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2022-23 Community Climate Ambassadors: Making an Impact through Community Projects

Published 15 August 2023

Climate solutions can enhance the lives of every Austinite, but the effects of climate change are not felt equally across our community. As part of the Austin Climate Equity Plan, the Community Climate Ambassadors Program helps to empower community members to lead on climate action through community projects. 

Join us as we dive into the inspiring stories of our dedicated ambassadors and discover how they are making a positive difference in their communities. 

Meet the 2022-23 Community Climate Ambassadors:

Kecia Prince

Kecia Prince 

Kecia is a community advocate and a founding member of her apartment complex’s tenant association. She is passionate about climate change because of the impact that extreme weather and the resulting property damage can have on renters.  

For her project, Kecia worked with City of Austin staff to create a video highlighting the importance of tenants’ rights.  

Kiounis Williams

Kiounis Williams 

Kiounis is a personal trainer and wellness advocate who also participated in the 2020 Climate Ambassador cohort. He has experience working in his community as a health ministry leader, a youth ministry leader, and a community health worker specializing in African American health issues. He is particularly interested in affordability issues in Austin and community health outcomes. 

For his project, Kiounis worked with the Black Men’s Health Clinic to raise awareness around the connection between climate change and health outcomes in the Black community.

Gaby Benitez

Gaby Benitez 

Gaby is a graduate student at UT Austin working towards a Master’s in Community and Regional planning. She is also a research assistant for the Pride Health Lab at UT, bringing in experience with queer advocacy and youth education. Gaby is particularly interested in poetry, writing, and other art-based engagement that can be used to highlight the intersections of climate justice and gentrification. 

For her project, Gaby hosted a youth-centered artist and performer showcase highlighting how the fight for climate justice impacts youth.  


Noor ZK 

Noor has been a community organizer, activist, and artist since childhood and has over 15 years of experience advocating for the LGBTQIA+ community and communities of color. Noor is passionate about the inclusion of historically excluded voices in climate conversations.  

For their project, Noor compiled submissions from BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ people, and sex workers on how climate change impacts their ability to access social services in Austin.  


moni alcantara  

moni is an experienced grassroots organizer and community advocate who is passionate about expanding the accessibility of transportation and nature in Austin. They also participate in their community through grassroots organizations that work to empower transgender sex workers of color. moni is passionate about expanding the accessibility of transportation and nature in Austin to marginalized communities. 

For their project, moni edited and designed the page spreads for a zine about climate resilience in Austin. 

Stephanie Webb

Stephanie Webb 

Stephanie is a writer, cyclist, and experienced community advocate that joined the Climate Ambassador program to highlight the impacts of transportation policy. Stephanie runs a blog about the intersections of race and infrastructure, and she has also led numerous environmental justice cycling tours with the Ghisallo Cycling Initiative. 

For her project, Stephanie wrote and illustrated a zine about climate resilience in Austin. The zine, Not My Future: Beyond Climate The Lies We’re Sold, was written to instill hope in youth of color experiencing climate anxiety. 

Andres Pedraza

Andres Pedraza 

Andres is a creative director with experience in marketing who is trying to use his skills to become an advocate for his community in Montopolis. He is bilingual and joined the Climate Ambassador program to reach out to other Spanish speakers and increase their engagement around climate issues. 

For his project, he assisted with translating the Neighborhood Preparedness Emergency Guide into Spanish and designed a shirt to help market the emergency preparedness resources in Central Texas.

Sahabel Porto

Sahabel Porto 

Sahabel is a solar energy consultant who is passionate about clean energy and weatherization. Sahabel hopes to spread awareness about the different resources the City makes available to residents and businesses interested in weatherizing their homes, electrifying their transportation, or adding solar energy systems to their homes. 

For his project, he assisted with translating the Neighborhood Preparedness Emergency Guide and volunteered at Emergency Preparedness Pop-Up events held over the summer.  

Dylan Kazanova

Dylan Kazanova 

Dylan is an undergraduate student at UT Austin studying sustainability. He has held leadership roles on numerous environmental organizations on campus and is currently the Education and Outreach Coordinator for the co-op he lives at. 

