ellen Show, and Jeopardy. As a native Texan and graduate of UT, Erika continues her work locally. Earlier this year, she supported an Austin City Council initiative helping designate Austin as a Bee City USA Affiliate.

We met with Erika to talk about her passion for beekeeping, what it means for Austin to be a Bee City USA, and ways we all can support native bee species.


What inspired you to take action?

I was inspired to take action the very first time I put on a bee suit, went into a beehive, and saw the way that honeybees work together for the collective good of their colony — and for the good of our planet. Bees are remarkable creatures, and they are directly responsible for creating biodiversity on our planet and for maintaining food security for so many plants and animals, including humans.

But bees are suffering. They are feeling the impacts of climate change, habitat loss, industrial agriculture, poor nutrition, and the use of pesticides. And all of those things have one thing in common — us.

Left: Bees hover around a water feature in Erika's yard. Right: Erika sits near the water feature.

Left: Bees hover around a water feature at Erika’s home.  Right: Erika explaining the importance of providing water for bees.

 

How did you do it?

As a beekeeper, it’s my job to be a steward for the bees and to do whatever I can to help them. A few years into my beekeeping journey, I realized that the most meaningful way I can help bees every day is by rescuing colonies that have built their hives in places where humans can’t or don’t want to live alongside them. I offer free bee removal services to the people and bees of Austin and Central Texas. I relocate the bees so they can continue to do the important work they do, but in a place that’s safer for them and for people. 

I feel it’s also part of my job as a beekeeper to educate people about bees. I share videos online of my bee removal work and all the amazing things I get to see inside the hive. I feel incredibly fortunate to have amassed a following of over 11 million bee lovers who follow my bee-work online, and that gives me a great deal of hope for the bees.

 

What’s been most rewarding about getting involved in this way?

The most rewarding part of this work is when someone tells me that I changed their mind about bees or helped them overcome their fear of bees. I often hear folks tell me that they used to run away from any bee they saw, but after watching my videos, they now admire bees and will even stop to watch them foraging on a flower.

I hope that people will start to care more about bees because I think when people care about something, they feel compelled to help and protect it.

A close up of a bee on a yellow flower in Erika's yard.

Erika kneels in her yard and prepares a smoker.

 Above: A bee gathers pollen on a flower in Erika’s garden. Below: Erika prepares her smoker to check on the hives.

 

What’s been the toughest part?

I’m trying to change how people think about an entire species, which has been the most challenging part. Bees have been villainized and monsterized for so long. While we should have a healthy fear of bees because they have the potential to be very dangerous, we should also have a healthy understanding and respect for bees. The truth is that most bees don’t want to sting you. They just want to do their work and contribute to their colony.

Erika opens one of her bee hives and adds smoke.

Erika adds smoke to a hive. Smoke helps to calm the bees during hive inspections.

 

This year, Austin became a Bee City USA. Can you tell us about your involvement in this process and what you hope the designation will mean for our Austin community? How can other Austinites get involved?

I think designating Austin as a Bee City USA is the most meaningful commitment that Austin has ever made to protecting bees and preserving their habitats. 

I had a very small part in Austin becoming a Bee City USA — we have leaders on our City Council to thank for recognizing the importance of bees and the importance of Austin becoming a Bee City USA. Council Member Vanessa Fuentes reached out to me to ask me to support the initiative, and the next day I was at City Hall speaking in front of the City Council and raising awareness for the cause. And I’m proud to say that our City’s leaders voted unanimously that day to approve the initiative.

Erika inspects bees on one of the frames in her hive.

A close up of bees on one a hive frame.

Above: Erika checks on one of the bee colonies. Below: Bees on one of their hive frames.

The best thing about the designation is that everyone can get involved to make Austin a better place for bees! The most important thing you can do if you want to help bees is also the easiest: plant some flowering plants that bees will forage from. Whenever you’re choosing something to plant in your yard, garden, or balcony, make sure it’s a flower, bush, or tree that will provide food for bees and other pollinators. Native plants are always best because they more directly support native bees. There are actually over 20,000 species of bees, and 4,000 of those species of bees call Texas home!

 

Is there a book, documentary, or other piece of media you would recommend for folks wanting to learn more about these topics?

Texas A&M has a wonderful list of what to plant for pollinators in Central Texas. Check it out!

You can learn more about bees by following me on your favorite social media platform: @texasbeeworks.

Left: Jars of honey labeled with dates and towns on a shelf in Erika's home. Right: Erika dips a honey wand into one of her honey jars.

Erika adds honey to a mug using a honey wand.

Erika makes a cup of tea with honey from her hives. With the philosophy of putting ‘hives before honey,’ Erika only rarely harvests the honey from her bees and never makes it available for sale.

 

What advice do you have for others?

Just like bees, no one is too small to make a big difference!

Erika stands in front of her bee hives with a beekeeper veil on.


Bees are an essential part of Austin’s food system. If you’d like to get involved in helping to shape the future of food in Austin, complete our Food Plan Interest Form

Want to learn more about bees, butterflies, and pollinators of all kinds? Save the date for the 2022 Roots & Wings Festival, happening October 22 through November 5. The Roots & Wings Festival is Austin’s annual celebration of nature in our city, commemorating Arbor Day and Monarch Appreciation Day.

To learn more about Austin's net-zero goal and explore actions you can take to support a greener community, view the Austin Climate Equity Plan.

Share your Net-Zero contributions with us on Twitter or Facebook and use #NetZeroHero. If you know a Net-Zero Hero (or heroes!) who should be recognized for their efforts, send your nomination to sustainability@austintexas.gov.

 

Jul 12, 2022 - 10:52 am CDT

Frances stands in front of a bright teal door.

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by speaking my mind and being involved in the community as a resident and organizer.

In 2022, Austin experienced record-breaking heat during both May and June — a fact that may not have surprised our newest Net-Zero Hero: Frances Acuña. In her role as Climate Resilience Lead Organizer with Go! Austin/Vamos! Austin (GAVA), Frances mobilizes community members to combat climate stressors like flooding and extreme heat. Frances's interest in this work runs deep — she’s a longtime Dove Springs resident who served as a first responder during the October 2013 and 2015 floods.

We met with Frances at her home and traveled to the Williamson Creek Greenbelt to talk about heat, community resilience, and what drives her work.


What inspired you to take action?

Our communities have been through so many inequities that there comes a time when you say, “I have to take action.”

I started taking action when my neighbors got displaced by the 2013 and 2015 floods. I felt the need to get involved knowing that heat, flooding, and infrastructure issues, as well as displacement and gentrification, are impacting our communities more and more as time passes.

Frances and a group of other folks pose for a photo outside in the Dove Springs neighborhood.

Frances (bottom row, center) with a group of GAVA community volunteers. Photo provided by GAVA.

I feel inspired to take action when listening to residents’ stories on how climate shocks and stressors affect them, their children when they go to school, and their husbands, who are construction workers. I know that heat temperatures are affecting residents’ health drastically. 

I am energized when residents are being listened to and when they are wondering how they can do a better job of being responsive in a constructive way. I love seeing the smile on peoples’ faces when their work pays off. I really enjoy seeing how proud they get about their accomplishments in their neighborhood.

 

How did you do it?

I did it by believing in myself and using the anger I get when I see inequities and unfairness happening to my neighbors. I have worked to gain the advocacy skills needed to help build community power and speak up for basic needs. 

Since 2017, I’ve worked with GAVA and partnered with the City of Austin’s Office of Sustainability, UT Health, and TreeFolks, from whom I have learned a lot. Together, we have worked on heat mapping in some of the Eastern Crescent communities, which provided us data on the hottest areas of the city. I’ve interviewed residents on how heat impacts their home life, community, and health in order to build strategies for heat mitigation projects that are led by the communities most impacted by climate shocks and stressors.

Photos of Frances in Williamson Creek Greenbelt. On the left, she points in the distance. On the right, she stands in front of a playscape.

Left: Frances points out spaces in the Williamson Creek Greenbelt where homes once stood that were purchased as part of the City of Austin’s Williamson Creek Flood Risk Reduction Project. Right: Frances stands in front of a children’s playscape in the Williamson Creek Greenbelt.

When I speak with residents, I listen to the struggles and stories about heat and how it affects their daily lives, such as taking their children to school or going to a doctor’s appointment. That right there is a motivator to take action. I try to turn all barriers and challenges into opportunities to make change

 

What’s been most rewarding about getting involved in this way?

The most rewarding thing is seeing residents gain the confidence to speak up or advocate for themselves. It’s fulfilling when they get small wins around their needs, such as a tree-planting event or a park they advocated so hard for to take their children for safe physical activity.

On the left, Frances stands amongst bright colored flower. On the right, a close up of a butterfly landed on one of those flowers.

Left: Frances stands in her front garden. Right: A butterfly visits one of Frances’s flowers. 

I think the greatest reward of all is the facial expression of satisfaction — knowing that I have gained their trust and seeing that they have a little hope of getting some relief in their lives from the extremely hot summertime days.

 

What’s been the toughest part?

The toughest part about my work is when residents are expecting a positive action they have been working so hard for that doesn’t happen. It’s the worst feeling for me to see residents take part of their day to advocate for a cause that gets voted against.

Frances stands outside with two other people next to a pickup truck loaded with bottled water.

Frances helps deliver bottled water in her neighborhood. Photo provided by GAVA.

My life is very hard, because I take my work very seriously. People’s lives and health are at risk. I want to make sure that when I advocate or involve residents that I don’t cause any negative impacts and that residents are not taken advantage of because of my advocacy.

 

Our interview will be released during one of Austin's hottest months. Can you share any tips for Austinites to combat extreme heat both as individuals and within their neighborhoods?

As the summer gets more intense, we all need to know about ways to help ourselves and others in our community:

  • Know your neighbors and learn if there are any people that might need your help during a heatwave.
  • Know where to go to cool down.
  • Make sure that you are drinking enough water.
  • Share information with your neighbors.

Frances sits on a couch holding a document.

Frances holding the "Dove Springs Neighborhood Preparedness Guide" created for GAVA.

 

What advice do you have for others?

I advise others to take action now.

Learn as much as you can. Technology and climate change are taking control and we are staying behind. Heat, flooding, and winter are becoming more intense with time and you never know when you might need to evacuate or take shelter from the impact of extreme weather events.

Frances checks on peppers growing in her garden.

Frances checks on peppers growing in her garden.

My advice is to learn about heat and options we all have to mitigate climate shocks and stressors, such as renewable energy, planting trees, green infrastructure, nature-based solutions, rainwater catchment, and more. 

Recycle as much as you can. We all need to take care of our world. 

Make an emergency kit with things you might need for you and your family in case of a disaster.   

