Dec 13, 2021 - 04:40 pm CST

 

A photo of Rohan Lilauwala at Mendez Neighborhood Park.

Please join us in welcoming the newest team member to the Office of Sustainability: Rohan Lilauwala! Rohan is stepping into the role of Environmental Program Coordinator. He'll be focusing on supporting climate resilience and advancing Austin's Climate Equity Plan. As Rohan settles into his new role, we asked him some getting-to-know-you questions to help introduce him to our larger community.

 

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

A: My journey is probably a bit more circuitous than most! I was born in Bombay, India, but came of age in Toronto, Canada. I haven't had a chance to visit Bombay too many times, but it has two things in common with Toronto, which are also two things I love about both – diversity and urban vitality. 

 

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

A: My educational background is in Urban Planning and Landscape Design. I spent the past several years working in the non-profit world, advocating for and breaking down barriers to the widespread use of green roofs and other forms of green infrastructure. I've always been passionate about greening our cities and am proud of the work I accomplished at a scrappy, resource-constrained non-profit. While I was there, we had some big wins, including helping advocates in Denver pass a community-led green roof ballot initiative and working with Toronto to increase its voluntary green roof incentive by a third.

Joining the Office of Sustainability is exciting because it lets me apply the skills I've developed to a broader range of issues. Green infrastructure will always have a place in my heart, but I'm looking forward to branching out (pun intended).

 

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

A: I'm excited about making the city I call home a better place to live. Austin has many challenges, but I think we're well suited to address them. Winter Storm Uri was a real wake up call to many here, and I think created a window of opportunity for us to take a more aggressive approach to both reducing our emissions, as well as adapting to the impacts of climate change — all while making sure that the voiceless are heard and the marginalized are not left behind.

 

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

A: I love that Austin has so much accessible nature in the city: from Town Lake to the amazing system of trails. On warm days, a bike ride to Barton Springs or the Greenbelt followed by a refreshing dip is unbeatable.

 

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

A: I ride my bike almost everywhere! It's fun (wind in your hair), sustainable (zero-emission), cheap (way cheaper than driving), convenient (no need to worry about parking), fast (no traffic), and good for you. We'd all be better off if we could encourage more people in Austin to get on a bike.

 

Q: What is your favorite food and why?

A: I'm a huge fan of all sorts of food and love cooking and eating out. I don't think I could pick one cuisine as my favorite, but in Austin, the taco is king.

 

Dec 13, 2021 - 03:34 pm CST

A photo of Diane Grodek standing outside smiling. Behind her, students at Lively Middle School are enjoying their lunch break. A graphic on it reads, "Diane Grodek: Net-Zero Hero".

I’m helping to make Austin net-zero by: making sure AISD Food Service considers sustainability with each decision we make — from cafeterias to procurement, recipes to menus, and catering to concessions.

Meet Diane Grodek, our newest Net-Zero Hero! As Executive Chef with the Austin Independent School District (AISD), Diane influences the health and eating habits of more than 74,000 Austinites! From embracing the Good Food Purchasing Program to supporting schoolyard gardens, Diane has centered sustainability in all of her work. Her efforts are helping to bring a healthy and just local food system to AISD and the city at large.

We met with Diane at Lively Middle School to talk about food programs at the district, her passion for sustainability, and tips she has to help all of us be a bit more green every day!
 

What inspired you to take action?

In the sixth grade, I had an inspirational teacher who started an Environmental Awareness Club, and I was the first President! This was in the ‘90s, so our main goal was to teach “reduce, reuse, recycle” slogans to our classmates. Ever since then, I have had an interest in sustainability. As the world becomes a warmer, more plastic-filled place, my interest in sustainable practices continues to intensify.

 

How did you do it?

I started working for AISD six years ago as a Cafe Manager. During my first year, I collaborated with my director to see how the garden at my school could safely serve the veggies grown there to the students coming through the lunch line. With that small goal in mind, we started the official Garden to Café program!

Two photos. On the left: a photo of vegetables growing in the school garden at Lively Middle School. On the right: Diane stands outside the garden smiling.

Soon after, I was asked to start a Catering program for the district. It was important to me to make that sustainable as well. I didn’t want to be another caterer using single-use aluminum trays and disposable bowls that get wrapped up in a plastic table cloth and thrown in the trash at the end of lunch. I purchased durable, reusable serving containers, chafing dishes, real serving utensils, and used the compostable items (plates and forks) that were already procured for our department. I traveled with compost bags so, wherever I was, I could properly dispose of the food waste. I often brought home the compost bags from events to dispose of in my curbside bucket. I did a lot of dishes, and my car usually smelled like food, but it was a nearly zero-waste operation!

When I became Executive Chef a year ago, one of my first projects was to create a way to pack 14 meals “to-go” for our curbside meal program, with minimal packaging and limited food waste. Another project I am proud of is writing monthly training modules about our department’s sustainability efforts, so our staff understands the “why” behind our hard work in this area. I try to be a voice for sustainability within our department, always pushing for more self-service with tongs, squeeze bottles, and fewer single-use containers, which reduces waste and saves our department money. I am working on getting our dishwashers operable so we can offer reusable trays, working with Keep Austin Fed to reduce food waste from our kitchens over the holiday breaks, and adding new plant-based dishes to each seasonal menu. I also love finding ways to incorporate more local products into our meals and to make use of fresh, non-frozen products made close by. Working with our local bakery (New World Bakery), we have added four new locally produced items to our café menus and three new items to our concessions menu this year. 

The goal is for AISD students to recognize how to be sustainable not just in the classroom, but also in the cafeteria. Our youngest students learn to compost and recycle in our cafés every day and, sometimes without realizing it, are introduced to plant-based meals that are good for their health and good for the Earth.

 

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

The most rewarding part of working on sustainability in my department is having the support, resources, and connections to actually bring ideas to life. When I set out to get composting and recycling set up at all of our stadiums this fall, I knew who to ask and how to get it all set up in a reasonable amount of time. I also love seeing our employees get involved in sustainability. The best thing is visiting a cafeteria and seeing the team there taking small steps and coming up with their own ideas to be more sustainable and prevent waste. I often see small changes that I may not have even considered and can then share them with the rest of our team!

Two photos. On the left: two kitchen staff at Lively Middle School prepare vegetables for lunch. On the right: Diane stands on the kitchen-side of the lunch line next to fruits and vegetables available to students.

A photo of the kitchen team at Lively Middle School. The manager in the middle holds a cake. Diane stands to the right with her arms wide open.

Diane (right) with the Lively Middle School kitchen staff, winners of AISD’s Kitchen of the Month award for December!
 

What’s been the toughest part?

The toughest part is having the ideas, the support from my department, and the plan to do great things — but having them during a year and a half plagued with supply chain issues and labor shortages! Functioning dishwashers ready to go with reusable trays are of no use if we don’t have the employees to run them. It is discouraging to have to procure compostable forks sold in individual plastic baggies because that is all that is available. I started my role as Executive Chef at the same moment the world turned to non-stop plastic glove use and single-serve, individually packaged everything as a means of survival. I can’t wait to move past Covid and really get things right!

 

What are some ways for people to build more sustainable practices into their diets? Do you have a favorite sustainability-focused recipe you could share?

One way people can work sustainability into their diets is to reduce their meat consumption and eat more veggies. It sounds intimidating, but in many ways, it is so much easier to eat plant-based. Canned beans are very easy to prepare, compared to cutting up raw chicken!

I always advise friends and family trying to increase the number of plant-based meals they prepare each week to start with beans since they’re so easy and versatile. There’s pinto bean tacos, three-bean chili, Caesar salad with garbanzo beans, and baked beans served over roasted potatoes. Yum!

Two photos. On the left: Diane prepares a lunchtime salad in the Lively Middle School kitchen. On the right: A closeup photo of lunch offerings being shown by Diane, including a salad, roasted zucchini, and a blueberry cobbler.

 

What advice do you have for others?

Remember that to be “green” and make a difference you don’t have to do ALL the things, ALL at once! Start with small, impactful actions: 

  • Consciously compost your food waste at home — the city does all the stinky hard work. We just have to wheel it to the curb!
  • Add two veggie-based meals a week and prepare enough for leftovers. 
  • Purchase reusable table napkins and use old clothes for cleaning rags. 
  • Try out a bar soap or shampoo to trade out some plastic bottles. 

 

A photo of Diane smiling. She is standing at the entrance to Lively Middle School.