For his project, he researched the impacts that development codes have on sustainable building infrastructure in Austin. Listen to Dylan’s findings in his interview with the Austin Common. 


The work the ambassadors completed during the program was highlighted in the Climate Ambassador Spring Showcase on May 20, 2023, at the George Morales Dove Springs Recreation Center. Watch a video from the event featuring Ambassadors Sahabel Porto, Kecia Prince, and Program Coordinator Sydnee Landry. Dylan Kazanova, Kecia Prince, Sahabel Porto, and Andres Pedraza were also featured on the Austin Common Radio Hour Podcast

Through their combined efforts, the 2022-23 Climate Ambassadors connected Austinites to resources and education around climate action in Austin.


A collage of photos from Ambassador events.

Employee Sustainability Spotlight: Sara Boone Hartley

Published 14 August 2023

Sara Boone Hartley: Sustainability Spotlight


There are thousands of employees that help power the City of Austin — we're proud that so many of them center sustainability in their work and lives. Today, we're introducing you to one such employee: Sara Boone Hartley, Assistant Director for Support Services with the Watershed Protection Department.

One of Sara’s favorite places is her backyard, and she tends it with an eye toward sustainability and the environment. Sara never uses fertilizer or weed killer on her lawn. Using Grow Green practices and with just a little extra TLC, Sara shows that harmful chemicals aren’t necessary — pulling any weeds that do poke through by hand. Her gardens also feature pollinator-friendly, drought-tolerant native plants. These native species are often easy to grow, resilient, and can support themselves in our challenging climate with little to no water.

But Sara's sustainability practices go beyond the home. She takes an active stance against single-vehicle occupancy trips. For over 20 years, Sara has spent most days cycling to and from work. The trip clocks in at almost 17 miles each way, but Sara is committed to reducing her impact on greenhouse gas emissions, recognizing that emissions from transportation make up a significant proportion of Austin's community carbon footprint. Missing rush-hour traffic is also a bonus! On days when time is tight, energy levels are low, or weather isn't cooperating, Sara supplements her commute by using the bus or train.

Sara stands outside City Hall in front of her bike with a helmet on.

For Sara, sharing her passion with friends and neighbors is an essential part of her own sustainability journey. She seeks out opportunities to tell those in her network about innovative, environmentally-conscious policies and practices being led by the City. "Engaging our community on these policies and practices is key," says Sara, "and word of mouth is a great way to engage people to try something new!"

We thank Sara for being a shining example of dedication to sustainability! Learn more about what you can do to support a sustainable city.


Have a Cool Summer: Tips to Stay Safe and Save Energy

Published 9 August 2023

The Austin city skyline in a yellow-hue from the sun.

With the arrival of triple-digit days, Austin is heating up. Scorching summer heat can pose significant dangers. In fact, heat waves claim more lives among Americans than many other natural disasters including floods, lightning, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Heat waves are especially concerning for older adults, folks with respiratory conditions, and people that lack access to air conditioning and shade trees.

Heat waves also stress our power grid. During extreme heat, air conditioners run longer and work harder — emitting more greenhouse gases, worsening climate change, and increasing our electricity bills.

With the goal of equitably reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, the Office of Sustainability encourages you to follow these warm-weather tips to stay cool, reduce your energy bill, and take action against climate change...

A woman lowers her blinds.

Shut Out the Sun

Close the blinds on the south and west side of your home during daytime hours. Studies have shown that approximately 40 percent of heat comes through windows during the summer.

A close up of a hand putting food in a microwave.

Be a Cool Cook

An easy way to keep your house cool is to avoid turning on the oven. Use your microwave more, cook outside on a grill in the shade, or plan meals that require no cooking.

A close up on a hand raising a thermostat.

Raise to Save

Austin Energy recommends setting your thermostat to 78 degrees or higher. Each degree lower increases your energy use by 6 to 8 percent. They also recommend turning off your AC or raising the temperature to 85 degrees if you plan to be away from home for two hours or more.