Meet your neighbors and make a list of seniors in your area that might need to be checked on.

Frances smiles outside at Williamson Creek Greenbelt.


Go! Austin/Vamos! Austin works to mobilize community members to support a more equitable and resilient Austin. There are many ways to get involved

To learn more about Austin's net-zero goal and explore actions you can take to support a greener community, view the Austin Climate Equity Plan. Find out how to prepare for the effects of climate change.

Share your Net-Zero contributions with us on Twitter or Facebook and use #NetZeroHero. If you know a Net-Zero Hero (or heroes!) who should be recognized for their efforts, send your nomination to sustainability@austintexas.gov.

 

Jun 21, 2022 - 03:01 pm CDT

 Leatha Floyd in the Genesis Gardens.

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by making sure my neighbors have a good, healthy choice of food.

At the 51-acre Community First! Village, a development of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, sustainability is woven into the fabric of daily life. From enjoying free, hyper-local food to engaging in opportunities for dignified and sustainable income, neighbors in Community First! Village live firmly at the intersection of the three pillars of sustainable living: people, planet, and prosperity.

Our newest Net-Zero Hero, Leatha Floyd, is one of these neighbors. In 2018, Leatha began volunteering at the village. At the time, she was living out of her car. Leatha’s dad was a resident of Community First! Village and encouraged her to come explore the neighborhood. By early 2019, Leatha was also calling Community First! Village home and, in 2021, was hired on as a staff member with Mobile Loaves & Fishes as part of their 10-acre Genesis Gardens program.

Today, Leatha lives at Community First! Village with her two-year-old daughter and works as the Genesis Garden Coordinator. In this role, she oversees a team of fellow residents and volunteers in tending Community First! Village’s organic fruit and vegetable gardens, caring for the chickens, ducks, and bees in the pastures, and supporting the Farmers Market held at the village every Saturday.

We met with Leatha at Genesis Gardens to learn more about her journey, work, and life at Community First! Village.

 

What inspired you to take action?

I found out about Community First! Village from my father, who spent time in prison and then spent ten years on the streets. Alan Graham [Founder of Mobile Loaves & Fishes] saw him on the side of the street one day, came up to him, and said, “You look like somebody that really could use some help. Want some help?” Alan got my dad into a halfway house and then transitioned him to Community First! Village. My dad was volunteering out here before the first house was ever built he got to be part of the groundbreaking.

My dad found out I was living out of my car and told me about living here. When I first came down to the property, it was for a house blessing. I didn’t know anybody except my dad and my dad’s friend, Pops. When I stepped foot on this property, I felt God for the first time in a very long time. He’s here, and this is an awesome place. 

Alan gives a speech about how a house is not the cure for homelessness — community is the cure for homelessness. It’s true. I’ve seen a lot of people, including myself, that couldn’t stay still, jumping from one place to another. They come here and they work here. They put their blood, sweat, tears, and everything into this place. As long as we do our part, we have a home and a family as long as we need it. 

Me and my dad are the only ones still alive in my family. To be able to have somebody or a group of people to rely on and be there for you if you need something is nice. It’s really nice.

 

How did you do it?

I’ve always liked working in gardens. I always had a garden and used to help in my grandmother’s garden every year. My dad introduced me to working here in the Genesis Gardens. He came in one day and said, “Get off that couch. Let’s go!” I worked in the gardens just two days a week for a while, and then three days a week, and then four. Then, I started working with the animals in the pastures and it felt really natural to me.

Left: Leatha smiles holding a chicken; Right: Chickens gather at Leatha's feet.

Leatha squats in the chicken pasture, looking in the distance.

Leatha in one of the chicken pastures.

My boss at that time, the gardens coordinator, came out one day and told us she was leaving. She let us know that her job was going to be open and anyone could apply for it. 

After her announcement, I said to the Genesis Gardens director, “I hope we like the new boss. I don’t want anyone coming in where I know more than them.” I was encouraged to apply for the job, so I did. There were a bunch of interviews. Apparently they all liked me! It all just fell into place. Things just fall into place here for some reason. 

I work the gardens and the pasture. Our team is responsible for everything out here: the animals, vegetables, harvesting. I pretty much go where I’m needed. I’m pretty flexible — that’s the glory of being able to work where you live. It’s a blessing. With the things I’ve done in my past, I never thought that I deserved any good. But this place, they really make you realize that you do deserve good, regardless of what you’ve done in your past. It feels so good to be with the animals, in the garden, and able to provide for our farmers market.

Leatha leans down to moves brush from a pile.

Leatha removes brush from the pastures.

What’s been most rewarding about getting involved in this way?

To be able to get out there and put my hands in the ground, I get a personal feeling of being able to communicate with God. To be able to go spend time with our chickens and our animals, to get dirty and sweaty, to be one with the earth that God put here for us. 

I get to work with some really awesome people. We have our drama, we have our ups and downs, we have our loopy loops and turnarounds, but we’re all family here. That’s the biggest thing for me.

Leatha checks items off a list on a clipboard while talking to a woman in a large sunhat.

Leatha runs through her daily to-do list with Genesis Gardens Manager, Judea Atarji.

It’s so tranquil. I have the best job in the world. It’s my favorite job. Most people in their lifetime don’t ever get to do a job that they love. But I actually have a job that I love. This is my dream job.

 

What’s been the toughest part?

The toughest part has been building close connections, because you really come to care for and love people here. Watching people relapse or do something that’s not good for them and knowing that there’s nothing you can do that will make the situation change, it’s hard.

When you care for somebody and they lose their home because they don’t want to provide for themselves, that’s the hardest thing.

Leatha stands behind a pickup truck, trying to attach a trailer. Two other people are helping her.

Leatha works with fellow residents to hitch a trailer in the pasture.

People come here with different problems, but there is always somebody here to help. It’s a give-and-take relationship. Many people look at homeless people and think all they want is money or that they are selfish. That’s the last thing in the world that homeless people are.

 

The Mobile Loaves & Fishes model is built on providing a dignified income to residents. Can you talk a little bit about what that means for you?

It is a huge relief. There are a lot of people here that have a hard time finding a job, let alone having decent things to wear for a good job. Our residents who work in the gardens work short shifts that they couldn’t do elsewhere. It’s good pay and they don’t have to go far. They don’t have to be judged for who they are, what they’ve done in their life, or what they’ve been through. None of us are judged for that here.

Leatha talks in a circle of people with a clipboard in her hand.

Leatha runs a meeting with staff and volunteers at the end of the morning shift in the pasture.

It’s good to come to work and not be thinking, ‘I’m better than you,’ or, ‘you’re better than me.’ Here, we’re all the same. We’ve all been through the same steps. It’s comfortable and reliable. There’s always a job for you here to help you pay your rent and there is always somebody willing to help you find a position. 

There is a lot of support. I think that’s what a lot of us need at times — the support and the love. 

 

How does it feel to be able to provide free and healthy food to your neighbors?

It makes me feel overjoyed. That’s what I get up for everyday: to provide something that’s healthy and something that’s good for them. A lot of people aren’t able to go buy vegetables. They’ve gotten super pricey at the market or grocery store. Our residents are able to just come and get what they want. My being a part of that — of being able to give back — is so good.

Left: Leatha pulls a peach from a tree; Right: A sign hangs at the pasture saying Local Dairy Farm Fresh

Left: Leatha reaches for a peach off one of hundreds of Genesis Garden’s fruit and nut trees; Right: A sign at the entrance to the pastures.

When they come to the market, they’re able to go home and make a salad, or eat a cucumber, a watermelon, or a peach — it does my heart really good. That’s the reason why I’m here.

 

What advice do you have for others?

If you have access to land, you’ll never go hungry — there’s always something you can grow or something you can raise to sustain yourself. You need to rely on the land and people. There’s no way our four team members could run the garden and pastures ourselves without the wonderful people that work with us. We all need to lean on each other. We have to rely on each other.

Left: A toddler tricycle in front of Leatha's home; Right: Close up of lush cucumber vines.Leatha smiles at the entrance to her home.

Top Left: A view of Leatha’s front yard; Top Right: Leatha’s personal cucumber garden; Bottom: Leatha stands in front of her home at Community First! Village.


If you would like to support the work of Leatha and the Community First! Village’s gardens and pastures, consider signing up for a volunteer shift.

If you have ideas to support a more just and sustainable food system in Austin, consider applying for a Food Justice Mini Grant. Grants of up to $3,000 are available to support communities in their efforts to grow, sell, and eat healthy food. Applications are open until July 22, 2022.

To learn more about Austin's net-zero goal and explore actions you can take to support a greener community, view the Austin Climate Equity Plan

Share your Net-Zero contributions with us on Twitter or Facebook and use #NetZeroHero. If you know a Net-Zero Hero (or heroes!) who should be recognized for their efforts, send your nomination to sustainability@austintexas.gov.

 

Jun 02, 2022 - 04:49 pm CDT

Illustration of the Planet Protectors

This summer, join the Office of Sustainability at your local library to learn from the Planet Protectors as they share important tips and lessons on how to take better care of the planet.

The Planet Protectors — Commander Sustainability, Captain Airiel, Hydro Crusader, and Agent Leaf — will help kids of all ages understand the importance of water conservation, healthy eating habits, clean air, and much more.

Each month, the Planet Protectors will take on a different topic at the following branches. Kids will receive a summer activity workbook with specific actions to take, and those who attend one session per month will get a special prize! Session dates, times, and themes are listed below:

June – What is Sustainability or “Going Green”?

July – Saving Water Saves the Planet

August – Sustainable Transportation and Clean Air

September – The Importance of Trees and Local Food

Apr 28, 2022 - 12:56 pm CDT

David

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by connecting the dots between global climate change and our local Austin weather.

Our newest Net-Zero Hero may be a familiar face for many Austinites: three-time Emmy Award winner, David Yeomans!  As KXAN’s chief meteorologist, 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.

We met with David at the KXAN studio on Earth Day to discuss his journey, his passion for meteorology, and how he became interested in climate change.


What inspired you to take action?

I was fortunate to study under a world-renowned climate change researcher at the University of Miami and published peer-reviewed literature on the topic, so climate change has been an interest of mine for 17 years.

As the only scientist many folks allow into their living room every evening, I realize the importance of using my platform on television to bring scientific facts to viewers to cut through the political noise.

 

How did you do it?

I try to bring little bits of climate research into the daily weather forecast when relevant. Climate Central is enormously helpful. It’s an organization led by climate scientists who do city-specific research on how local temperatures are warming, rainfall patterns are changing, and allergies are getting worse right here at home — not for some polar bear in the Arctic. For example, on a record-hot April day recently, I presented a Climate Central graphic showing that spring temperatures have warmed by nearly 3 degrees in Austin over just the last 50 years.