To learn more about Austin's net-zero Goal, including goals around food production and consumption in Austin, view the Austin Climate Equity Plan. Want to start a vegetable garden or begin composting at your school campus? The Bright Green Future Grant program provides funding for school-based sustainability projects up to $3,000.

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.

 

Nov 16, 2021 - 11:35 am CST

Image of a present wrapped with a brown paper bag. Text reads, "How to Have a Green Holiday Season".

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans increase their landfill-bound waste by about 25%. Being mindful about managing your household’s waste this holiday season is one of the greatest gifts you can give to the Earth and ultimately to our families and our future.

Here are a few easy tips on how to have a greener holiday...

 A photo of a woman picking up potatoes at an outdoor farmers' market.

Buy and Eat Locally Grown Food

Locally grown food is good for your health and the environment. It’s fresher than food that must be packaged for maximum shelf life, and it requires less fuel to reach store shelves. Plus, you’ll be supporting local food producers in your community!

 A photo of a woman meditating outside.

Make it a Spiritual Time

This is an excellent time to practice gratitude, make time for meditation, or take a walk to give thanks for the gifts of nature.

 Photo of a woman wearing an apron smiling and giving out a bag of groceries.

Give the Gift of Charity

Give back to your community, and instead of gifts, ask a loved one to donate to a cause you care about on your behalf.

 A photo of a woman and her son hugging in front of a Christmas tree.

Give a Great Story

While we’re on the subject of gifts, give an “experience” instead of a traditional gift. You could also consider giving a second-hand item or repairing something meaningful to your loved one. Get more ideas here.

 A photo of a boy crafting during the holidays.

Save Trees by Making Upcycled Cards

Show off your creative side by cutting out images from last year’s holiday calendar, wrapping paper, cards, or holiday flyers to create one-of-a-kind holiday cards.

 A photo of a young boy waving from a car window.

Offset Your Travel

If you or your loved ones are traveling over the holidays, try to drive instead of fly. However you travel, consider offsetting the fossil fuel pollution generated by your trip through The Good Traveler.

 A photo of a cardboard box full of stuffed animals.

Green Cleaning and Organizing

As you’re doing that holiday cleaning and decluttering, remember to donate clothes, stuffed animals, books, and other gently-used items to a local nonprofit.

 A photo of a ceramic plate with a fork and knife. Fall leaves decorate the table.

Ditch the Disposables

Instead of filling up landfills, break out the cloth napkins, tablecloths, reusable dishes, and silverware.

 

We hope these green holiday tips come in handy in your own home this year. Sometimes making a greener choice requires a little more investment of time and money. But, reducing our impact on the world around us is important if we want our children to grow up in a world they can be thankful for.

 

 

Nov 05, 2021 - 02:16 pm CDT

A banner image of the Austin skyline with the COP26 logo and text that reads, "UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021: Austinites Reflect."

 

Through November 12, leaders from around the world are gathered in Glasgow, Scotland for the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, known as COP26. Throughout these weeks, the global community turns our eyes towards the commitments coming out of Glasgow as countries work together to accelerate climate action.

COP26 created goals focused on four key areas:

  • Mitigation: Secure global net-zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach
  • Adaptation: Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats
  • Finance: Mobilize finance
  • Collaboration: Work together to deliver

At the Office of Sustainability, we wanted to ground these conversations in our local community. Inspired by the UK’s #OneStepGreener initiative, we reached out to some of our past Net-Zero Heroes to hear more about their reflections on COP26.


A photo of Catalina Berry with the text "Catalina Berry; Net-Zero Hero: February 2016".

"I hope that global leaders will consider equity in their conversations at COP26. What does fighting climate change look like at each and every level?"

At times I feel like people are intimidated by the idea of getting involved in climate action which is why I think we need to simplify what fighting climate change looks like. We need to remind ourselves and others of the basic steps we can take to be more environmentally friendly. In Spanish there is the saying, "poner tu granito de arena,"  which literally translates to “put in your grain of sand”. I encourage everyone to do research/ educate themselves on what their granito de arena looks like for them and remind them that even the smallest thing can make a big impact when we all come together.

I hope that global leaders will consider equity in their conversations at COP26. What does fighting climate change look like at each and every level? How can we make this accessible and attainable for everyone. How can we simplify what fighting climate change looks like so that we can make this something everyone can feel they can do?

 

A photo of Matthew Kim with the text "Matthew Kim; Net-Zero Hero: October 2019".

"Anybody can engage with climate action. For example, individual efforts like creating less food waste and limiting pollution are simple ways to get involved."

I believe the COP26 goal “Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats” resonates the most with Austin. As a fast-growing urban center, Austin needs to prepare for climate change's impact, so we can continue to grow and become a leader within the US and the world. Future extreme weather events will put stress on Austin's infrastructure. As every Austinite and Texan experienced in the February winter storm, our electricity, natural gas, and water infrastructure failed spectacularly. The heavy and unexpected snow shut down our city for a week and questioned our resilience to future extreme weather. In addition, Austin's summers are getting hotter and hotter. In 2011, Austin recorded 27 consecutive triple-digit degree days, part of the total 90 triple-digit degree days. Our city needs to invest in developing a defense to combat future extreme weather events to protect its residents.

I'd like to define what it means to engage in climate activism: climate activism does not only include young people like Greta Thunberg publicly challenging authority. Anybody can engage with climate action. For example, individual efforts like creating less food waste and limiting pollution are simple ways to get involved.

Besides individual tasks, one can also educate themselves on climate science to become better informed. In addition, one can join organizations and volunteer with the community to do things like voice opinions to elected leaders or plant trees at a park. Some organizations I have been a part of are Austin Sierra Club, Citizens Climate Lobby, 350 Austin, and Austin Climate Coalition. However, there are so many more organizations that do their part for the environment, and I encourage everyone to do some research and find a way they can participate!

 

A photo of Nhat Ho with the text "Nhat Ho; Net-Zero Hero: March 2019".

"... fighting climate change does not have to come at a cost to business. What is good for the environment can also be good for business when done correctly."

As a small business owner, I have been spreading the message that fighting climate change does not have to come at a cost to business. What is good for the environment can also be good for business when done correctly. I am calling other small business owners to take meaningful actions, however small, in their businesses to compound the impact.

In my opinion, the COP26 goal that is most important at the local Austin level is their goal around collaboration, specifically: “To accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses, and civil society”. The keyword being “accelerate”. All goals are important, but this goal is especially relevant to Austin because we are the center of phenomenal growth and business relocation. Austin is in a unique position to compound and multiply the impact by calling on all businesses to take bolder actions. This will show their commitment to creating community benefit.


At the Office of Sustainability, we’re committed to ensuring Austin is a thriving, equitable, and ecologically resilient community. If you would like to learn more about the work we’re doing to advance climate action locally, we encourage you to explore the newly adopted Austin Climate Equity Plan. With 74 goals spread across five action areas, the plan sets forth the bold and aggressive goal of equitably reaching net-zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

 

Nov 02, 2021 - 01:19 pm CDT

A photo of Sheridan Ray standing under a tree. A graphic on it reads, "Sheridan Ray: Net-Zero Hero".

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by: contributing to my community and raising people's voices to make an impact.

Meet Sheridan Ray, our newest Net-Zero Hero! At only 19, Sheridan is becoming a fixture in sustainability circles across Austin. Inspired by a high school practicum course with Austin’s Park Rangers, Sheridan has sought out opportunities to raise her voice — and those from her community — to support Austin’s environmental movement. In 2019, Sheridan joined a team of twelve Community Climate Ambassadors to support the creation of the newly adopted Austin Climate Equity Plan. She continued exploring her passions by becoming a member of the 2021 Youth Forest Council with the City of Austin’s Urban Forestry team.

These experiences helped Sheridan choose her course of study: she’s now a sophomore at UT majoring in Sustainability Studies.

We spoke with Sheridan about her journey to sustainability, what it means to work in intergenerational spaces, and what advice she has for others.


What inspired you to take action?

As a black 17-year-old female in my Austin community, I had seen inequalities in my own area and wanted to bring justice to these issues. My knowledge of these issues deepened when I became a student in the Park Ranger Cadet Practicum at Akins High School. I entered the class my junior year, and before the class, I had never had a passion for the outdoors. As a child, my family never really participated in recreational activities, such as kayaking, slacklining, etc. Although I knew I liked nature, I never actually found a passion for it until I joined the class. During the class and through continuing internships with the Rangers after, we developed skills in fishing, rock climbing, caving, digital media, Leave No Trace principles, kayaking, archery, and more. Additionally, we gained conservation knowledge, led youth programs, developed skills in native plant and animal identification, and learned about ecosystem factors such as watershed, soil, atmosphere, and energy. We also talked about significant history involving the equity that Austin lacked for decades. 