A woman changes the temperature on a smart thermostat.

Invest in a Smart Thermostat

Installing a wifi-enabled thermostat let's you control your AC from anywhere — and you can even get an incentive from Austin Energy.

A close up of a hand reaching for a light switch.

Turn Off Unused Electronics

Turn off lights in unoccupied rooms and limit the use of electronics. Computers, TVs, and other devices can emit heat and use energy, even in standby mode.

A ceiling fan.

Move Your Air

Ceiling fans are most effective in the summer when set to rotate counterclockwise, blowing the air down and maximizing the wind chill effect. But remember to turn off the fan when you’re no longer in the room. Another old-school trick is to set a pan of ice in front of a fan.

A home with a large oak tree in the yard.

Go Green with Shade

They may take a few years to mature, but trees are a highly effective way to shade your home. Even tall perennials, like sunflowers and native plants, can help provide relief from the blistering sun. Just remember: tree planting season runs from October thru March in Central Texas when cooler weather allows them to become well-established. Any trees planted now will likely not survive our summer heat.

A child eats a large slice of watermelon.

Eat Juicy Foods

Fruits and veggies with high water content (like watermelon, strawberries, cucumbers, and zucchinis) are your friends this summer. They can help you gain important nutrients and stay hydrated when you include them in your meal plans. Plus, you can support your local farmers as many of these items are in season in Central Texas!

A girl drinks from a reusable water bottle with the sun behind her.

Stay Safe and Hydrated

Limit outdoor activity during the hottest times of the day. If you must be outside, wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing, and remember to drink lots and lots of water.

A young girl hugs an older woman inside a front door.

Be a Buddy

When it’s hot, check in on neighbors and family to make sure they are safe and cool.


With Austin experiencing high heat over the next few months, following these tips can help you stay safe while also conserving energy — what could be cooler than that?

Want to explore further? Find more heat safety tips.


Net Zero Hero: Nitakuwa Barrett Orsak

Published 14 July 2023

Nitakuwa Barratt Orsak stands on the Waller Creek Greenbelt smiling.

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by amplifying community voices, needs, and solutions that address the social determinants of health*

Meet Nitakuwa Barrett Orsak, our newest Net-Zero Hero. For some, the relationship between health and climate change might not be so obvious, but for Nitakuwa, the connections can’t be unseen. Nitakuwa is a trained naturalist who transitioned from a career in the outdoors to become a registered nurse and public health practitioner. Now, in her role as a community health program manager at UT Austin’s Dell Medical School, Nitakuwa works daily to shine a light on the connections between climate and health while working on projects to help Austinites live their fullest lives.

We met with Nitakuwa at the Dell Medical School campus to talk about her travels as a naturalist, her partnerships in the community, and the advice she has for others.

*The social determinants of health are environmental conditions that impact individual and community health.  

What inspired you to take action?

I’ve always been passionate about the environment. In my first career, I was a naturalist, working in Hawaii, Alaska, Mexico, and the Pacific Northwest. I loved connecting people to nature. I now work at Community-Driven Initiatives at the University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School and partner with community members and organizations to improve health.  The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Health is so much more than what happens in a clinic or hospital, and our environment is intrinsically tied to our health outcomes. 

Left: Nitakuwa drives a boat past ice sheets; Right: Nitakuwa holds up a sign that says health, climate change, and justice are interconnected.

Left: Nitakuwa drives a boat in Alaska; Right: Nitakuwa holds up a sign about the interconnections of health, climate change, and justice.


How did you do it?

Central Texas has a strong community of skilled, knowledgeable, and action-oriented people. My role in the Department of Population Health at Dell Medical School allows me to intentionally seek partnerships with community members. This means building trust, creating meaningful relationships, and establishing shared leadership in our projects and initiatives. There are so many people and organizations working towards building a healthier environment. 