 

InStudio

ReviewingData

Above: David reviews the daily weather with fellow meteorologist, Nick Bannin. Below: David reviews incoming weather data in studio.

 

Since doom and gloom climate news can lead to hopelessness and inaction, on KXAN, we also frequently discuss things that people can change in their everyday lives to help mitigate climate change. This includes actions like changing to LED lightbulbs and taking advantage of the City of Austin’s composting pickup. 

 

What’s been most rewarding about getting involved in this way?

Sometimes it feels like I am shouting into the void, but it is rewarding knowing that we are doing our part as scientists to bring facts to the forefront so people know that there is no disagreement in the scientific community — only in the political realm. It is also very rewarding to hear from people who appreciate the climate coverage, or to have the opportunity to have an earnest debate with someone who genuinely wants to learn more about the topic.

 

DavidWavesOutside

 

What’s been the toughest part?

It is often the naysayers who speak the loudest, even though they are in the minority. It can be tiring to hear the same climate myths regurgitated in defense of their views, and to have people who have educations or backgrounds in unrelated fields be convinced that they know more about your expertise than you do. I’ve learned the importance of knowing where my efforts are best-served versus when I’m never going to change someone’s mind.

 

As a meteorologist, you have a unique perspective on weather patterns and our changing climate. What is something you wish everyone knew? What gives you hope for the future?

I wish everyone knew how basic the science behind global warming is, and how impossible it is to refute. John Tyndall discovered that carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping gas in 1859. The more fossil fuels we burn, the more CO2 we put into the atmosphere. The higher the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, the warmer global temperatures get. That’s it! 

I recognize that changing the way we have always done things is scary. Transitioning to clean, renewable energy will take time, resources, and a leap of faith. But ultimately, how can we expect an infinite future on this planet living off of finite resources?

 

DavidPrepares

David prepares for the nightly forecast.

 

What advice do you have for others?

Do the little things in your daily life to lower your carbon footprint — every little bit helps. But also recognize that 71% of all greenhouse gases ever emitted can be traced back to just 100 major corporations. Changing the course of our warming world will take much larger changes than you changing your lightbulbs.

 

DavidInStudio


To learn more about climate change in Austin and explore actions you can take to support a greener community, visit our website.

Share your Net-Zero contributions with us on Twitter or Facebook and use #NetZeroHero. If you know a Net-Zero Hero (or heroes!) who should be recognized for their efforts, send your nomination to sustainability@austintexas.gov.

 

Apr 25, 2022 - 11:20 am CDT

An illustration of a street with people biking, walking, and planting a tree. Text underneath reads, "Air Quality Awareness Week May 2-6: Be Air Aware and Prepared."

 

Breathe in. Feel your lungs expand with air. Breathe out.

Every second, we breathe in about a cup of air, or nearly a gallon every minute. For many of us, breathing is so automatic that we may have taken it for granted at one point or another. But, breathing clean, fresh air is necessary for people to survive and thrive.

In Austin, air quality is in danger of becoming worse because of human-induced climate change. Below are just some of the ways our warming climate impacts local air quality.

  • How many of us have complained about oaks and Ashe juniper trees during allergy season? Our warming climate may be making allergy season longer and more severe. A study released in 2021 found that, since 1990, pollen season had increased by 20 days and that the concentration of pollen in the air had risen by 21%.
  • Have you followed the news of devastating wildfires across our planet, from California to Australia? Our changing climate means that wildfires, one of the worst causes of air pollution, are happening more frequently. In fact, according to recent rankings, Austin is the U.S. city with the highest risk of wildfire outside of California.
  • Warming temperatures can lead to increased “ground-level ozone,” which can trigger health problems, including asthma.

Since it’s not always easy to “see” when the air quality is unhealthy, it’s helpful to know what causes poor air quality and what we can all do to keep our air clean.

What causes poor air quality?

During spring and summer in Central Texas, there are times when levels of “bad” ozone — called “ground-level ozone” — reach amounts that can cause negative impacts on public health. This type of ozone is created when sunlight triggers a chemical reaction between oxygen-containing molecules and pollution from cars, power plants, factories, and other sources. When ground-level ozone levels become high, Austin declares an “Ozone Action Day.” In Central Texas, we typically have between 5-10 Ozone Action Days per year, but, in March 2022 alone, we’ve already had six.

For sensitive populations, such as the very young or elderly, people with respiratory issues like asthma, and those who work outside, avoiding outdoor activity is recommended on Ozone Action Days. This is because breathing in ozone can irritate and damage airways and make it harder to breathe.

On Ozone Action Days, you can help make a difference and support sensitive populations by:

  • Opting for sustainable forms of transportation
  • Avoiding traveling alone in a car
  • Working from home, if you’re able
  • Conserving energy in your home

 

A Capital Metro worker smiles and looks out a bus window.
Above: Choosing sustainable transportation can support positive air quality. Photo courtesy of Capital Metro. 

 

Another big contributor to air pollution is particulates. Particulates are the small fragments released from construction sites and things that burn fuel, like cars, power plants, and wildfires. Particulates, unlike ozone, can cause health problems year-round. Like ozone, particulates have been linked to a worsening of lung problems, especially asthma. Both particulates and ozone also are associated with increased cardiovascular events, such as stroke and heart attack.

Understanding Austin’s history

In Austin, the City’s 1928 master plan segregated the city along racial lines and forcibly relocated Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities East of what is now IH-35. East Austin was then designated for industrial development. This meant that communities of color forced to live in this area were now more likely to live near sources of ground or air pollution. These health inequities persist to this day – low-income communities and communities of color are statistically more likely to suffer from asthma and other breathing disorders in our community.

 

An East Austin resident shows the proximity of a tank behind their house. A few young children stand near him.

Above: An East Austin resident shows the proximity of a tank behind their house. Photograph by Joe Vitone. AR-2012-015-015, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, PODER Records.

 

Additionally, people who live near major roadways with higher concentrations of particulate matter, such as IH-35, are more likely to develop lung issues. Particulate pollution is also linked to cognitive decline in the elderly. This can have a big impact on people experiencing homelessness, for example.

Take action for a healthier Austin

The ability to breathe clean air is a human right, and we must continue to work together to advocate for clean air in our community. We hope you’ll join us during Air Quality Awareness Week, May 2-6, to help spread the message about why air quality is so important for our health. Some ways you can support:

  • Follow us on Facebook, where we’ll be sharing daily info on air quality throughout Air Quality Awareness Week
  • Check current air quality conditions and share the information with neighbors and loved ones
  • Opt for sustainable transportation and do your part to conserve energy year-round
  • Visit our website for more information

With your help, everyone in Austin can breathe a little bit easier.

 

Apr 06, 2022 - 09:34 am CDT

A photo of Marcos Martinez smiling outside. A graphic on it reads, "Marcos Martinez: Net-Zero Hero".

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by connecting community members to resources both at the library and beyond.

In honor of National Library Week and National Gardening Month, we’re excited to introduce our newest Net-Zero Hero: Marcos Martinez, Managing Librarian at the Little Walnut Creek Library! From serving on the Nature Smart Libraries initiative to starting a seed collection at his library, Marcos is doing his part to ensure all Austinites have a chance to reap the benefits of nature.

We met with Marcos at the Little Walnut Creek Branch Library to learn more about his work, passions, and his personal journey to sustainability.


What inspired you to take action?

I moved to Austin several years ago to start working at Austin Public Library as the Managing Librarian of the Twin Oaks Branch Library. Twin Oaks felt like a playground and lab. I was inspired by the building's design and layout to learn more about sustainable practices. These ideas were reinforced for me — and library visitors — by educational displays throughout the grounds.

My own zero-waste lifestyle journey began both professionally and personally when I read all about the City’s zero-waste by 2040 and net-zero community-wide greenhouse gases by 2040 initiatives. After learning more, I was inspired to take incremental steps towards becoming more of a zero-waste practitioner at home, in my neighborhood, and while serving others at the library.

 

How did you do it?

Today, I manage the Little Walnut Creek Branch Library in north Austin. Here, I’ve incorporated elements of what my team and I built at the Twin Oaks Branch Library. Specifically, I launched the collection of stretch plastic and styrofoam to do our part as a business. When our library receives new books and media, the vendor ships them in plastic bags, and some of the items come packaged with styrofoam. Now, our team continually collects both of these types of materials and drops them off at the Austin Resource Recovery’s Recycle and Reuse Drop-off Center.

To continue moving towards zero-waste, I recently activated our kitchen compost bin collector to divert staff’s waste. I bring in compostable bag liners and then take them home to compost. To further support zero-waste initiatives throughout my community, I even became a Zero-Waste Block Leader
Two photos. On the left, Marcos sorts plastic film for recycling. On the right, the Little Walnut Creek Branch Library's compost bin.

I also wanted to provide an opportunity that could address the fresh food desert in our area while expanding library programming and education in the environmental arena. In 2019, we launched a branch seed collection. We were inspired by the Central Library’s Seed Collection, a project brought to life by Adult Services Librarian Katrin Abel. The seed collection at the Little Walnut Creek Branch Library became the first in-branch offshoot of this project.  

Today, the seed collection offers access to a variety of seed packets, all donated by residents in the community and local organizations like Central Texas Seed Savers. The collection allows anyone to take, or “check out,” seed packets. The idea is to harvest seeds from your garden to bring back to the library for others to take next season. You can now find seed collections taking root at various Austin Public Library locations with the help of passionate library staff at these sites.   

Three photos. On the left, Marcos looks through the seed library. In the center, Marcos reads a gardening book. To the right, free plant clippings at the library.

As a library system, we naturally do our part in creating a zero-waste Austin by circulating our collection and funneling well-loved materials, such as books and DVDs, through our Recycled Reads Bookstore. Items are made available for resale at a discounted rate. We also collect batteries for recycling at all our locations.  

Aside from these well-established systems, our branch shares resources with other library locations through our version of a “buy nothing group”. Using the Microsoft Teams platform, we offer up surplus items across branches, extending the life of furniture, consumables, and anything else that we can divert from heading to the landfill. My team and I now make it a practice to attempt to locate existing material by first checking in with this group before we set out to request a purchase.  

 

What’s been most rewarding about getting involved in this way?

What’s most rewarding is seeing the whole team of library staff at my branch come together to learn more about zero-waste practices, incorporate those practices into our daily routine, and extend all that information to community members interacting with the library.

With our seed collection, my team and I have taken this resource out to several community gardens in the zip codes we serve. Sharing seeds opens the door for conversation with community groups and between the neighbors who share their seeds from this collection.  