Two photos of Sheridan. On the left she sits at a table with another Ranger. On the right she looks at a tree i.d. poster in the forest.

As I went on into more environmental internships, I came across the opportunity to become a Community Climate Ambassador with Austin’s own Office of Sustainability. Throughout this opportunity, I learned how to represent my community and improve the Climate Equity Plan by bringing racial equity to natural areas and diminishing climate change. This is where I really was able to connect with people who were actually experiencing inequity firsthand, including my mother and I. Moving during high school to another area of the city provided a culture shock for me. Seeing areas with no sidewalks, gentrification, and poorly taken care of apartments made me realize that the playing field needs to be leveled so that everyone has the same access to resources.

 

How did you do it?

My duties as a Climate Community Ambassador with the Office of Sustainability included:

  • gathering and sharing information about climate issues with my community
  • participating in workshops to learn more about climate-related issues
  • contributing my thoughts to the conversation
  • working with City staff to design and develop an interview guide
  • and much more.

My biggest takeaway from the experience had to be that out of people from different ages and ethnicities, a majority of people knew of environmental issues, but only a few actually knew what sustainability is and how climate change affects more than the environment. It reaches into communities as well.

After this experience, I was inspired to become an intern with the Youth Forest Council in Austin, Texas. Here, I am currently working on a project where I have built and placed a little free library in my mother’s neighborhood. I've had support on the project from members from the Park Ranger and Youth Forest Council teams, including Karl Loftis, Lydia Gomez, Patrick Chaiken, and Kerstin Johansson. My hope is to encourage mostly kids, but also everyone of all ages, to read about nature and tree-related topics, learn to take care of books, learn how to use a tree guide, and be encouraged to plant wildflower seeds. Additionally, kids will learn about trees and nature as a whole. I hope this project will encourage people to pay attention to their communities and possibly inspire future projects that anyone can accomplish.

 

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

The most rewarding thing about getting involved as a Community Climate Ambassador was being able to contribute to the 2021 Climate Equity Plan and be a voice for my community. I’m very grateful that I was able to be involved in the discussions and listen to professionals and regular everyday people give their input, as well as provide my own. 

A photo of the Community Climate Ambassadors featuring Sheridan.

With the little free library, I’ve had fun being able to get some experience with woodworking, painting, and applications such as Canva. However, the most rewarding part had to be when I showed my nephew the painted version, and his mouth opened wide. Seeing the excited look on his face made me so proud to be impacting so many young minds for the future. 

Another way I have gotten involved recently has been becoming a new Tri-Chair for the Youth Leadership Working Group of the Cities Connecting Children to Nature Initiative. In this position, I am able to collaborate with other Tri-Chairs and facilitate discussions involving equity, inclusion, and the environment. The most rewarding thing about this position has been being able to spark important discussions with youth like me and hear meaningful perspectives.

 

What’s been the toughest part?

The toughest part of working on the little free library has been time management with getting everything done. Unfortunately, building the little free library took more time than expected, and deadlines would be set back frequently, but I am still on track to completing it on time. Another challenge, in the beginning, was feeling like I had taken on a bit too much. However, with help from others and my supervisors, I’ve been able to come a long way and hope to continue contributing to my community in many ways.

Three photos of Sheridan Ray preparing her little free library.

A photo of Sheridan placing items in the completed free little library.

The only challenge I faced as a Climate Ambassador was the feeling of intimidation because I felt like I wasn’t qualified enough. This imposter syndrome came from working with very intellectual adults who had much experience and ideas to give. Getting over this took realizing the importance of youth-adult partnerships and understanding that I had a voice to give and could contribute just as much as anyone else.

 

It seems like you’ve had the opportunity to work in a lot of intentionally intergenerational spaces. Why do you think it’s important to work in this way, and what qualities do you think are needed to make intergenerational collaborations successful? 

Working in intergenerational spaces is very important to give young people a voice and diminish the idea that young people don’t have much experience or something to contribute to conversations and projects. Additionally, youth are the ones who will be able to enjoy what’s left after adults, so they should definitely be a part of the change.

Both youth and adults can benefit from one another and gain new insight, knowledge, and perspective on ideas. For intergenerational collaborations to be successful, everyone involved must be willing to engage, give others a voice, stay supportive, be respectful, and focus on the goal of collaboration without judgment.

 

What advice do you have for others?

Networking will come in handy! If you ever need a job, reference letter, or a mentor, the professionals you meet along the way will always help out! Don’t be afraid to reach out and meet others that might be able to refer you to other organizations and possibilities.
 

A photo of Sheridan standing in front of her completed free little library.


To learn more about Austin's Net-Zero Goal and the Community Climate Ambassadors, 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.

 

 

Sep 27, 2021 - 10:06 am CDT

Photograph of small business storefronts with a graphic that reads, "Austin Climate Leaders."

Solving climate change requires both individual and collective action. In creating the Austin Climate Equity Plan, we were reminded of the barriers to action many community members face and the critical role institutions can play in leading by example. Businesses and organizations across our region can have a big impact when it comes to addressing the climate crisis.

With this in mind, we are pleased to introduce the Austin Climate Leaders. These 51 organizations, including small and large businesses and local nonprofits, have all pledged their support for the vision and goals of the Austin Climate Equity Plan. Each of them has also committed to taking action to lower their carbon footprint.

We thank the following organizations for their commitment to the necessary work of ensuring a sustainable and equitable Austin for all.

 

Austin Climate Leaders

  • AIA Austin
  • Alamo Drafthouse
  • American YouthWorks
  • Applied Materials
  • Asakura Robinson Company
  • Austin Football Club/MLS
  • Austin Parks Foundation
  • Barr Mansion
  • BEST Smart Energy Strategy
  • Black + Vernooy
  • Britt Design Group
  • Capital Metro
  • Catellus Development
  • Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems
  • Citizens' Climate Lobby
  • Climate Buddies
  • Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden
  • Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation
  • dwg.
  • Ecological Estates International
  • EcoRise Youth Innovations
  • Encotech Engineering Consultants, Inc.
  • Environmental Resources Management Inc
  • Foundation Communities
  • Great Springs Project
  • Hill Country Alliance
  • HM Risk Group, LLC
  • Lake | Flato Architects
  • Landmark Surveying, L.P.
  • Living City ATX - Stanley Studios
  • McKinney York Architects
  • Movability Austin
  • Patagonia Austin
  • Pease Park Conservancy
  • Perkins and Will
  • Positive Energy
  • Pure WRX Inc.
  • Save Barton Creek Association
  • Shademaker Studio, LLC
  • SPEER
  • Stratus
  • Studio 8 Architects
  • Sustainable Food Center
  • Tesla Gigafactory Texas
  • The Purple Fig Eco Cleaning Co, LLC
  • The Trail Foundation
  • The VORTEX
  • Travis Audubon
  • TreeFolks
  • USGBC, Texas Chapter
  • Walter P Moore

 

Interested in joining this list? Email sustainability@austintexas.gov.

 

Looking for ways to get involved?

All of us have a role to play in addressing the climate crisis. Check out the resources below to explore individual actions you can take.

 

Sep 13, 2021 - 01:22 pm CDT

Illustration showing people dancing with their hands in the air. Fruits and vegetables icons are around them.

For Austin to be a thriving, equitable, and ecologically resilient community, we must have a system for growing, selling, and consuming food that works for everyone. To work toward this vision, the Office of Sustainability launched a new Food Justice Mini Grant program. The program sought to provide flexible funding of up to $3,000 to organizations supporting those in our community most negatively impacted by food-related injustice.

The 20 organizations chosen as grant recipients are leading transformational change in our communities. Whether providing community-based 'free-fridges', creating paid opportunities for underrepresented communities to engage in edible education, or hosting gardening workshops by and for people of color, the Food Justice Mini Grant recipients are working to improve healthy food access and address the structural inequities that lead to disparate health and economic outcomes.

"Between COVID-19, the lack of State social services for food assistance, the inability to travel, and the loss of electricity during the winter storm — which meant our clients had to throw out their food and needed help replacing groceries — our resources have been stretched thin," says Angela Medearis with the The Kitchen Diva Health Outreach, which provides community health and food education resources. "We are running on fumes and needed help from the Mini Grant program to help us continue to do the food justice and health education work we love to do in our community."

Photograph of Angela Medearis wearing an apron and standing next to cookbooks.  Photograph of Angela Medearis pulling boxes of food from the trunk of a car.