I am currently working on the Austin/Travis County food planning effort. I think many people understand the importance of healthy food. However, there are so many aspects of the food system that have an impact on health. Food production can be beneficial or harmful to the Earth and the people who grow and harvest it. Food distribution can impact climate when produce and other goods are shipped hundreds or even thousands of miles. There are many solutions to these issues, and I really enjoy working with people who are passionate about doing the work. There are many ways for community members to join in this effort. I encourage those reading to explore opportunities to get involved.

Nitakuwa tables for the City's food planning efforts.

Nitakuwa speaks to community members at a table for the food plan.

Nitakuwa tables at community events for the Austin/Travis County food planning effort.

I also work with the tenants’ rights organization BASTA on a series of healthy housing topics. While there is an incredible amount of growth and construction in Austin, there are many older housing units that are not energy efficient. This increases the use of fossil fuels to cool and heat our homes, and often the root causes of energy inefficiency can also lead to unhealthy conditions inside the home. Older housing units may have inadequate seals on windows and doors, cracks in walls and floors, and these structural issues create opportunities for pests inside the home. These issues can also lead to increased moisture which creates conditions for mold to grow. Indoor mold exposure and pests can trigger many health issues.

I’ve also worked with the Alliance for African American Health in Central Texas on an intergenerational gardening project that built gardens in the yards of seniors’ homes and built relationships among youth, adults, and seniors. The project improved access to healthy food for everyone involved, provided the opportunity for youth to learn about financial literacy, and allowed all participants to learn about food justice.

As you can see, there are many connections between the environment and health.

Nitakuwa sits in Marc Quinn’s “Spiral of the Galaxy” conch sculpture outside of Dell Medical School’s Health Learning Building.

Nitakuwa sits in Marc Quinn’s “Spiral of the Galaxy” conch sculpture outside of Dell Medical School’s Health Learning Building.


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

Hope. We live in challenging times, and it can be hard to remain optimistic and hopeful that lasting change can be made. I am constantly reminded, as I work on various projects and initiatives, that people want to do the work, are doing the work, and that change is indeed happening. 


What’s been the toughest part?

Change can feel so slow… and making large-scale change takes time. The climate crisis and health shouldn’t be controversial issues, but they are. Environmental and health systems are complex, and they are intertwined with commercial, financial, and political systems. So it can get frustrating. Frequently.  


One experience you’ve yet to mention in our interview is serving on the board at Travis Audubon. The Office of Sustainability is a proud partner of the Lights Out Initiative, which supports migratory birds as they travel through Texas. What inspires you about birding, and what actions can Austinites take to support birds in our area?

The great thing about birding is that it is a simple and rewarding activity. My friend Nicole Netherton, the Executive Director of Travis Audubon, sums it up beautifully, “Do you like birds? Great, you are a birder.” Birding soared in popularity during the pandemic. This is great for many reasons, particularly because when people care about something, they are more likely to take measures to protect it. 

There is a lot we can do for birds in Austin, and one simple thing is the Lights Out, Austin! initiative. Many species of birds migrate through our area during the Spring and Fall, and most travel at night. Light pollution can disrupt birds’ navigation, and we can help protect migrating species by turning off unnecessary interior and exterior lights. Turning off lights also reduces energy consumption, supporting net-zero efforts. Protecting birds also benefits human wellness. Recent studies have shown that there are mental health benefits in spending time watching and listening to birds.   

Nitakuwa sits on a bench along the Waller Creek Greenbelt.

Enjoying a peaceful moment alongside the Waller Creek Greenbelt.


What advice do you have for others?

Be bold. Ever since I was a child, I loved marine mammals. I wrote numerous school reports on whales and dolphins and watched countless nature documentaries. When I graduated from college, I decided to buy a one-way ticket from Louisiana to Hawaii. I chose Hawaii because there are a lot of whales there in the winter, and I bought a one-way ticket to encourage me to make Hawaii my new home. A lot of people told me I was brave, bold, and daring. I did not think that at all at the time, I just knew I wanted to work with whales. That one-way ticket eventually led me to an amazing career on the ocean. 