Marcos stands next to the seed collection.

As a library staff member, I have the most rewarding job. I get to walk alongside a patron’s journey to discovering and learning more through our library’s collections, resources, and programs, as well as through the vast offerings from agencies serving our Austin community. I am able to model my involvement as a zero-waster and sustainability practitioner while helping others learn more about getting involved to whatever degree they feel most inspired.  

 

What’s been the toughest part?

Moving upstream to reduce waste in the first place is most challenging, especially when this involves another party. For example, the Library orders new books annually, and we get them in so much stretch plastic from our vendor. I recently submitted a recommendation to our Library Administration about asking our vendors for alternative packaging to eliminate stretch plastic from the process. As the saying goes, “it is a 'no' already if you never ask.” Even if we may not see a change immediately, the request can at least get more staff and vendors aware of the problem. Then, the problem can transform into an opportunity for us to do our part for future generations inheriting this planet.  
Two photos. On the left, Marcos sorts recycling at the battery recycling drop off in the library. On the right, a close up of old batteries in the recycling bin.

Shifting from internal challenges to external with a focus on community, the toughest part I think is finding opportunities to plug or weave zero-waste practices into conversations and programming happening at the library when there is such a saturation of information and competing priorities.  

 

What role do you think libraries can play in helping to foster nature in our city? Are there library resources you wish more Austinites knew about?

As libraries, we have the opportunity to help foster nature in Austin through programming for all ages and designing each person’s road map for their journey. I think there is so much potential for our libraries to continue designing, or redesigning existing facilities, with sustainability features that can elevate our landscape both inside and outside.

Libraries are community assets where we can capitalize on the physical space to manage heat or educate youth about the value and importance of our urban tree canopy. We recently increased the urban tree canopy by planting additional trees at many of our library locations with funding from the City of Austin’s Development Services Department Urban Forest Grant. This was part of our Nature Smart Libraries strategy, which is the newest strategy under Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN) initiative. The CCCN initiative aims to close the gap in nature equity through policy, action plans, programming, and partnerships.   

Beginning this month (April), Jessica Tessler, who is our family librarian at Little Walnut Creek Branch Library, will be offering Garden Storytime. The events will take place on the second Saturday of each month at 9:30 am at the North Austin Community Garden, located on the premises where the North YMCA operates. This partnership aims to celebrate nature through stories, activities, and gardening for children and their adults.  

 

What advice do you have for others?

Every person is making their own path, and not everyone may be on the same level. Focus on you and what you are able and willing to do to get involved as an environmental steward. Take small steps. Remember that we are human, and we may make a mistake here or there and that’s okay. Reflect on this moment. Think about where you are at and what you may already be doing. Celebrate that. Even if you feel like you may not be doing anything, reading this interview is already doing something to learn more! What is one action you may wish to take in your personal and/or professional life that builds on what you’ve done already?

 

Is there a book, documentary, or other piece of media you would recommend for folks wanting to learn more about these topics? What inspires you about this or why did you choose to share it?

One book on this topic that I enjoyed reading at the start of my journey was Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste by Bea Johnson. She offers tons of easy tips on how to live sustainably and shares her experience with her family. You can check out this title with your Austin Public Library card in one of the following formats: book, e-book (English and Spanish copies available), and e-audiobook.  

Since April is National Gardening Month, if you’re interested in learning more about gardening, I recommend checking out The Suburban Micro-Farm by Amy Stross. She is a permaculture expert, covering a full range of topics on gardening in a variety of spaces. This title is also available for check out from Austin Public Library in book or e-book format.

A photo of Marcos smiling outside the Little Walnut Creek Branch Library.


You can visit Marcos and the team at the Little Walnut Creek Branch Library at 835 W Rundberg Ln, Austin, TX 78758. While there, be sure to check out the seed collection. And don’t miss Garden Storytime on the second Saturday of each month at 9:30 am at the North Austin Community Garden. You can find the full library hours online.

To learn more about Austin's net-zero goal and explore actions you can take to support a greener community, view the Austin Climate Equity Plan.

Share your Net-Zero contributions with us on Twitter or Facebook and use #NetZeroHero. If you know a Net-Zero Hero (or heroes!) who should be recognized for their efforts, send your nomination to sustainability@austintexas.gov.

 

Mar 29, 2022 - 12:03 pm CDT

“We get to be out in nature all day — I really love that,” shared 12-year-old Annika, who we met on a recent visit to Whole Life Learning Center (WLLC). With nearly two acres of space in South Austin, WLLC is creating “living classrooms” where students are encouraged to connect with the natural world around them.

Visiting the school, it’s clear to see the impact of outdoor learning. Teacher John prepares a garden for his Ecostudies class later that day. Students on a break create their own version of leapfrog with the help of the school’s baby goats. The campus is buzzing with activity.

Three photos at Whole Life Learning Center. On the left, a teacher prepares a garden bed. In the center, a young girl holds a goat. On the left, a girl is kneeling on the ground with a goat on her back.

In the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded many educators of the power of time spent outside. While research has shown that COVID spreads less rapidly outdoors, nature can also improve children’s health, wellbeing, and academic outcomes — ideas that WLLC has built into their campus and curriculum.

“Over the past two years, we have added two covered decks and a large pavilion to our campus to facilitate more outdoor education during the pandemic,” said Michael Carberry, Founder and Director of Whole Life Learning Center. “This has been crucial to keeping students and teachers safe and keeping us learning together in person.”

Our team visited WLLC to see the impact of their latest Bright Green Future Grant. The school had previously installed 10,000-gallon water cisterns that, through a series of gutters and underground pipes spread throughout the campus, capture falling rainwater and save it for use in the school’s plant nursery and many gardens. Through a 2021-22 schoolyear grant, WLLC connected their new outdoor classrooms and decks to the rest of the catchment system. The outdoor classroom was built with a “butterfly roof,” sloped inward from all directions to allow rainwater to flow directly into the catchment system.

A photo of a gutter coming out from the butterfly-roof of the outdoor classroom.

Above: A photo of the outdoor classroom's butterfly roof with the newly installed gutter for rainwater.

“The entire front area of the deck was full of water. They had to get mulch and put it on top to cover it up,” said 11-year-old Zephyr about the grounds before gutters were added. “It wasn’t fun when it was raining.”

Now, rainwater from across campus supports WLLC’s fruit trees, flowers, and plant nursery. When the cisterns fill, excess water is funneled into a nearby rain garden. “Obviously, we need plants to survive,” Annika tells us. “We couldn’t live without rainwater! It’s very important for the ecosystem.”

Two photos. On the left: Michael Carberry shows off the rainwater cisterns. On the right: a closeup of seedlings being grown at WLLC.

A photo of the Certified Schoolyard Habitat at WLLC.

“At the Whole Life Learning Center, we see sustainability as a way of life,” Michael added. “A wonderful result is that our students are getting to see all of that in action. So, they will see what is possible with a catchment system like that and hopefully be inspired to implement one of their own someday."


The Bright Green Future Grant was designed to recognize and support innovative projects that will inspire students to become lifelong environmental stewards. In the 2021-22 schoolyear, the City of Austin’s Office of Sustainability awarded grants to 41 Austin-area schools. Applications open each fall. Learn more about the program.

 

The Bright Green Future Grant logo featuring a tree with many colored leaves.

 

Mar 17, 2022 - 05:03 pm CDT

A photo of Sergio at Ricky Guerrero Park in front of a mosaic bat sculpture.

We’re pleased to introduce you to Sergio Torres-Peralta, a new Food & Resilience Coordinator in our office. Sergio will be working with the food team in developing Austin's first-ever Food Plan.

We asked Sergio a few get-to-know-you questions so you can learn more about him and his background.

 

Q: Where are you from and what do you like best about your hometown?

A: I was born and raised in Lima, Peru, and moved to Austin as a (much younger) adult. Peruvian food is excellent, and Lima has places to eat on every other block. Thankfully, I have family in Austin, and — combined with the few Peruvian restaurants in town — I am sure of getting my fix of delicious nostalgia on a somewhat regular basis.

 

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what interested you in joining the Office of Sustainability.

A: I have been working in the food industry for years. I’ve worked in all sorts of roles and have had the privilege of meeting some of the most exciting and inspiring people.

Eventually, I found my way into the nonprofit world, working with the excellent team at the Sustainable Food Center. I ran several programs, including Farm to Work deliveries and Farmers’ Market operations, which enabled me to support farmers, ranchers, artisans, and various food vendors — all while deepening my understanding of food systems and the many hardships people must overcome to follow their passions.

Being able to support the great people that make this community has been a true honor. Supporting the work that the Office of Sustainability does will allow me to have a greater reach.

 

Q: What are you most excited to accomplish during your time with the Office of Sustainability?

A: The Covid-19 pandemic and Winter Storm Uri have shown us how fragile our food system is and how urgently we need to take measures to make it more resilient and just.

I am very excited to be working on the first Food Plan for the Austin area and the possibility of putting all my work and experience in the food sector to the benefit of everyone living in this city. (Speaking of the Food Plan, you can fill out our interest form if you'd like to get involved!)

 

Q: What are some of your favorite things to do or places to go in Austin?

A: There is so much I love doing here, but among my favorites must be biking across our bicycle trails, especially the Walnut Creek Trail. You can easily make a whole loop around the city by connecting our existing trails, and while it may be exhausting, it’s pretty awesome.

The city has some great hangout spots, too. One of my favorites is Peter Pan Mini Golf on Barton Springs Road. While I may not the best player, I am playing mini-golf next to a giant dinosaur sculpture, so everything is just alright, alright, alright.

 

Q: What is your favorite sustainable thing to do in your personal life?

A: I really enjoy cooking plant-based meals at home. Not only do I avoid the nuances of cooking meat or poultry, but it also makes me feel quite good and healthy. I eat pretty much everything when I’m out (especially if it’s Peruvian food). Still, at home, I reduce my carbon footprint by removing myself from the meat market.

 

Q: What is your favorite food and why?

A: I absolutely love ice cream, especially from the excellent folks at Sweet Ritual (sorry, Peruvian food). It’s delicious, has tons of weird flavors, and is vegan!

I purposely don’t buy it at home (a pint would be gone in seconds), so I visit their storefront regularly!

 

Aug 08, 2022 - 05:10 pm CDT

 Ericka smiles at the camera holding a frame full of bees and honeycomb.

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by saving the bees!

In celebration of National Honey Bee Day on August 20, we buzzed up to Elgin to meet with local beekeeper, viral TikToker, and our newest Net-Zero Hero: Erika Thompson!