Above (left to right): Angela Medearis teaching a food education workshop pre-pandemic; Angela Medearis supporting food security in 2020.

 

15% of Central Texans are currently food insecure, and less than 1% of food consumed in Austin is produced locally. Over this past year, food insecurity was amplified by the dual-crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and Winter Storm Uri. To work towards food justice, we must:

  • Carefully consider how our food is produced, sold, and consumed
  • Explore how food customs are valued
  • Ensure food-production workers are treated fairly and well-compensated
  • Understand and right the structural inequities that continue to negatively and disproportionally impact low-income communities and communities of color

We appreciate the Food Justice Mini Grant recipients for leading this charge across Austin.

 

The complete list of grant recipients are:

 

Want to learn more about Austin's food system?

Explore additional food-related programs from the Office of Sustainability.

Aug 31, 2021 - 05:09 pm CDT

Photograph of Aimee Aubin standing next to trees and red flowers.

We’re pleased to introduce you to Aimee Aubin, a new Public Information Specialist Sr. in our office. Aimee will be working on design and community storytelling.

We asked Aimee a few get-to-know-you questions so you can learn more about her and her background.

 

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

A: I’m from Bay Shore, New York, which is on the south shore of Long Island. It was a great place to grow up. I always felt connected to nature and the water (a necessity for a Pisces like myself!), while still being able to tap into all New York City had to offer. I’m from a big family. I have over 50 first cousins and much of my family still lives in the area, so the thing I like best about my hometown is the memories I associate with growing up there: gardening with my mom and grandma, sailing the Great South Bay with my grandfather, playing at the beach with my cousins – activities that all feel uniquely connected to the people and geography of that place. A warm everything bagel with scallion cream cheese from Bagel Boss comes in as a close second.

 

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

A: My journey to sustainability has been a bit circuitous. I graduated from Hampshire College in western Massachusetts where I designed my own major focused on community arts with a lens on women and children. I was interested in exploring how communities could use artistic mediums to support collective healing and sensemaking. ­­After graduating, I had the opportunity to work with a number of youth-focused non-profits that all, in big and small ways, found themselves at the intersection of arts, sustainability, entrepreneurship, and community organizing. For the past three years, I’ve worked with the City’s Urban Forest Program to build innovative partnerships and programming that connect young people and those around them to education in, about, and for our city’s trees.

I think my passion for sustainability grew out of my work with young folks and the acknowledgment that climate crises disproportionately affect women and children. So many of the young people I’ve worked with have been strong and vocal advocates for systems-level change as it relates to the growing climate crisis. I’ve been consistently inspired by their passion. My new role with the Office of Sustainability felt like an opportunity to uniquely weave together my interests in community storytelling, sustainability, and user-centered design.

 

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

A: The Office of Sustainability focuses on so many pressing issues that impact the lives of Austinites daily. Whether launching the Austin Climate Equity Plan or exploring how to create a more just food system, I hope to center voices from our community in the perspectives and stories we share.

 

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

A: I really enjoy going for a picnic and swim at Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park. I rarely pass up an opportunity to visit the peacocks and explore the hiking trails at Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve. My personal hidden gem is the combination of Flitch Coffee, Pueblo Viejo, and Harvest Lumber Co on Tillery Street. Harvest Lumber Co partners with the Parks and Recreation Department and local arborists to turn fallen trees into lumber for resale. I love checking out their supply with an iced tea and breakfast taco in hand. They are also right up the street from Tillery Street Plant Company, which is my go-to for finding new houseplants!

 

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

A: Shopping at Austin’s farmers' markets! I have been trying to be more conscious of where things I purchase come from. I’m grateful that Austin is connected to so many amazing food producers and I love the feeling of community I get through my interactions at the markets. When the weather allows, I’ll bike to one of the weekend markets to really feel like a sustainability superstar.

 

Q: What is your favorite food and why?

A: I love steamed mussels and clams. I grew up on the Great South Bay and spent a lot of time fishing and clamming with my family, so this meal really reminds me of home. Plus, mussels are some of the most sustainable seafood available. Saltwater mussels are easy to grow and can actually clean the bodies of water they’re in. (This, unfortunately, isn’t true of the freshwater zebra mussels that have infested Lake Travis and Lake Austin.)

Jun 17, 2021 - 09:55 am CDT

Field at Q2 Stadium

 

Hey, sports fans! Austin’s new professional soccer team, Austin FC, will play their first home game at Q2 Stadium on Saturday, June 19.  So, what does this have to do with going green? Aside from the team’s primary color and its rallying cry “Verde! Listos!” the sustainability features in the stadium are first-rate.

Located near The Domain, Q2 Stadium was built with fan comfort and the community in mind. With sustainable transportation options, solar panels, refillable water stations, and more, this stadium has some serious green features. Here’s a look at how Q2 Stadium and Austin FC strive to be eco-conscious members of the Austin community:

  • Q2 Stadium is on track to become a LEEDv4 certified venue.
  • Rooftop solar project underway with a local renewable energy partner.
  • Increased Capital Metro transit frequency on game days.
  • Free bike valet on site to encourage active transportation.
  • 8 acres of open green space on site, connected to the local trail system.
  • YETI water stations to help reduce waste, especially single-use plastics.
  • Energy-efficient HVAC system.
  • Enhanced recycling, composting, and waste management.
  • Electric vehicle charging stations on site.

These features, along with the most mesh seats of any MLS stadium, a 200K square-foot roof that covers all seats and the concourse, and an open design that allows for air flow should make Q2 a comfortable experience for fans. What’s more, for each goal that Austin FC scores this season, the team and HEB are donating $100 to the Central Texas Food Bank. Now, this is a green team we can get behind!

 

ATX spelled in seats at Q2 Stadium  Oak sulpture at Q2 Stadium

 

Looking to get to the stadium sustainably on game day? Here’s how:

  • Bus: Capital Metro is increasing their transit frequency on game days and will offer Park & Ride facilities for people who do not live near a route to Q2 Stadium.
  • Rail: The MetroRail Red Line has resumed Saturday service, and the line ends at Kramer Station near Q2 Stadium. Wayfinding signs will direct fans during the 15-minute walk to the stadium.
  • Driving & Parking: Through the Pavemint mobile app,fans can reserve pre-paid parking spots within a mile of the stadium. Additional on-street parking will be available via the City's Park ATX app but not available in nearby neighborhoods.
  • Bicycle: Bicycle lanes and other infrastructure will lead to the stadium's bike valet service on the east side of the building.
  • Rideshare: Rideshare users will have a designated drop-off zone on the west side of Q2 Stadium. Pick-up zones will be located Brockton Drive and Rutland Drive.

For a full list of mobility options and regulations, visit the Austin FC mobility page.

 

Not attending in person, but still want to watch the game?

 

Verde! Listos!

 

 

*All photos by Austin FC

Jun 07, 2021 - 05:41 pm CDT

Phil Duran

We’re pleased to introduce you to Phillip Duran, a new Senior Climate Analyst in our office. Phillip will be working on data analysis, specifically calculating citywide and municipal greenhouse gas emissions.

We asked Phillip 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’m from a little place just east of Dallas called Rockwall, Texas – it’s the littlest county in the biggest state in the USA (if we don’t count Alaska). I should probably say what I like best about it are the family, friends, and memories, and that’s all true, but my first priority (after hugging my parents, of course) is always to go get a cheeseburger at one of the oldest greasy spoons in town: Boot’s Burgers. I know, it’s a guilty pleasure!

 

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

A: After graduating with a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Ecuador teaching English and worked in the Galapagos Islands as a translator for a couple of months. The juxtaposition between a struggling local population and the influx of affluent tourists was difficult to ignore. The way that tension played out dramatically affected the islands’ amazing endemic ecosystems and didn't necessarily improve the lives of locals either. I became much more interested in how humans interact with their environment and one another in a rapidly shrinking world.

After a period working on Capitol Hill in DC, I went back to school, receiving master's degrees in Energy Analysis and Public Affairs from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. That led to opportunities working with a number of energy stakeholders, public and private, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. What interests me most about the Office of Sustainability is that it's tackling the difficult problems in a city that I love, even if the solutions aren't always easy or comfortable. It's an effort I wanted to be a part of and to which I hope to apply my technical skillset and diverse experiences.
 

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

A: Between resilience efforts in the wake of winter storm Uri, a strong focus on equity, the difficult recovery from Covid-19, and the Austin Climate Equity Plan, there is so much good work being done at the Office of Sustainability and the City of Austin. Most importantly, it’s all connected. I hope to contribute to those efforts and to help plan for a future made increasingly uncertain by climate change in as holistic a manner as possible.