I became interested in public health while I was working on boats, which eventually led me to Austin. People would say to me, “Why would you want to go into public health? That’s so different from what you were doing before!” But I didn’t let that deter me, I was doing what I was interested in. I now get to work on both health and environmental projects, including the work I do as a Texas Master Naturalist and as a Travis Audubon Society board member.

So if there’s something you really want to do, do it. 

Nitakuwa stands on a bridge over Waller Creek looking in the distance and smiling.

Join Nitakuwa in supporting Austin/Travis County’s food plan by exploring ways to get involved. To learn more about Austin's net-zero goal and the 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

Celebrate Earth Month with the Office of Sustainability Earth Month Challenge

Published 12 June 2023

Lee en español.

Earth Month Challenge

We all have a role to play in helping create a healthy planet. To celebrate all month long, the Office of Sustainability invites you to participate in the Earth Month Challenge.



The Earth Month Challenge offers Austinites a chance to work toward a brighter, greener Austin by engaging in sustainability-focused activities. Those who complete at least six of the eight challenges will be entered to win a prize.

From April 1 - May 1, complete at least six of the eight challenges for a chance to win prizes. Challenges can be completed in any order throughout the month of April. Once you've completed a challenge, fill out the Earth Month Challenge Submission Form (open for submissions on Sunday, April 1). You must enter all required information for the challenges you've completed by 11:59 pm on Monday, May 1 to be entered to win a prize.

Share your Earth Month Challenge progress with us on social media using #EarthDayATX.

There are two prize tiers. To be entered into a prize drawing, you must submit full information for the indicated number of challenges in the Challenge Submission Form between 12:00 am on Sunday, April 1, 2023, and 11:59 pm on Monday, May 1, 2023.

The prize tiers are:

Sustainability Star:

Complete at least six of the eight challenges and you'll be entered to win one of ten prize packages featuring a tee shirt, a reusable canvas tote bag, stickers, wildflower seeds, and a bandana.

Sustainability Superhero:

Complete all eight challenges and you'll be entered to win one of three prize packages including everything in the Sustainability Star package, plus your choice of either a one-year Texas State Parks Pass or a Dual Membership to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Everyone who completes all eight challenges will get an Office of Sustainability sticker.


Explore the challenges!

Illustration of a person walking.Challenge 1: Climate-Friendly Trips

We're kicking off Earth Month with a focus on green transportation. Your challenge is to take three climate-friendly trips — think by foot, bike, carpool, or bus. We'll want to see pictures from each trip, know where you went, and how you got there!

Illustration of a phone with map open.Challenge 2: Bus Planner

Our celebration of green transportation continues! Try out the CapMetro Trip Planner. Make travel plans to get from A to B. We'll want to know your travel plans and what buses you'd need to take.

Illustration of an avocado.Challenge 3: Plant-Based Meals

What we eat has a large impact on the climate. For Challenge 3, eat three plant-based meals. What delicious food will you have without meat, eggs, and dairy? You can make your own recipe or order a plant-based meal from a restaurant. We'll want to know what you ate and see a photo of your meals!

Illustration of a trash bag with a no sign through it.Challenge 4: Zero-Waste Day

Austin has a goal of being zero-waste by 2040. Can you have a nearly zero-waste day, where all the landfill trash you create can fit in the palms of your hands? Remember that anything you compost or recycle doesn't count! We'll want to see a photo of your day's worth of trash and hear a little bit about the experience.

Illustration of a lightbulb.Challenge 5: Energy-Efficient Adventure

Having an energy-efficient home is one way to support our planet. For Challenge 5, you get to choose your own energy-efficient adventure. You can choose to:

  • Skip the clothes dryer on your next load of laundry. Instead, hang clothes outside or around your home to dry.
  • Plan an electricity-free evening. Eat by candlelight or picnic in a well-lit park. Skip the T.V. and instead break out the board games or pretend you're camping and read by flashlight.
  • Do an energy-efficient home audit. Walk around your home, unplug all unused appliances, and make sure all lights are LED.