Erika has been interested in insects for as long as she can remember, routinely asking her parents for books on bugs as a kid. In 2014, she founded Texas Beeworks, which seeks to put “hives before honey.” Since its founding, Erika and her work have amassed a large public following, with her being featured on such shows as Good Morning America, The Ellen Show, and Jeopardy. As a native Texan and graduate of UT, Erika continues her work locally. Earlier this year, she supported an Austin City Council initiative helping designate Austin as a Bee City USA Affiliate.

We met with Erika to talk about her passion for beekeeping, what it means for Austin to be a Bee City USA, and ways we all can support native bee species.


What inspired you to take action?

I was inspired to take action the very first time I put on a bee suit, went into a beehive, and saw the way that honeybees work together for the collective good of their colony — and for the good of our planet. Bees are remarkable creatures, and they are directly responsible for creating biodiversity on our planet and for maintaining food security for so many plants and animals, including humans.

But bees are suffering. They are feeling the impacts of climate change, habitat loss, industrial agriculture, poor nutrition, and the use of pesticides. And all of those things have one thing in common — us.

Left: Bees hover around a water feature in Erika's yard. Right: Erika sits near the water feature.

Left: Bees hover around a water feature at Erika’s home.  Right: Erika explaining the importance of providing water for bees.

 

How did you do it?

As a beekeeper, it’s my job to be a steward for the bees and to do whatever I can to help them. A few years into my beekeeping journey, I realized that the most meaningful way I can help bees every day is by rescuing colonies that have built their hives in places where humans can’t or don’t want to live alongside them. I offer free bee removal services to the people and bees of Austin and Central Texas. I relocate the bees so they can continue to do the important work they do, but in a place that’s safer for them and for people. 

I feel it’s also part of my job as a beekeeper to educate people about bees. I share videos online of my bee removal work and all the amazing things I get to see inside the hive. I feel incredibly fortunate to have amassed a following of over 11 million bee lovers who follow my bee-work online, and that gives me a great deal of hope for the bees.

 

What’s been most rewarding about getting involved in this way?

The most rewarding part of this work is when someone tells me that I changed their mind about bees or helped them overcome their fear of bees. I often hear folks tell me that they used to run away from any bee they saw, but after watching my videos, they now admire bees and will even stop to watch them foraging on a flower.

I hope that people will start to care more about bees because I think when people care about something, they feel compelled to help and protect it.

A close up of a bee on a yellow flower in Erika's yard.

Erika kneels in her yard and prepares a smoker.

 Above: A bee gathers pollen on a flower in Erika’s garden. Below: Erika prepares her smoker to check on the hives.

 

What’s been the toughest part?

I’m trying to change how people think about an entire species, which has been the most challenging part. Bees have been villainized and monsterized for so long. While we should have a healthy fear of bees because they have the potential to be very dangerous, we should also have a healthy understanding and respect for bees. The truth is that most bees don’t want to sting you. They just want to do their work and contribute to their colony.

Erika opens one of her bee hives and adds smoke.

Erika adds smoke to a hive. Smoke helps to calm the bees during hive inspections.

 

This year, Austin became a Bee City USA. Can you tell us about your involvement in this process and what you hope the designation will mean for our Austin community? How can other Austinites get involved?

I think designating Austin as a Bee City USA is the most meaningful commitment that Austin has ever made to protecting bees and preserving their habitats. 

I had a very small part in Austin becoming a Bee City USA — we have leaders on our City Council to thank for recognizing the importance of bees and the importance of Austin becoming a Bee City USA. Council Member Vanessa Fuentes reached out to me to ask me to support the initiative, and the next day I was at City Hall speaking in front of the City Council and raising awareness for the cause. And I’m proud to say that our City’s leaders voted unanimously that day to approve the initiative.

Erika inspects bees on one of the frames in her hive.

A close up of bees on one a hive frame.

Above: Erika checks on one of the bee colonies. Below: Bees on one of their hive frames.

The best thing about the designation is that everyone can get involved to make Austin a better place for bees! The most important thing you can do if you want to help bees is also the easiest: plant some flowering plants that bees will forage from. Whenever you’re choosing something to plant in your yard, garden, or balcony, make sure it’s a flower, bush, or tree that will provide food for bees and other pollinators. Native plants are always best because they more directly support native bees. There are actually over 20,000 species of bees, and 4,000 of those species of bees call Texas home!

 

Is there a book, documentary, or other piece of media you would recommend for folks wanting to learn more about these topics?

Texas A&M has a wonderful list of what to plant for pollinators in Central Texas. Check it out!

You can learn more about bees by following me on your favorite social media platform: @texasbeeworks.

Left: Jars of honey labeled with dates and towns on a shelf in Erika's home. Right: Erika dips a honey wand into one of her honey jars.

Erika adds honey to a mug using a honey wand.

Erika makes a cup of tea with honey from her hives. With the philosophy of putting ‘hives before honey,’ Erika only rarely harvests the honey from her bees and never makes it available for sale.

 

What advice do you have for others?

Just like bees, no one is too small to make a big difference!

Erika stands in front of her bee hives with a beekeeper veil on.


Bees are an essential part of Austin’s food system. If you’d like to get involved in helping to shape the future of food in Austin, complete our Food Plan Interest Form

Want to learn more about bees, butterflies, and pollinators of all kinds? Save the date for the 2022 Roots & Wings Festival, happening October 22 through November 5. The Roots & Wings Festival is Austin’s annual celebration of nature in our city, commemorating Arbor Day and Monarch Appreciation Day.

To learn more about Austin's net-zero goal and explore actions you can take to support a greener community, view the Austin Climate Equity Plan.

Share your Net-Zero contributions with us on Twitter or Facebook and use #NetZeroHero. If you know a Net-Zero Hero (or heroes!) who should be recognized for their efforts, send your nomination to sustainability@austintexas.gov.

 

Sustainable Austin Blog
Jul 12, 2022 - 10:52 am CDT

Frances stands in front of a bright teal door.

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by speaking my mind and being involved in the community as a resident and organizer.

In 2022, Austin experienced record-breaking heat during both May and June — a fact that may not have surprised our newest Net-Zero Hero: Frances Acuña. In her role as Climate Resilience Lead Organizer with Go! Austin/Vamos! Austin (GAVA), Frances mobilizes community members to combat climate stressors like flooding and extreme heat. Frances's interest in this work runs deep — she’s a longtime Dove Springs resident who served as a first responder during the October 2013 and 2015 floods.

We met with Frances at her home and traveled to the Williamson Creek Greenbelt to talk about heat, community resilience, and what drives her work.


What inspired you to take action?

Our communities have been through so many inequities that there comes a time when you say, “I have to take action.”

I started taking action when my neighbors got displaced by the 2013 and 2015 floods. I felt the need to get involved knowing that heat, flooding, and infrastructure issues, as well as displacement and gentrification, are impacting our communities more and more as time passes.

Frances and a group of other folks pose for a photo outside in the Dove Springs neighborhood.

Frances (bottom row, center) with a group of GAVA community volunteers. Photo provided by GAVA.

I feel inspired to take action when listening to residents’ stories on how climate shocks and stressors affect them, their children when they go to school, and their husbands, who are construction workers. I know that heat temperatures are affecting residents’ health drastically. 

I am energized when residents are being listened to and when they are wondering how they can do a better job of being responsive in a constructive way. I love seeing the smile on peoples’ faces when their work pays off. I really enjoy seeing how proud they get about their accomplishments in their neighborhood.

 

How did you do it?

I did it by believing in myself and using the anger I get when I see inequities and unfairness happening to my neighbors. I have worked to gain the advocacy skills needed to help build community power and speak up for basic needs. 

Since 2017, I’ve worked with GAVA and partnered with the City of Austin’s Office of Sustainability, UT Health, and TreeFolks, from whom I have learned a lot. Together, we have worked on heat mapping in some of the Eastern Crescent communities, which provided us data on the hottest areas of the city. I’ve interviewed residents on how heat impacts their home life, community, and health in order to build strategies for heat mitigation projects that are led by the communities most impacted by climate shocks and stressors.

Photos of Frances in Williamson Creek Greenbelt. On the left, she points in the distance. On the right, she stands in front of a playscape.

Left: Frances points out spaces in the Williamson Creek Greenbelt where homes once stood that were purchased as part of the City of Austin’s Williamson Creek Flood Risk Reduction Project. Right: Frances stands in front of a children’s playscape in the Williamson Creek Greenbelt.

When I speak with residents, I listen to the struggles and stories about heat and how it affects their daily lives, such as taking their children to school or going to a doctor’s appointment. That right there is a motivator to take action. I try to turn all barriers and challenges into opportunities to make change

 

What’s been most rewarding about getting involved in this way?

The most rewarding thing is seeing residents gain the confidence to speak up or advocate for themselves. It’s fulfilling when they get small wins around their needs, such as a tree-planting event or a park they advocated so hard for to take their children for safe physical activity.

On the left, Frances stands amongst bright colored flower. On the right, a close up of a butterfly landed on one of those flowers.

Left: Frances stands in her front garden. Right: A butterfly visits one of Frances’s flowers. 

I think the greatest reward of all is the facial expression of satisfaction — knowing that I have gained their trust and seeing that they have a little hope of getting some relief in their lives from the extremely hot summertime days.

 

What’s been the toughest part?

The toughest part about my work is when residents are expecting a positive action they have been working so hard for that doesn’t happen. It’s the worst feeling for me to see residents take part of their day to advocate for a cause that gets voted against.

Frances stands outside with two other people next to a pickup truck loaded with bottled water.

Frances helps deliver bottled water in her neighborhood. Photo provided by GAVA.

My life is very hard, because I take my work very seriously. People’s lives and health are at risk. I want to make sure that when I advocate or involve residents that I don’t cause any negative impacts and that residents are not taken advantage of because of my advocacy.

 

Our interview will be released during one of Austin's hottest months. Can you share any tips for Austinites to combat extreme heat both as individuals and within their neighborhoods?

As the summer gets more intense, we all need to know about ways to help ourselves and others in our community:

  • Know your neighbors and learn if there are any people that might need your help during a heatwave.
  • Know where to go to cool down.
  • Make sure that you are drinking enough water.
  • Share information with your neighbors.

Frances sits on a couch holding a document.

Frances holding the "Dove Springs Neighborhood Preparedness Guide" created for GAVA.

 

What advice do you have for others?

I advise others to take action now.

Learn as much as you can. Technology and climate change are taking control and we are staying behind. Heat, flooding, and winter are becoming more intense with time and you never know when you might need to evacuate or take shelter from the impact of extreme weather events.

Frances checks on peppers growing in her garden.

Frances checks on peppers growing in her garden.

My advice is to learn about heat and options we all have to mitigate climate shocks and stressors, such as renewable energy, planting trees, green infrastructure, nature-based solutions, rainwater catchment, and more. 