 

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

A: When the weather’s right we really enjoy getting out on the water in a little inflatable canoe with our pup, Huckleberry. At dusk the views from Ladybird Lake are stunning. The city shines like liquid gold and the colors as the sun sets over the west Austin hills are Texas skies at their finest! We like to stay out after dark too. Once the rental boats and paddleboards go in, we have the place to ourselves. It’s so peaceful and a rare treat in such a bustling city.

 

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

A: I love to ride my bike and take the train. Riding my bike to the train? Even better! These have both been interests of mine from a young age and the fact that they’re sustainable makes them even more enjoyable.

 

Q: What is your favorite food and why?

A: Cheeseburgers notwithstanding, my favorite food in the world is my late grandma’s (Ama) enchiladas montadas (stacked, not rolled). With her homemade red chili sauce, melty cheese, onions, cilantro, and avocado on top *chef’s kiss*. We still make the recipe and one bite takes me straight back to her little kitchen out in West Texas.

Dec 13, 2021 - 03:34 pm CST

A photo of Diane Grodek standing outside smiling. Behind her, students at Lively Middle School are enjoying their lunch break. A graphic on it reads, "Diane Grodek: Net-Zero Hero".

I’m helping to make Austin net-zero by: making sure AISD Food Service considers sustainability with each decision we make — from cafeterias to procurement, recipes to menus, and catering to concessions.

Meet Diane Grodek, our newest Net-Zero Hero! As Executive Chef with the Austin Independent School District (AISD), Diane influences the health and eating habits of more than 74,000 Austinites! From embracing the Good Food Purchasing Program to supporting schoolyard gardens, Diane has centered sustainability in all of her work. Her efforts are helping to bring a healthy and just local food system to AISD and the city at large.

We met with Diane at Lively Middle School to talk about food programs at the district, her passion for sustainability, and tips she has to help all of us be a bit more green every day!
 

What inspired you to take action?

In the sixth grade, I had an inspirational teacher who started an Environmental Awareness Club, and I was the first President! This was in the ‘90s, so our main goal was to teach “reduce, reuse, recycle” slogans to our classmates. Ever since then, I have had an interest in sustainability. As the world becomes a warmer, more plastic-filled place, my interest in sustainable practices continues to intensify.

 

How did you do it?

I started working for AISD six years ago as a Cafe Manager. During my first year, I collaborated with my director to see how the garden at my school could safely serve the veggies grown there to the students coming through the lunch line. With that small goal in mind, we started the official Garden to Café program!

Two photos. On the left: a photo of vegetables growing in the school garden at Lively Middle School. On the right: Diane stands outside the garden smiling.

Soon after, I was asked to start a Catering program for the district. It was important to me to make that sustainable as well. I didn’t want to be another caterer using single-use aluminum trays and disposable bowls that get wrapped up in a plastic table cloth and thrown in the trash at the end of lunch. I purchased durable, reusable serving containers, chafing dishes, real serving utensils, and used the compostable items (plates and forks) that were already procured for our department. I traveled with compost bags so, wherever I was, I could properly dispose of the food waste. I often brought home the compost bags from events to dispose of in my curbside bucket. I did a lot of dishes, and my car usually smelled like food, but it was a nearly zero-waste operation!

When I became Executive Chef a year ago, one of my first projects was to create a way to pack 14 meals “to-go” for our curbside meal program, with minimal packaging and limited food waste. Another project I am proud of is writing monthly training modules about our department’s sustainability efforts, so our staff understands the “why” behind our hard work in this area. I try to be a voice for sustainability within our department, always pushing for more self-service with tongs, squeeze bottles, and fewer single-use containers, which reduces waste and saves our department money. I am working on getting our dishwashers operable so we can offer reusable trays, working with Keep Austin Fed to reduce food waste from our kitchens over the holiday breaks, and adding new plant-based dishes to each seasonal menu. I also love finding ways to incorporate more local products into our meals and to make use of fresh, non-frozen products made close by. Working with our local bakery (New World Bakery), we have added four new locally produced items to our café menus and three new items to our concessions menu this year. 

The goal is for AISD students to recognize how to be sustainable not just in the classroom, but also in the cafeteria. Our youngest students learn to compost and recycle in our cafés every day and, sometimes without realizing it, are introduced to plant-based meals that are good for their health and good for the Earth.

 

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

The most rewarding part of working on sustainability in my department is having the support, resources, and connections to actually bring ideas to life. When I set out to get composting and recycling set up at all of our stadiums this fall, I knew who to ask and how to get it all set up in a reasonable amount of time. I also love seeing our employees get involved in sustainability. The best thing is visiting a cafeteria and seeing the team there taking small steps and coming up with their own ideas to be more sustainable and prevent waste. I often see small changes that I may not have even considered and can then share them with the rest of our team!

Two photos. On the left: two kitchen staff at Lively Middle School prepare vegetables for lunch. On the right: Diane stands on the kitchen-side of the lunch line next to fruits and vegetables available to students.

A photo of the kitchen team at Lively Middle School. The manager in the middle holds a cake. Diane stands to the right with her arms wide open.

Diane (right) with the Lively Middle School kitchen staff, winners of AISD’s Kitchen of the Month award for December!
 

What’s been the toughest part?

The toughest part is having the ideas, the support from my department, and the plan to do great things — but having them during a year and a half plagued with supply chain issues and labor shortages! Functioning dishwashers ready to go with reusable trays are of no use if we don’t have the employees to run them. It is discouraging to have to procure compostable forks sold in individual plastic baggies because that is all that is available. I started my role as Executive Chef at the same moment the world turned to non-stop plastic glove use and single-serve, individually packaged everything as a means of survival. I can’t wait to move past Covid and really get things right!

 

What are some ways for people to build more sustainable practices into their diets? Do you have a favorite sustainability-focused recipe you could share?

One way people can work sustainability into their diets is to reduce their meat consumption and eat more veggies. It sounds intimidating, but in many ways, it is so much easier to eat plant-based. Canned beans are very easy to prepare, compared to cutting up raw chicken!

I always advise friends and family trying to increase the number of plant-based meals they prepare each week to start with beans since they’re so easy and versatile. There’s pinto bean tacos, three-bean chili, Caesar salad with garbanzo beans, and baked beans served over roasted potatoes. Yum!

Two photos. On the left: Diane prepares a lunchtime salad in the Lively Middle School kitchen. On the right: A closeup photo of lunch offerings being shown by Diane, including a salad, roasted zucchini, and a blueberry cobbler.

 

What advice do you have for others?

Remember that to be “green” and make a difference you don’t have to do ALL the things, ALL at once! Start with small, impactful actions: 

  • Consciously compost your food waste at home — the city does all the stinky hard work. We just have to wheel it to the curb!
  • Add two veggie-based meals a week and prepare enough for leftovers. 
  • Purchase reusable table napkins and use old clothes for cleaning rags. 
  • Try out a bar soap or shampoo to trade out some plastic bottles. 

 

A photo of Diane smiling. She is standing at the entrance to Lively Middle School.


To learn more about Austin's net-zero Goal, including goals around food production and consumption in Austin, view the Austin Climate Equity Plan. Want to start a vegetable garden or begin composting at your school campus? The Bright Green Future Grant program provides funding for school-based sustainability projects up to $3,000.

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
Nov 16, 2021 - 11:35 am CST

Image of a present wrapped with a brown paper bag. Text reads, "How to Have a Green Holiday Season".

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans increase their landfill-bound waste by about 25%. Being mindful about managing your household’s waste this holiday season is one of the greatest gifts you can give to the Earth and ultimately to our families and our future.

Here are a few easy tips on how to have a greener holiday...

 A photo of a woman picking up potatoes at an outdoor farmers' market.

Buy and Eat Locally Grown Food

Locally grown food is good for your health and the environment. It’s fresher than food that must be packaged for maximum shelf life, and it requires less fuel to reach store shelves. Plus, you’ll be supporting local food producers in your community!

 A photo of a woman meditating outside.

Make it a Spiritual Time

This is an excellent time to practice gratitude, make time for meditation, or take a walk to give thanks for the gifts of nature.

 Photo of a woman wearing an apron smiling and giving out a bag of groceries.

Give the Gift of Charity

Give back to your community, and instead of gifts, ask a loved one to donate to a cause you care about on your behalf.

 A photo of a woman and her son hugging in front of a Christmas tree.