Whatever you choose, we'll want to see a photo from your energy-efficient adventure and hear about the experience.

Illustration of a tree.Challenge 6: Care for Trees

National Arbor Day is next week (Friday, April 28). April is too hot to plant trees in Central Texas, but there are still many ways to care for trees. Your sixth challenge is to take care of a tree at your own home or in a local park. Mulch a tree (learn how here) or water a tree (here's a guide). Want free mulch? Visit the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center.

Illustration of a kite in the air.Challenge 7: Air Quality Check

When Earth Month ends, we'll jump right into Air Quality Awareness Week (May 1-5). Because of a buildup of ground-level ozone, Austin occasionally has days when the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups like children, the elderly, and those with respiratory conditions. These are called Ozone Action Days. For your fifth challenge, check our local air quality three days this month. We'll want to know the dates you checked, the status, and the Air Quality Index (AQI) number.

Illustration of a person jumping excitedly.Challenge 8: Share Your Learnings

Share your knowledge! Throughout Earth Month, you've explored sustainable practices to add to your routine and learned how to make Austin a greener place to live. Now we want you to talk to someone you know about sustainability. We'll want to know who you spoke to and a little bit about the conversation you had.


Ready to submit challenges?

Complete the Challenge Submission Form!


Looking for more ways to celebrate Earth Month? Check out these ideas!


The 95th ABC Kite Fest - Saturday, April 1

Join fellow Austinites for a day of outdoor fun at one of Austin's longest-running Spring traditions. Remember to leave no trace. Pick up and pack out everything you bring with you.


National Gardening Day - Friday, April 14

Learn more about planting a climate-friendly garden with guides from the City of Austin's Grow Green program.


The 9th Annual Peace & Conflict Studies Spring Symposium: Climate Science, Climate Justice - Friday, April 14

Attend a day-long symposium hosted by the Austin Community College Center for Peace and Conflict Studies focused on exploring how current and anticipated impacts of climate change are affecting vulnerable local and global communities. 


Keep Austin Beautiful Day - Saturday, April 15

Join fellow Austinites in a day of community service with volunteer opportunities throughout the city.


International Bat Appreciation Day - Monday, April 17

Find ways to celebrate with Austin's own Bat Conservation International.


Circular Enterprise Connect & Share - Thursday, April 20

Celebrate Earth Day by joining the City of Austin’s Circular Economy Program for the first-annual Circular Enterprise Connect & Share. Meet your fellow circular business and nonprofit leaders and get updates from the Circular Economy Program and other City of Austin departments and programs.


Earth Day ATX Festival - Saturday, April 22

Celebrate Earth Day with the Earth Day ATX Festival at Huston-Tillotson University. Hear engaging panels, meet local organizations, and explore ways to be more sustainable moving forward.


National Arbor Day - Friday, April 28

April is too warm for tree planting in Central Texas, but there are still lots of ways to appreciate and care for trees. Visit the online Tree Information Center for resources.


Go Lights Out for the Birds - All month long

Did you know that nearly two billion birds pass through Texas as part of their spring and fall migration? Help birds travel safely on their journey by turning off all non-essential lights at night from 11 pm – 6 am. Spring bird migration begins April 22 and continues through May 12.

Celebre el Mes de la Tierra con el Desafío del Mes de la Tierra de la Oficina de Sostenibilidad.

Earth Month Challenge

Todos tenemos una función por desempeñar para ayudar a crear un planeta saludable. Para celebrar durante todo el mes, la Oficina de Sostenibilidad lo invita a participar en el Desafío del Mes de la Tierra.



El Desafío del Mes de la Tierra ofrece a los austineses la oportunidad de trabajar por una Austin más ecológica y más brillante mediante la participación en actividades enfocadas en la sostenibilidad. Quienes completen al menos seis de los ocho desafíos participarán por un premio.