Recycle as much as you can. We all need to take care of our world. 

Make an emergency kit with things you might need for you and your family in case of a disaster.   

Meet your neighbors and make a list of seniors in your area that might need to be checked on.

Frances smiles outside at Williamson Creek Greenbelt.


Go! Austin/Vamos! Austin works to mobilize community members to support a more equitable and resilient Austin. There are many ways to get involved

To learn more about Austin's net-zero goal and explore actions you can take to support a greener community, view the Austin Climate Equity Plan. Find out how to prepare for the effects of climate change.

Share your Net-Zero contributions with us on Twitter or Facebook and use #NetZeroHero. If you know a Net-Zero Hero (or heroes!) who should be recognized for their efforts, send your nomination to sustainability@austintexas.gov.

 

Sustainable Austin Blog
Jun 21, 2022 - 03:01 pm CDT

 Leatha Floyd in the Genesis Gardens.

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by making sure my neighbors have a good, healthy choice of food.

At the 51-acre Community First! Village, a development of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, sustainability is woven into the fabric of daily life. From enjoying free, hyper-local food to engaging in opportunities for dignified and sustainable income, neighbors in Community First! Village live firmly at the intersection of the three pillars of sustainable living: people, planet, and prosperity.

Our newest Net-Zero Hero, Leatha Floyd, is one of these neighbors. In 2018, Leatha began volunteering at the village. At the time, she was living out of her car. Leatha’s dad was a resident of Community First! Village and encouraged her to come explore the neighborhood. By early 2019, Leatha was also calling Community First! Village home and, in 2021, was hired on as a staff member with Mobile Loaves & Fishes as part of their 10-acre Genesis Gardens program.

Today, Leatha lives at Community First! Village with her two-year-old daughter and works as the Genesis Garden Coordinator. In this role, she oversees a team of fellow residents and volunteers in tending Community First! Village’s organic fruit and vegetable gardens, caring for the chickens, ducks, and bees in the pastures, and supporting the Farmers Market held at the village every Saturday.

We met with Leatha at Genesis Gardens to learn more about her journey, work, and life at Community First! Village.

 

What inspired you to take action?

I found out about Community First! Village from my father, who spent time in prison and then spent ten years on the streets. Alan Graham [Founder of Mobile Loaves & Fishes] saw him on the side of the street one day, came up to him, and said, “You look like somebody that really could use some help. Want some help?” Alan got my dad into a halfway house and then transitioned him to Community First! Village. My dad was volunteering out here before the first house was ever built he got to be part of the groundbreaking.

My dad found out I was living out of my car and told me about living here. When I first came down to the property, it was for a house blessing. I didn’t know anybody except my dad and my dad’s friend, Pops. When I stepped foot on this property, I felt God for the first time in a very long time. He’s here, and this is an awesome place. 

Alan gives a speech about how a house is not the cure for homelessness — community is the cure for homelessness. It’s true. I’ve seen a lot of people, including myself, that couldn’t stay still, jumping from one place to another. They come here and they work here. They put their blood, sweat, tears, and everything into this place. As long as we do our part, we have a home and a family as long as we need it. 

Me and my dad are the only ones still alive in my family. To be able to have somebody or a group of people to rely on and be there for you if you need something is nice. It’s really nice.

 

How did you do it?

I’ve always liked working in gardens. I always had a garden and used to help in my grandmother’s garden every year. My dad introduced me to working here in the Genesis Gardens. He came in one day and said, “Get off that couch. Let’s go!” I worked in the gardens just two days a week for a while, and then three days a week, and then four. Then, I started working with the animals in the pastures and it felt really natural to me.

Left: Leatha smiles holding a chicken; Right: Chickens gather at Leatha's feet.

Leatha squats in the chicken pasture, looking in the distance.

Leatha in one of the chicken pastures.

My boss at that time, the gardens coordinator, came out one day and told us she was leaving. She let us know that her job was going to be open and anyone could apply for it. 

After her announcement, I said to the Genesis Gardens director, “I hope we like the new boss. I don’t want anyone coming in where I know more than them.” I was encouraged to apply for the job, so I did. There were a bunch of interviews. Apparently they all liked me! It all just fell into place. Things just fall into place here for some reason. 

I work the gardens and the pasture. Our team is responsible for everything out here: the animals, vegetables, harvesting. I pretty much go where I’m needed. I’m pretty flexible — that’s the glory of being able to work where you live. It’s a blessing. With the things I’ve done in my past, I never thought that I deserved any good. But this place, they really make you realize that you do deserve good, regardless of what you’ve done in your past. It feels so good to be with the animals, in the garden, and able to provide for our farmers market.

Leatha leans down to moves brush from a pile.

Leatha removes brush from the pastures.

What’s been most rewarding about getting involved in this way?

To be able to get out there and put my hands in the ground, I get a personal feeling of being able to communicate with God. To be able to go spend time with our chickens and our animals, to get dirty and sweaty, to be one with the earth that God put here for us. 

I get to work with some really awesome people. We have our drama, we have our ups and downs, we have our loopy loops and turnarounds, but we’re all family here. That’s the biggest thing for me.

Leatha checks items off a list on a clipboard while talking to a woman in a large sunhat.

Leatha runs through her daily to-do list with Genesis Gardens Manager, Judea Atarji.

It’s so tranquil. I have the best job in the world. It’s my favorite job. Most people in their lifetime don’t ever get to do a job that they love. But I actually have a job that I love. This is my dream job.

 

What’s been the toughest part?

The toughest part has been building close connections, because you really come to care for and love people here. Watching people relapse or do something that’s not good for them and knowing that there’s nothing you can do that will make the situation change, it’s hard.

When you care for somebody and they lose their home because they don’t want to provide for themselves, that’s the hardest thing.

Leatha stands behind a pickup truck, trying to attach a trailer. Two other people are helping her.

Leatha works with fellow residents to hitch a trailer in the pasture.

People come here with different problems, but there is always somebody here to help. It’s a give-and-take relationship. Many people look at homeless people and think all they want is money or that they are selfish. That’s the last thing in the world that homeless people are.

 

The Mobile Loaves & Fishes model is built on providing a dignified income to residents. Can you talk a little bit about what that means for you?

It is a huge relief. There are a lot of people here that have a hard time finding a job, let alone having decent things to wear for a good job. Our residents who work in the gardens work short shifts that they couldn’t do elsewhere. It’s good pay and they don’t have to go far. They don’t have to be judged for who they are, what they’ve done in their life, or what they’ve been through. None of us are judged for that here.

Leatha talks in a circle of people with a clipboard in her hand.

Leatha runs a meeting with staff and volunteers at the end of the morning shift in the pasture.

It’s good to come to work and not be thinking, ‘I’m better than you,’ or, ‘you’re better than me.’ Here, we’re all the same. We’ve all been through the same steps. It’s comfortable and reliable. There’s always a job for you here to help you pay your rent and there is always somebody willing to help you find a position. 

There is a lot of support. I think that’s what a lot of us need at times — the support and the love. 

 

How does it feel to be able to provide free and healthy food to your neighbors?

It makes me feel overjoyed. That’s what I get up for everyday: to provide something that’s healthy and something that’s good for them. A lot of people aren’t able to go buy vegetables. They’ve gotten super pricey at the market or grocery store. Our residents are able to just come and get what they want. My being a part of that — of being able to give back — is so good.

Left: Leatha pulls a peach from a tree; Right: A sign hangs at the pasture saying Local Dairy Farm Fresh

Left: Leatha reaches for a peach off one of hundreds of Genesis Garden’s fruit and nut trees; Right: A sign at the entrance to the pastures.

When they come to the market, they’re able to go home and make a salad, or eat a cucumber, a watermelon, or a peach — it does my heart really good. That’s the reason why I’m here.

 

What advice do you have for others?

If you have access to land, you’ll never go hungry — there’s always something you can grow or something you can raise to sustain yourself. You need to rely on the land and people. There’s no way our four team members could run the garden and pastures ourselves without the wonderful people that work with us. We all need to lean on each other. We have to rely on each other.

Left: A toddler tricycle in front of Leatha's home; Right: Close up of lush cucumber vines.Leatha smiles at the entrance to her home.

Top Left: A view of Leatha’s front yard; Top Right: Leatha’s personal cucumber garden; Bottom: Leatha stands in front of her home at Community First! Village.


If you would like to support the work of Leatha and the Community First! Village’s gardens and pastures, consider signing up for a volunteer shift.

If you have ideas to support a more just and sustainable food system in Austin, consider applying for a Food Justice Mini Grant. Grants of up to $3,000 are available to support communities in their efforts to grow, sell, and eat healthy food. Applications are open until July 22, 2022.

To learn more about Austin's net-zero goal and explore actions you can take to support a greener community, view the Austin Climate Equity Plan

Share your Net-Zero contributions with us on Twitter or Facebook and use #NetZeroHero. If you know a Net-Zero Hero (or heroes!) who should be recognized for their efforts, send your nomination to sustainability@austintexas.gov.

 

Sustainable Austin Blog
Jun 02, 2022 - 04:49 pm CDT

Illustration of the Planet Protectors

This summer, join the Office of Sustainability at your local library to learn from the Planet Protectors as they share important tips and lessons on how to take better care of the planet.

The Planet Protectors — Commander Sustainability, Captain Airiel, Hydro Crusader, and Agent Leaf — will help kids of all ages understand the importance of water conservation, healthy eating habits, clean air, and much more.

Each month, the Planet Protectors will take on a different topic at the following branches. Kids will receive a summer activity workbook with specific actions to take, and those who attend one session per month will get a special prize! Session dates, times, and themes are listed below:

June – What is Sustainability or “Going Green”?

July – Saving Water Saves the Planet

August – Sustainable Transportation and Clean Air

September – The Importance of Trees and Local Food

Sustainable Austin Blog
Apr 28, 2022 - 12:56 pm CDT

David

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by connecting the dots between global climate change and our local Austin weather.

Our newest Net-Zero Hero may be a familiar face for many Austinites: three-time Emmy Award winner, David Yeomans!  As KXAN’s chief meteorologist, 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.

We met with David at the KXAN studio on Earth Day to discuss his journey, his passion for meteorology, and how he became interested in climate change.


What inspired you to take action?

I was fortunate to study under a world-renowned climate change researcher at the University of Miami and published peer-reviewed literature on the topic, so climate change has been an interest of mine for 17 years.

As the only scientist many folks allow into their living room every evening, I realize the importance of using my platform on television to bring scientific facts to viewers to cut through the political noise.

 

How did you do it?