Give a Great Story

While we’re on the subject of gifts, give an “experience” instead of a traditional gift. You could also consider giving a second-hand item or repairing something meaningful to your loved one. Get more ideas here.

 A photo of a boy crafting during the holidays.

Save Trees by Making Upcycled Cards

Show off your creative side by cutting out images from last year’s holiday calendar, wrapping paper, cards, or holiday flyers to create one-of-a-kind holiday cards.

 A photo of a young boy waving from a car window.

Offset Your Travel

If you or your loved ones are traveling over the holidays, try to drive instead of fly. However you travel, consider offsetting the fossil fuel pollution generated by your trip through The Good Traveler.

 A photo of a cardboard box full of stuffed animals.

Green Cleaning and Organizing

As you’re doing that holiday cleaning and decluttering, remember to donate clothes, stuffed animals, books, and other gently-used items to a local nonprofit.

 A photo of a ceramic plate with a fork and knife. Fall leaves decorate the table.

Ditch the Disposables

Instead of filling up landfills, break out the cloth napkins, tablecloths, reusable dishes, and silverware.

 

We hope these green holiday tips come in handy in your own home this year. Sometimes making a greener choice requires a little more investment of time and money. But, reducing our impact on the world around us is important if we want our children to grow up in a world they can be thankful for.

 

 

Sustainable Austin Blog
Nov 05, 2021 - 02:16 pm CDT

A banner image of the Austin skyline with the COP26 logo and text that reads, "UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021: Austinites Reflect."

 

Through November 12, leaders from around the world are gathered in Glasgow, Scotland for the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, known as COP26. Throughout these weeks, the global community turns our eyes towards the commitments coming out of Glasgow as countries work together to accelerate climate action.

COP26 created goals focused on four key areas:

  • Mitigation: Secure global net-zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach
  • Adaptation: Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats
  • Finance: Mobilize finance
  • Collaboration: Work together to deliver

At the Office of Sustainability, we wanted to ground these conversations in our local community. Inspired by the UK’s #OneStepGreener initiative, we reached out to some of our past Net-Zero Heroes to hear more about their reflections on COP26.


A photo of Catalina Berry with the text "Catalina Berry; Net-Zero Hero: February 2016".

"I hope that global leaders will consider equity in their conversations at COP26. What does fighting climate change look like at each and every level?"

At times I feel like people are intimidated by the idea of getting involved in climate action which is why I think we need to simplify what fighting climate change looks like. We need to remind ourselves and others of the basic steps we can take to be more environmentally friendly. In Spanish there is the saying, "poner tu granito de arena,"  which literally translates to “put in your grain of sand”. I encourage everyone to do research/ educate themselves on what their granito de arena looks like for them and remind them that even the smallest thing can make a big impact when we all come together.

I hope that global leaders will consider equity in their conversations at COP26. What does fighting climate change look like at each and every level? How can we make this accessible and attainable for everyone. How can we simplify what fighting climate change looks like so that we can make this something everyone can feel they can do?

 

A photo of Matthew Kim with the text "Matthew Kim; Net-Zero Hero: October 2019".

"Anybody can engage with climate action. For example, individual efforts like creating less food waste and limiting pollution are simple ways to get involved."

I believe the COP26 goal “Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats” resonates the most with Austin. As a fast-growing urban center, Austin needs to prepare for climate change's impact, so we can continue to grow and become a leader within the US and the world. Future extreme weather events will put stress on Austin's infrastructure. As every Austinite and Texan experienced in the February winter storm, our electricity, natural gas, and water infrastructure failed spectacularly. The heavy and unexpected snow shut down our city for a week and questioned our resilience to future extreme weather. In addition, Austin's summers are getting hotter and hotter. In 2011, Austin recorded 27 consecutive triple-digit degree days, part of the total 90 triple-digit degree days. Our city needs to invest in developing a defense to combat future extreme weather events to protect its residents.

I'd like to define what it means to engage in climate activism: climate activism does not only include young people like Greta Thunberg publicly challenging authority. Anybody can engage with climate action. For example, individual efforts like creating less food waste and limiting pollution are simple ways to get involved.

Besides individual tasks, one can also educate themselves on climate science to become better informed. In addition, one can join organizations and volunteer with the community to do things like voice opinions to elected leaders or plant trees at a park. Some organizations I have been a part of are Austin Sierra Club, Citizens Climate Lobby, 350 Austin, and Austin Climate Coalition. However, there are so many more organizations that do their part for the environment, and I encourage everyone to do some research and find a way they can participate!

 

A photo of Nhat Ho with the text "Nhat Ho; Net-Zero Hero: March 2019".

"... fighting climate change does not have to come at a cost to business. What is good for the environment can also be good for business when done correctly."

As a small business owner, I have been spreading the message that fighting climate change does not have to come at a cost to business. What is good for the environment can also be good for business when done correctly. I am calling other small business owners to take meaningful actions, however small, in their businesses to compound the impact.

In my opinion, the COP26 goal that is most important at the local Austin level is their goal around collaboration, specifically: “To accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses, and civil society”. The keyword being “accelerate”. All goals are important, but this goal is especially relevant to Austin because we are the center of phenomenal growth and business relocation. Austin is in a unique position to compound and multiply the impact by calling on all businesses to take bolder actions. This will show their commitment to creating community benefit.


At the Office of Sustainability, we’re committed to ensuring Austin is a thriving, equitable, and ecologically resilient community. If you would like to learn more about the work we’re doing to advance climate action locally, we encourage you to explore the newly adopted Austin Climate Equity Plan. With 74 goals spread across five action areas, the plan sets forth the bold and aggressive goal of equitably reaching net-zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

 

Sustainable Austin Blog
Nov 02, 2021 - 01:19 pm CDT

A photo of Sheridan Ray standing under a tree. A graphic on it reads, "Sheridan Ray: Net-Zero Hero".

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by: contributing to my community and raising people's voices to make an impact.

Meet Sheridan Ray, our newest Net-Zero Hero! At only 19, Sheridan is becoming a fixture in sustainability circles across Austin. Inspired by a high school practicum course with Austin’s Park Rangers, Sheridan has sought out opportunities to raise her voice — and those from her community — to support Austin’s environmental movement. In 2019, Sheridan joined a team of twelve Community Climate Ambassadors to support the creation of the newly adopted Austin Climate Equity Plan. She continued exploring her passions by becoming a member of the 2021 Youth Forest Council with the City of Austin’s Urban Forestry team.

These experiences helped Sheridan choose her course of study: she’s now a sophomore at UT majoring in Sustainability Studies.

We spoke with Sheridan about her journey to sustainability, what it means to work in intergenerational spaces, and what advice she has for others.


What inspired you to take action?

As a black 17-year-old female in my Austin community, I had seen inequalities in my own area and wanted to bring justice to these issues. My knowledge of these issues deepened when I became a student in the Park Ranger Cadet Practicum at Akins High School. I entered the class my junior year, and before the class, I had never had a passion for the outdoors. As a child, my family never really participated in recreational activities, such as kayaking, slacklining, etc. Although I knew I liked nature, I never actually found a passion for it until I joined the class. During the class and through continuing internships with the Rangers after, we developed skills in fishing, rock climbing, caving, digital media, Leave No Trace principles, kayaking, archery, and more. Additionally, we gained conservation knowledge, led youth programs, developed skills in native plant and animal identification, and learned about ecosystem factors such as watershed, soil, atmosphere, and energy. We also talked about significant history involving the equity that Austin lacked for decades. 

Two photos of Sheridan. On the left she sits at a table with another Ranger. On the right she looks at a tree i.d. poster in the forest.

As I went on into more environmental internships, I came across the opportunity to become a Community Climate Ambassador with Austin’s own Office of Sustainability. Throughout this opportunity, I learned how to represent my community and improve the Climate Equity Plan by bringing racial equity to natural areas and diminishing climate change. This is where I really was able to connect with people who were actually experiencing inequity firsthand, including my mother and I. Moving during high school to another area of the city provided a culture shock for me. Seeing areas with no sidewalks, gentrification, and poorly taken care of apartments made me realize that the playing field needs to be leveled so that everyone has the same access to resources.

 

How did you do it?

My duties as a Climate Community Ambassador with the Office of Sustainability included:

  • gathering and sharing information about climate issues with my community
  • participating in workshops to learn more about climate-related issues
  • contributing my thoughts to the conversation
  • working with City staff to design and develop an interview guide
  • and much more.

My biggest takeaway from the experience had to be that out of people from different ages and ethnicities, a majority of people knew of environmental issues, but only a few actually knew what sustainability is and how climate change affects more than the environment. It reaches into communities as well.