I try to bring little bits of climate research into the daily weather forecast when relevant. Climate Central is enormously helpful. It’s an organization led by climate scientists who do city-specific research on how local temperatures are warming, rainfall patterns are changing, and allergies are getting worse right here at home — not for some polar bear in the Arctic. For example, on a record-hot April day recently, I presented a Climate Central graphic showing that spring temperatures have warmed by nearly 3 degrees in Austin over just the last 50 years.

 

InStudio

ReviewingData

Above: David reviews the daily weather with fellow meteorologist, Nick Bannin. Below: David reviews incoming weather data in studio.

 

Since doom and gloom climate news can lead to hopelessness and inaction, on KXAN, we also frequently discuss things that people can change in their everyday lives to help mitigate climate change. This includes actions like changing to LED lightbulbs and taking advantage of the City of Austin’s composting pickup. 

 

What’s been most rewarding about getting involved in this way?

Sometimes it feels like I am shouting into the void, but it is rewarding knowing that we are doing our part as scientists to bring facts to the forefront so people know that there is no disagreement in the scientific community — only in the political realm. It is also very rewarding to hear from people who appreciate the climate coverage, or to have the opportunity to have an earnest debate with someone who genuinely wants to learn more about the topic.

 

DavidWavesOutside

 

What’s been the toughest part?

It is often the naysayers who speak the loudest, even though they are in the minority. It can be tiring to hear the same climate myths regurgitated in defense of their views, and to have people who have educations or backgrounds in unrelated fields be convinced that they know more about your expertise than you do. I’ve learned the importance of knowing where my efforts are best-served versus when I’m never going to change someone’s mind.

 

As a meteorologist, you have a unique perspective on weather patterns and our changing climate. What is something you wish everyone knew? What gives you hope for the future?

I wish everyone knew how basic the science behind global warming is, and how impossible it is to refute. John Tyndall discovered that carbon dioxide is a heat-trapping gas in 1859. The more fossil fuels we burn, the more CO2 we put into the atmosphere. The higher the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, the warmer global temperatures get. That’s it! 

I recognize that changing the way we have always done things is scary. Transitioning to clean, renewable energy will take time, resources, and a leap of faith. But ultimately, how can we expect an infinite future on this planet living off of finite resources?

 

DavidPrepares

David prepares for the nightly forecast.

 

What advice do you have for others?

Do the little things in your daily life to lower your carbon footprint — every little bit helps. But also recognize that 71% of all greenhouse gases ever emitted can be traced back to just 100 major corporations. Changing the course of our warming world will take much larger changes than you changing your lightbulbs.

 

DavidInStudio


To learn more about climate change in Austin and explore actions you can take to support a greener community, visit our website.

Share your Net-Zero contributions with us on Twitter or Facebook and use #NetZeroHero. If you know a Net-Zero Hero (or heroes!) who should be recognized for their efforts, send your nomination to sustainability@austintexas.gov.

 

Sustainable Austin Blog
Apr 25, 2022 - 11:20 am CDT

An illustration of a street with people biking, walking, and planting a tree. Text underneath reads, "Air Quality Awareness Week May 2-6: Be Air Aware and Prepared."

 

Breathe in. Feel your lungs expand with air. Breathe out.

Every second, we breathe in about a cup of air, or nearly a gallon every minute. For many of us, breathing is so automatic that we may have taken it for granted at one point or another. But, breathing clean, fresh air is necessary for people to survive and thrive.

In Austin, air quality is in danger of becoming worse because of human-induced climate change. Below are just some of the ways our warming climate impacts local air quality.

  • How many of us have complained about oaks and Ashe juniper trees during allergy season? Our warming climate may be making allergy season longer and more severe. A study released in 2021 found that, since 1990, pollen season had increased by 20 days and that the concentration of pollen in the air had risen by 21%.
  • Have you followed the news of devastating wildfires across our planet, from California to Australia? Our changing climate means that wildfires, one of the worst causes of air pollution, are happening more frequently. In fact, according to recent rankings, Austin is the U.S. city with the highest risk of wildfire outside of California.
  • Warming temperatures can lead to increased “ground-level ozone,” which can trigger health problems, including asthma.

Since it’s not always easy to “see” when the air quality is unhealthy, it’s helpful to know what causes poor air quality and what we can all do to keep our air clean.

What causes poor air quality?

During spring and summer in Central Texas, there are times when levels of “bad” ozone — called “ground-level ozone” — reach amounts that can cause negative impacts on public health. This type of ozone is created when sunlight triggers a chemical reaction between oxygen-containing molecules and pollution from cars, power plants, factories, and other sources. When ground-level ozone levels become high, Austin declares an “Ozone Action Day.” In Central Texas, we typically have between 5-10 Ozone Action Days per year, but, in March 2022 alone, we’ve already had six.

For sensitive populations, such as the very young or elderly, people with respiratory issues like asthma, and those who work outside, avoiding outdoor activity is recommended on Ozone Action Days. This is because breathing in ozone can irritate and damage airways and make it harder to breathe.

On Ozone Action Days, you can help make a difference and support sensitive populations by:

  • Opting for sustainable forms of transportation
  • Avoiding traveling alone in a car
  • Working from home, if you’re able
  • Conserving energy in your home

 

A Capital Metro worker smiles and looks out a bus window.
Above: Choosing sustainable transportation can support positive air quality. Photo courtesy of Capital Metro. 

 

Another big contributor to air pollution is particulates. Particulates are the small fragments released from construction sites and things that burn fuel, like cars, power plants, and wildfires. Particulates, unlike ozone, can cause health problems year-round. Like ozone, particulates have been linked to a worsening of lung problems, especially asthma. Both particulates and ozone also are associated with increased cardiovascular events, such as stroke and heart attack.

Understanding Austin’s history

In Austin, the City’s 1928 master plan segregated the city along racial lines and forcibly relocated Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities East of what is now IH-35. East Austin was then designated for industrial development. This meant that communities of color forced to live in this area were now more likely to live near sources of ground or air pollution. These health inequities persist to this day – low-income communities and communities of color are statistically more likely to suffer from asthma and other breathing disorders in our community.

 

An East Austin resident shows the proximity of a tank behind their house. A few young children stand near him.

Above: An East Austin resident shows the proximity of a tank behind their house. Photograph by Joe Vitone. AR-2012-015-015, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, PODER Records.

 

Additionally, people who live near major roadways with higher concentrations of particulate matter, such as IH-35, are more likely to develop lung issues. Particulate pollution is also linked to cognitive decline in the elderly. This can have a big impact on people experiencing homelessness, for example.

Take action for a healthier Austin

The ability to breathe clean air is a human right, and we must continue to work together to advocate for clean air in our community. We hope you’ll join us during Air Quality Awareness Week, May 2-6, to help spread the message about why air quality is so important for our health. Some ways you can support:

  • Follow us on Facebook, where we’ll be sharing daily info on air quality throughout Air Quality Awareness Week
  • Check current air quality conditions and share the information with neighbors and loved ones
  • Opt for sustainable transportation and do your part to conserve energy year-round
  • Visit our website for more information

With your help, everyone in Austin can breathe a little bit easier.

 

Sustainable Austin Blog
Apr 06, 2022 - 09:34 am CDT

A photo of Marcos Martinez smiling outside. A graphic on it reads, "Marcos Martinez: Net-Zero Hero".

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by connecting community members to resources both at the library and beyond.

In honor of National Library Week and National Gardening Month, we’re excited to introduce our newest Net-Zero Hero: Marcos Martinez, Managing Librarian at the Little Walnut Creek Library! From serving on the Nature Smart Libraries initiative to starting a seed collection at his library, Marcos is doing his part to ensure all Austinites have a chance to reap the benefits of nature.

We met with Marcos at the Little Walnut Creek Branch Library to learn more about his work, passions, and his personal journey to sustainability.


What inspired you to take action?

I moved to Austin several years ago to start working at Austin Public Library as the Managing Librarian of the Twin Oaks Branch Library. Twin Oaks felt like a playground and lab. I was inspired by the building's design and layout to learn more about sustainable practices. These ideas were reinforced for me — and library visitors — by educational displays throughout the grounds.

My own zero-waste lifestyle journey began both professionally and personally when I read all about the City’s zero-waste by 2040 and net-zero community-wide greenhouse gases by 2040 initiatives. After learning more, I was inspired to take incremental steps towards becoming more of a zero-waste practitioner at home, in my neighborhood, and while serving others at the library.

 

How did you do it?

Today, I manage the Little Walnut Creek Branch Library in north Austin. Here, I’ve incorporated elements of what my team and I built at the Twin Oaks Branch Library. Specifically, I launched the collection of stretch plastic and styrofoam to do our part as a business. When our library receives new books and media, the vendor ships them in plastic bags, and some of the items come packaged with styrofoam. Now, our team continually collects both of these types of materials and drops them off at the Austin Resource Recovery’s Recycle and Reuse Drop-off Center.

To continue moving towards zero-waste, I recently activated our kitchen compost bin collector to divert staff’s waste. I bring in compostable bag liners and then take them home to compost. To further support zero-waste initiatives throughout my community, I even became a Zero-Waste Block Leader
Two photos. On the left, Marcos sorts plastic film for recycling. On the right, the Little Walnut Creek Branch Library's compost bin.

I also wanted to provide an opportunity that could address the fresh food desert in our area while expanding library programming and education in the environmental arena. In 2019, we launched a branch seed collection. We were inspired by the Central Library’s Seed Collection, a project brought to life by Adult Services Librarian Katrin Abel. The seed collection at the Little Walnut Creek Branch Library became the first in-branch offshoot of this project.  

Today, the seed collection offers access to a variety of seed packets, all donated by residents in the community and local organizations like Central Texas Seed Savers. The collection allows anyone to take, or “check out,” seed packets. The idea is to harvest seeds from your garden to bring back to the library for others to take next season. You can now find seed collections taking root at various Austin Public Library locations with the help of passionate library staff at these sites.   

Three photos. On the left, Marcos looks through the seed library. In the center, Marcos reads a gardening book. To the right, free plant clippings at the library.

As a library system, we naturally do our part in creating a zero-waste Austin by circulating our collection and funneling well-loved materials, such as books and DVDs, through our Recycled Reads Bookstore. Items are made available for resale at a discounted rate. We also collect batteries for recycling at all our locations.  

Aside from these well-established systems, our branch shares resources with other library locations through our version of a “buy nothing group”. Using the Microsoft Teams platform, we offer up surplus items across branches, extending the life of furniture, consumables, and anything else that we can divert from heading to the landfill. My team and I now make it a practice to attempt to locate existing material by first checking in with this group before we set out to request a purchase.  

 

What’s been most rewarding about getting involved in this way?