After this experience, I was inspired to become an intern with the Youth Forest Council in Austin, Texas. Here, I am currently working on a project where I have built and placed a little free library in my mother’s neighborhood. I've had support on the project from members from the Park Ranger and Youth Forest Council teams, including Karl Loftis, Lydia Gomez, Patrick Chaiken, and Kerstin Johansson. My hope is to encourage mostly kids, but also everyone of all ages, to read about nature and tree-related topics, learn to take care of books, learn how to use a tree guide, and be encouraged to plant wildflower seeds. Additionally, kids will learn about trees and nature as a whole. I hope this project will encourage people to pay attention to their communities and possibly inspire future projects that anyone can accomplish.

 

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

The most rewarding thing about getting involved as a Community Climate Ambassador was being able to contribute to the 2021 Climate Equity Plan and be a voice for my community. I’m very grateful that I was able to be involved in the discussions and listen to professionals and regular everyday people give their input, as well as provide my own. 

A photo of the Community Climate Ambassadors featuring Sheridan.

With the little free library, I’ve had fun being able to get some experience with woodworking, painting, and applications such as Canva. However, the most rewarding part had to be when I showed my nephew the painted version, and his mouth opened wide. Seeing the excited look on his face made me so proud to be impacting so many young minds for the future. 

Another way I have gotten involved recently has been becoming a new Tri-Chair for the Youth Leadership Working Group of the Cities Connecting Children to Nature Initiative. In this position, I am able to collaborate with other Tri-Chairs and facilitate discussions involving equity, inclusion, and the environment. The most rewarding thing about this position has been being able to spark important discussions with youth like me and hear meaningful perspectives.

 

What’s been the toughest part?

The toughest part of working on the little free library has been time management with getting everything done. Unfortunately, building the little free library took more time than expected, and deadlines would be set back frequently, but I am still on track to completing it on time. Another challenge, in the beginning, was feeling like I had taken on a bit too much. However, with help from others and my supervisors, I’ve been able to come a long way and hope to continue contributing to my community in many ways.

Three photos of Sheridan Ray preparing her little free library.

A photo of Sheridan placing items in the completed free little library.

The only challenge I faced as a Climate Ambassador was the feeling of intimidation because I felt like I wasn’t qualified enough. This imposter syndrome came from working with very intellectual adults who had much experience and ideas to give. Getting over this took realizing the importance of youth-adult partnerships and understanding that I had a voice to give and could contribute just as much as anyone else.

 

It seems like you’ve had the opportunity to work in a lot of intentionally intergenerational spaces. Why do you think it’s important to work in this way, and what qualities do you think are needed to make intergenerational collaborations successful? 

Working in intergenerational spaces is very important to give young people a voice and diminish the idea that young people don’t have much experience or something to contribute to conversations and projects. Additionally, youth are the ones who will be able to enjoy what’s left after adults, so they should definitely be a part of the change.

Both youth and adults can benefit from one another and gain new insight, knowledge, and perspective on ideas. For intergenerational collaborations to be successful, everyone involved must be willing to engage, give others a voice, stay supportive, be respectful, and focus on the goal of collaboration without judgment.

 

What advice do you have for others?

Networking will come in handy! If you ever need a job, reference letter, or a mentor, the professionals you meet along the way will always help out! Don’t be afraid to reach out and meet others that might be able to refer you to other organizations and possibilities.
 

A photo of Sheridan standing in front of her completed free little library.


To learn more about Austin's Net-Zero Goal and the Community Climate Ambassadors, 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
Sep 27, 2021 - 10:06 am CDT

Photograph of small business storefronts with a graphic that reads, "Austin Climate Leaders."

Solving climate change requires both individual and collective action. In creating the Austin Climate Equity Plan, we were reminded of the barriers to action many community members face and the critical role institutions can play in leading by example. Businesses and organizations across our region can have a big impact when it comes to addressing the climate crisis.

With this in mind, we are pleased to introduce the Austin Climate Leaders. These 51 organizations, including small and large businesses and local nonprofits, have all pledged their support for the vision and goals of the Austin Climate Equity Plan. Each of them has also committed to taking action to lower their carbon footprint.

We thank the following organizations for their commitment to the necessary work of ensuring a sustainable and equitable Austin for all.

 

Austin Climate Leaders

  • AIA Austin
  • Alamo Drafthouse
  • American YouthWorks
  • Applied Materials
  • Asakura Robinson Company
  • Austin Football Club/MLS
  • Austin Parks Foundation
  • Barr Mansion
  • BEST Smart Energy Strategy
  • Black + Vernooy
  • Britt Design Group
  • Capital Metro
  • Catellus Development
  • Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems
  • Citizens' Climate Lobby
  • Climate Buddies
  • Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden
  • Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation
  • dwg.
  • Ecological Estates International
  • EcoRise Youth Innovations
  • Encotech Engineering Consultants, Inc.
  • Environmental Resources Management Inc
  • Foundation Communities
  • Great Springs Project
  • Hill Country Alliance
  • HM Risk Group, LLC
  • Lake | Flato Architects
  • Landmark Surveying, L.P.
  • Living City ATX - Stanley Studios
  • McKinney York Architects
  • Movability Austin
  • Patagonia Austin
  • Pease Park Conservancy
  • Perkins and Will
  • Positive Energy
  • Pure WRX Inc.
  • Save Barton Creek Association
  • Shademaker Studio, LLC
  • SPEER
  • Stratus
  • Studio 8 Architects
  • Sustainable Food Center
  • Tesla Gigafactory Texas
  • The Purple Fig Eco Cleaning Co, LLC
  • The Trail Foundation
  • The VORTEX
  • Travis Audubon
  • TreeFolks
  • USGBC, Texas Chapter
  • Walter P Moore

 

Interested in joining this list? Email sustainability@austintexas.gov.

 

Looking for ways to get involved?

All of us have a role to play in addressing the climate crisis. Check out the resources below to explore individual actions you can take.

 

Sustainable Austin Blog
Sep 13, 2021 - 01:22 pm CDT

Illustration showing people dancing with their hands in the air. Fruits and vegetables icons are around them.

For Austin to be a thriving, equitable, and ecologically resilient community, we must have a system for growing, selling, and consuming food that works for everyone. To work toward this vision, the Office of Sustainability launched a new Food Justice Mini Grant program. The program sought to provide flexible funding of up to $3,000 to organizations supporting those in our community most negatively impacted by food-related injustice.

The 20 organizations chosen as grant recipients are leading transformational change in our communities. Whether providing community-based 'free-fridges', creating paid opportunities for underrepresented communities to engage in edible education, or hosting gardening workshops by and for people of color, the Food Justice Mini Grant recipients are working to improve healthy food access and address the structural inequities that lead to disparate health and economic outcomes.

"Between COVID-19, the lack of State social services for food assistance, the inability to travel, and the loss of electricity during the winter storm — which meant our clients had to throw out their food and needed help replacing groceries — our resources have been stretched thin," says Angela Medearis with the The Kitchen Diva Health Outreach, which provides community health and food education resources. "We are running on fumes and needed help from the Mini Grant program to help us continue to do the food justice and health education work we love to do in our community."

Photograph of Angela Medearis wearing an apron and standing next to cookbooks.  Photograph of Angela Medearis pulling boxes of food from the trunk of a car.

Above (left to right): Angela Medearis teaching a food education workshop pre-pandemic; Angela Medearis supporting food security in 2020.

 

15% of Central Texans are currently food insecure, and less than 1% of food consumed in Austin is produced locally. Over this past year, food insecurity was amplified by the dual-crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and Winter Storm Uri. To work towards food justice, we must:

  • Carefully consider how our food is produced, sold, and consumed
  • Explore how food customs are valued
  • Ensure food-production workers are treated fairly and well-compensated
  • Understand and right the structural inequities that continue to negatively and disproportionally impact low-income communities and communities of color

We appreciate the Food Justice Mini Grant recipients for leading this charge across Austin.

 

The complete list of grant recipients are:

 

Want to learn more about Austin's food system?

Explore additional food-related programs from the Office of Sustainability.

Sustainable Austin Blog
Aug 31, 2021 - 05:09 pm CDT

Photograph of Aimee Aubin standing next to trees and red flowers.

We’re pleased to introduce you to Aimee Aubin, a new Public Information Specialist Sr. in our office. Aimee will be working on design and community storytelling.

We asked Aimee a few get-to-know-you questions so you can learn more about her and her background.

 

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

A: I’m from Bay Shore, New York, which is on the south shore of Long Island. It was a great place to grow up. I always felt connected to nature and the water (a necessity for a Pisces like myself!), while still being able to tap into all New York City had to offer. I’m from a big family. I have over 50 first cousins and much of my family still lives in the area, so the thing I like best about my hometown is the memories I associate with growing up there: gardening with my mom and grandma, sailing the Great South Bay with my grandfather, playing at the beach with my cousins – activities that all feel uniquely connected to the people and geography of that place. A warm everything bagel with scallion cream cheese from Bagel Boss comes in as a close second.

 

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

A: My journey to sustainability has been a bit circuitous. I graduated from Hampshire College in western Massachusetts where I designed my own major focused on community arts with a lens on women and children. I was interested in exploring how communities could use artistic mediums to support collective healing and sensemaking. ­­After graduating, I had the opportunity to work with a number of youth-focused non-profits that all, in big and small ways, found themselves at the intersection of arts, sustainability, entrepreneurship, and community organizing. For the past three years, I’ve worked with the City’s Urban Forest Program to build innovative partnerships and programming that connect young people and those around them to education in, about, and for our city’s trees.

I think my passion for sustainability grew out of my work with young folks and the acknowledgment that climate crises disproportionately affect women and children. So many of the young people I’ve worked with have been strong and vocal advocates for systems-level change as it relates to the growing climate crisis. I’ve been consistently inspired by their passion. My new role with the Office of Sustainability felt like an opportunity to uniquely weave together my interests in community storytelling, sustainability, and user-centered design.

 

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

A: The Office of Sustainability focuses on so many pressing issues that impact the lives of Austinites daily. Whether launching the Austin Climate Equity Plan or exploring how to create a more just food system, I hope to center voices from our community in the perspectives and stories we share.

 

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

A: I really enjoy going for a picnic and swim at Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park. I rarely pass up an opportunity to visit the peacocks and explore the hiking trails at Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve. My personal hidden gem is the combination of Flitch Coffee, Pueblo Viejo, and Harvest Lumber Co on Tillery Street. Harvest Lumber Co partners with the Parks and Recreation Department and local arborists to turn fallen trees into lumber for resale. I love checking out their supply with an iced tea and breakfast taco in hand. They are also right up the street from Tillery Street Plant Company, which is my go-to for finding new houseplants!

 

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

A: Shopping at Austin’s farmers' markets! I have been trying to be more conscious of where things I purchase come from. I’m grateful that Austin is connected to so many amazing food producers and I love the feeling of community I get through my interactions at the markets. When the weather allows, I’ll bike to one of the weekend markets to really feel like a sustainability superstar.

 

Q: What is your favorite food and why?

A: I love steamed mussels and clams. I grew up on the Great South Bay and spent a lot of time fishing and clamming with my family, so this meal really reminds me of home. Plus, mussels are some of the most sustainable seafood available. Saltwater mussels are easy to grow and can actually clean the bodies of water they’re in. (This, unfortunately, isn’t true of the freshwater zebra mussels that have infested Lake Travis and Lake Austin.)

Sustainable Austin Blog
Jun 17, 2021 - 09:55 am CDT

Field at Q2 Stadium

 

Hey, sports fans! Austin’s new professional soccer team, Austin FC, will play their first home game at Q2 Stadium on Saturday, June 19.  So, what does this have to do with going green? Aside from the team’s primary color and its rallying cry “Verde! Listos!” the sustainability features in the stadium are first-rate.

Located near The Domain, Q2 Stadium was built with fan comfort and the community in mind. With sustainable transportation options, solar panels, refillable water stations, and more, this stadium has some serious green features. Here’s a look at how Q2 Stadium and Austin FC strive to be eco-conscious members of the Austin community:

  • Q2 Stadium is on track to become a LEEDv4 certified venue.
  • Rooftop solar project underway with a local renewable energy partner.
  • Increased Capital Metro transit frequency on game days.
  • Free bike valet on site to encourage active transportation.
  • 8 acres of open green space on site, connected to the local trail system.
  • YETI water stations to help reduce waste, especially single-use plastics.
  • Energy-efficient HVAC system.
  • Enhanced recycling, composting, and waste management.
  • Electric vehicle charging stations on site.

These features, along with the most mesh seats of any MLS stadium, a 200K square-foot roof that covers all seats and the concourse, and an open design that allows for air flow should make Q2 a comfortable experience for fans. What’s more, for each goal that Austin FC scores this season, the team and HEB are donating $100 to the Central Texas Food Bank. Now, this is a green team we can get behind!

 

ATX spelled in seats at Q2 Stadium  Oak sulpture at Q2 Stadium

 

Looking to get to the stadium sustainably on game day? Here’s how:

  • Bus: Capital Metro is increasing their transit frequency on game days and will offer Park & Ride facilities for people who do not live near a route to Q2 Stadium.
  • Rail: The MetroRail Red Line has resumed Saturday service, and the line ends at Kramer Station near Q2 Stadium. Wayfinding signs will direct fans during the 15-minute walk to the stadium.
  • Driving & Parking: Through the Pavemint mobile app,fans can reserve pre-paid parking spots within a mile of the stadium. Additional on-street parking will be available via the City's Park ATX app but not available in nearby neighborhoods.
  • Bicycle: Bicycle lanes and other infrastructure will lead to the stadium's bike valet service on the east side of the building.
  • Rideshare: Rideshare users will have a designated drop-off zone on the west side of Q2 Stadium. Pick-up zones will be located Brockton Drive and Rutland Drive.

For a full list of mobility options and regulations, visit the Austin FC mobility page.

 

Not attending in person, but still want to watch the game?

 

Verde! Listos!

 

 

*All photos by Austin FC

Sustainable Austin Blog
Jun 07, 2021 - 05:41 pm CDT

Phil Duran

We’re pleased to introduce you to Phillip Duran, a new Senior Climate Analyst in our office. Phillip will be working on data analysis, specifically calculating citywide and municipal greenhouse gas emissions.

We asked Phillip 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’m from a little place just east of Dallas called Rockwall, Texas – it’s the littlest county in the biggest state in the USA (if we don’t count Alaska). I should probably say what I like best about it are the family, friends, and memories, and that’s all true, but my first priority (after hugging my parents, of course) is always to go get a cheeseburger at one of the oldest greasy spoons in town: Boot’s Burgers. I know, it’s a guilty pleasure!

 

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

A: After graduating with a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Ecuador teaching English and worked in the Galapagos Islands as a translator for a couple of months. The juxtaposition between a struggling local population and the influx of affluent tourists was difficult to ignore. The way that tension played out dramatically affected the islands’ amazing endemic ecosystems and didn't necessarily improve the lives of locals either. I became much more interested in how humans interact with their environment and one another in a rapidly shrinking world.

After a period working on Capitol Hill in DC, I went back to school, receiving master's degrees in Energy Analysis and Public Affairs from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. That led to opportunities working with a number of energy stakeholders, public and private, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. What interests me most about the Office of Sustainability is that it's tackling the difficult problems in a city that I love, even if the solutions aren't always easy or comfortable. It's an effort I wanted to be a part of and to which I hope to apply my technical skillset and diverse experiences.
 

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

A: Between resilience efforts in the wake of winter storm Uri, a strong focus on equity, the difficult recovery from Covid-19, and the Austin Climate Equity Plan, there is so much good work being done at the Office of Sustainability and the City of Austin. Most importantly, it’s all connected. I hope to contribute to those efforts and to help plan for a future made increasingly uncertain by climate change in as holistic a manner as possible.

 

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

A: When the weather’s right we really enjoy getting out on the water in a little inflatable canoe with our pup, Huckleberry. At dusk the views from Ladybird Lake are stunning. The city shines like liquid gold and the colors as the sun sets over the west Austin hills are Texas skies at their finest! We like to stay out after dark too. Once the rental boats and paddleboards go in, we have the place to ourselves. It’s so peaceful and a rare treat in such a bustling city.

 

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

A: I love to ride my bike and take the train. Riding my bike to the train? Even better! These have both been interests of mine from a young age and the fact that they’re sustainable makes them even more enjoyable.

 

Q: What is your favorite food and why?

A: Cheeseburgers notwithstanding, my favorite food in the world is my late grandma’s (Ama) enchiladas montadas (stacked, not rolled). With her homemade red chili sauce, melty cheese, onions, cilantro, and avocado on top *chef’s kiss*. We still make the recipe and one bite takes me straight back to her little kitchen out in West Texas.

Sustainable Austin Blog