What’s most rewarding is seeing the whole team of library staff at my branch come together to learn more about zero-waste practices, incorporate those practices into our daily routine, and extend all that information to community members interacting with the library.

With our seed collection, my team and I have taken this resource out to several community gardens in the zip codes we serve. Sharing seeds opens the door for conversation with community groups and between the neighbors who share their seeds from this collection.  

Marcos stands next to the seed collection.

As a library staff member, I have the most rewarding job. I get to walk alongside a patron’s journey to discovering and learning more through our library’s collections, resources, and programs, as well as through the vast offerings from agencies serving our Austin community. I am able to model my involvement as a zero-waster and sustainability practitioner while helping others learn more about getting involved to whatever degree they feel most inspired.  

 

What’s been the toughest part?

Moving upstream to reduce waste in the first place is most challenging, especially when this involves another party. For example, the Library orders new books annually, and we get them in so much stretch plastic from our vendor. I recently submitted a recommendation to our Library Administration about asking our vendors for alternative packaging to eliminate stretch plastic from the process. As the saying goes, “it is a 'no' already if you never ask.” Even if we may not see a change immediately, the request can at least get more staff and vendors aware of the problem. Then, the problem can transform into an opportunity for us to do our part for future generations inheriting this planet.  
Two photos. On the left, Marcos sorts recycling at the battery recycling drop off in the library. On the right, a close up of old batteries in the recycling bin.

Shifting from internal challenges to external with a focus on community, the toughest part I think is finding opportunities to plug or weave zero-waste practices into conversations and programming happening at the library when there is such a saturation of information and competing priorities.  

 

What role do you think libraries can play in helping to foster nature in our city? Are there library resources you wish more Austinites knew about?

As libraries, we have the opportunity to help foster nature in Austin through programming for all ages and designing each person’s road map for their journey. I think there is so much potential for our libraries to continue designing, or redesigning existing facilities, with sustainability features that can elevate our landscape both inside and outside.

Libraries are community assets where we can capitalize on the physical space to manage heat or educate youth about the value and importance of our urban tree canopy. We recently increased the urban tree canopy by planting additional trees at many of our library locations with funding from the City of Austin’s Development Services Department Urban Forest Grant. This was part of our Nature Smart Libraries strategy, which is the newest strategy under Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN) initiative. The CCCN initiative aims to close the gap in nature equity through policy, action plans, programming, and partnerships.   

Beginning this month (April), Jessica Tessler, who is our family librarian at Little Walnut Creek Branch Library, will be offering Garden Storytime. The events will take place on the second Saturday of each month at 9:30 am at the North Austin Community Garden, located on the premises where the North YMCA operates. This partnership aims to celebrate nature through stories, activities, and gardening for children and their adults.  

 

What advice do you have for others?

Every person is making their own path, and not everyone may be on the same level. Focus on you and what you are able and willing to do to get involved as an environmental steward. Take small steps. Remember that we are human, and we may make a mistake here or there and that’s okay. Reflect on this moment. Think about where you are at and what you may already be doing. Celebrate that. Even if you feel like you may not be doing anything, reading this interview is already doing something to learn more! What is one action you may wish to take in your personal and/or professional life that builds on what you’ve done already?

 

Is there a book, documentary, or other piece of media you would recommend for folks wanting to learn more about these topics? What inspires you about this or why did you choose to share it?

One book on this topic that I enjoyed reading at the start of my journey was Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste by Bea Johnson. She offers tons of easy tips on how to live sustainably and shares her experience with her family. You can check out this title with your Austin Public Library card in one of the following formats: book, e-book (English and Spanish copies available), and e-audiobook.  

Since April is National Gardening Month, if you’re interested in learning more about gardening, I recommend checking out The Suburban Micro-Farm by Amy Stross. She is a permaculture expert, covering a full range of topics on gardening in a variety of spaces. This title is also available for check out from Austin Public Library in book or e-book format.

A photo of Marcos smiling outside the Little Walnut Creek Branch Library.


You can visit Marcos and the team at the Little Walnut Creek Branch Library at 835 W Rundberg Ln, Austin, TX 78758. While there, be sure to check out the seed collection. And don’t miss Garden Storytime on the second Saturday of each month at 9:30 am at the North Austin Community Garden. You can find the full library hours online.

To learn more about Austin's net-zero goal and explore actions you can take to support a greener community, view the Austin Climate Equity Plan.

Share your Net-Zero contributions with us on Twitter or Facebook and use #NetZeroHero. If you know a Net-Zero Hero (or heroes!) who should be recognized for their efforts, send your nomination to sustainability@austintexas.gov.

 

Sustainable Austin Blog
Mar 29, 2022 - 12:03 pm CDT

“We get to be out in nature all day — I really love that,” shared 12-year-old Annika, who we met on a recent visit to Whole Life Learning Center (WLLC). With nearly two acres of space in South Austin, WLLC is creating “living classrooms” where students are encouraged to connect with the natural world around them.

Visiting the school, it’s clear to see the impact of outdoor learning. Teacher John prepares a garden for his Ecostudies class later that day. Students on a break create their own version of leapfrog with the help of the school’s baby goats. The campus is buzzing with activity.

Three photos at Whole Life Learning Center. On the left, a teacher prepares a garden bed. In the center, a young girl holds a goat. On the left, a girl is kneeling on the ground with a goat on her back.

In the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded many educators of the power of time spent outside. While research has shown that COVID spreads less rapidly outdoors, nature can also improve children’s health, wellbeing, and academic outcomes — ideas that WLLC has built into their campus and curriculum.

“Over the past two years, we have added two covered decks and a large pavilion to our campus to facilitate more outdoor education during the pandemic,” said Michael Carberry, Founder and Director of Whole Life Learning Center. “This has been crucial to keeping students and teachers safe and keeping us learning together in person.”

Our team visited WLLC to see the impact of their latest Bright Green Future Grant. The school had previously installed 10,000-gallon water cisterns that, through a series of gutters and underground pipes spread throughout the campus, capture falling rainwater and save it for use in the school’s plant nursery and many gardens. Through a 2021-22 schoolyear grant, WLLC connected their new outdoor classrooms and decks to the rest of the catchment system. The outdoor classroom was built with a “butterfly roof,” sloped inward from all directions to allow rainwater to flow directly into the catchment system.

A photo of a gutter coming out from the butterfly-roof of the outdoor classroom.

Above: A photo of the outdoor classroom's butterfly roof with the newly installed gutter for rainwater.

“The entire front area of the deck was full of water. They had to get mulch and put it on top to cover it up,” said 11-year-old Zephyr about the grounds before gutters were added. “It wasn’t fun when it was raining.”

Now, rainwater from across campus supports WLLC’s fruit trees, flowers, and plant nursery. When the cisterns fill, excess water is funneled into a nearby rain garden. “Obviously, we need plants to survive,” Annika tells us. “We couldn’t live without rainwater! It’s very important for the ecosystem.”

Two photos. On the left: Michael Carberry shows off the rainwater cisterns. On the right: a closeup of seedlings being grown at WLLC.

A photo of the Certified Schoolyard Habitat at WLLC.

“At the Whole Life Learning Center, we see sustainability as a way of life,” Michael added. “A wonderful result is that our students are getting to see all of that in action. So, they will see what is possible with a catchment system like that and hopefully be inspired to implement one of their own someday."


The Bright Green Future Grant was designed to recognize and support innovative projects that will inspire students to become lifelong environmental stewards. In the 2021-22 schoolyear, the City of Austin’s Office of Sustainability awarded grants to 41 Austin-area schools. Applications open each fall. Learn more about the program.

 

The Bright Green Future Grant logo featuring a tree with many colored leaves.

 

Sustainable Austin Blog
Mar 17, 2022 - 05:03 pm CDT

A photo of Sergio at Ricky Guerrero Park in front of a mosaic bat sculpture.

We’re pleased to introduce you to Sergio Torres-Peralta, a new Food & Resilience Coordinator in our office. Sergio will be working with the food team in developing Austin's first-ever Food Plan.

We asked Sergio a few get-to-know-you questions so you can learn more about him and his background.

 

Q: Where are you from and what do you like best about your hometown?

A: I was born and raised in Lima, Peru, and moved to Austin as a (much younger) adult. Peruvian food is excellent, and Lima has places to eat on every other block. Thankfully, I have family in Austin, and — combined with the few Peruvian restaurants in town — I am sure of getting my fix of delicious nostalgia on a somewhat regular basis.

 

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what interested you in joining the Office of Sustainability.

A: I have been working in the food industry for years. I’ve worked in all sorts of roles and have had the privilege of meeting some of the most exciting and inspiring people.

Eventually, I found my way into the nonprofit world, working with the excellent team at the Sustainable Food Center. I ran several programs, including Farm to Work deliveries and Farmers’ Market operations, which enabled me to support farmers, ranchers, artisans, and various food vendors — all while deepening my understanding of food systems and the many hardships people must overcome to follow their passions.

Being able to support the great people that make this community has been a true honor. Supporting the work that the Office of Sustainability does will allow me to have a greater reach.

 

Q: What are you most excited to accomplish during your time with the Office of Sustainability?

A: The Covid-19 pandemic and Winter Storm Uri have shown us how fragile our food system is and how urgently we need to take measures to make it more resilient and just.

I am very excited to be working on the first Food Plan for the Austin area and the possibility of putting all my work and experience in the food sector to the benefit of everyone living in this city. (Speaking of the Food Plan, you can fill out our interest form if you'd like to get involved!)

 

Q: What are some of your favorite things to do or places to go in Austin?

A: There is so much I love doing here, but among my favorites must be biking across our bicycle trails, especially the Walnut Creek Trail. You can easily make a whole loop around the city by connecting our existing trails, and while it may be exhausting, it’s pretty awesome.

The city has some great hangout spots, too. One of my favorites is Peter Pan Mini Golf on Barton Springs Road. While I may not the best player, I am playing mini-golf next to a giant dinosaur sculpture, so everything is just alright, alright, alright.

 

Q: What is your favorite sustainable thing to do in your personal life?

A: I really enjoy cooking plant-based meals at home. Not only do I avoid the nuances of cooking meat or poultry, but it also makes me feel quite good and healthy. I eat pretty much everything when I’m out (especially if it’s Peruvian food). Still, at home, I reduce my carbon footprint by removing myself from the meat market.

 

Q: What is your favorite food and why?

A: I absolutely love ice cream, especially from the excellent folks at Sweet Ritual (sorry, Peruvian food). It’s delicious, has tons of weird flavors, and is vegan!

I purposely don’t buy it at home (a pint would be gone in seconds), so I visit their storefront regularly!

 

Sustainable Austin Blog