Desde el 1 de abril hasta el 1 de mayo, complete al menos seis de los ocho desafíos para tener la posibilidad de ganar premios. Los desafíos pueden completarse en cualquier orden durante el mes de abril. Cuando complete un desafío, llene el formulario de presentación del Desafío del Mes de la Tierra (se abre para envíos el domingo 1 de abril). Debe registrar toda la información requerida para los desafíos que haya completado antes de las 11:59 p. m. del lunes 1 de mayo para poder participar por un premio.

Comparta su progreso en el Desafío del Mes de la Tierra con nosotros en las redes sociales con #EarthDayATX.

Hay dos niveles de premios. Para participar en el sorteo de premios, debe enviar la información completa para la cantidad indicada de desafíos en el formulario de presentación de desafíos entre las 12:00 a. m. del domingo 1 de abril de 2023 y las 11:59 p. m. del lunes 1 de mayo de 2023.

Los niveles de premios son:

Estrella de la Sostenibilidad:

Complete al menos seis de los ocho desafíos y participará para ganar uno de los diez paquetes de premios que incluyen una camiseta, una bolsa de lona reutilizable, pegatinas, semillas de flores silvestres y una gorra de béisbol.

Superhéroe de la Sostenibilidad:

Complete los ocho desafíos y podrá ganar uno de los tres paquetes de premios que incluyen todo lo que hay en el paquete Estrella de la Sostenibilidad, además de la posibilidad de elegir entre un pase de un año para los Parques Estatales de Texas o una suscripción doble al Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Todas las personas que completen los ocho desafíos recibirán una pegatina de la Oficina de Sostenibilidad.


¡Explore los desafíos!

Illustration of a person walking.Desafío 1: Viajes respetuosos con el clima

Comenzamos el Mes de la Tierra centrándonos en el transporte ecológico. Su desafío consiste en hacer tres viajes que respeten el medioambiente: a pie, en bicicleta, en auto compartido o en autobús. Queremos ver fotos de cada viaje, saber adónde fue y cómo llegó hasta allí.

Illustration of a phone with map open.Desafío 2: Planificador de autobús

¡Continúa nuestra celebración del transporte ecológico! Pruebe el planificador de viajes de CapMetro. Haga planes de viaje para llegar de A a B. Queremos saber cuáles son sus planes de viaje y qué autobuses necesitaría tomar.

Illustration of an avocado.Desafío 3: Comidas a base de plantas

Lo que comemos afecta enormemente el clima. Para el desafío 3, coma tres comidas a base de plantas. ¿Qué comidas deliciosas comerá que no tengan carne, huevos ni lácteos? Puede preparar su propia receta o pedir una comida a base de plantas en un restaurante. ¡Queremos saber qué comió y ver una foto de sus comidas!

Illustration of a trash bag with a no sign through it.Desafío 4: Día de cero residuos

Austin tiene el objetivo de llegar a cero residuos en 2040. ¿Puede tener un día casi sin residuos, en el que toda la basura que genere le quepa en la palma de la mano? ¡Recuerde que lo que composte o recicle no cuenta! Queremos ver una foto de la basura que generó ese día y que nos cuente un poco sobre la experiencia.

Illustration of a lightbulb.Desafío 5: Aventura energéticamente eficiente

Tener una casa energéticamente eficiente es una manera de apoyar al planeta. Para el desafío 5, podrá elegir su propia aventura de eficiencia energética. Puede elegir entre las siguientes:

  • No utilizar la secadora la próxima vez que lave la ropa. En su lugar, cuélguela afuera o dentro de su casa para que se seque.
  • Planifique una noche sin electricidad. Cene a la luz de las velas o haga un pícnic en un parque bien iluminado. No mire tele y, en su lugar, saque los juegos de mesa o finja que está de campamento y lea con una linterna.
  • Haga una auditoría de eficiencia energética en casa. Recorra su casa, desenchufe todos los electrodomésticos que no se estén usando y asegúrese de que todas las luces sean LED. 

Independientemente de lo que elija, queremos ver una foto de su aventura de eficiencia energética y que nos cuente sobre la experiencia.

Illustration of a tree.Desafío 6: Cuide de los árboles

El Día Nacional del Árbol es la semana que viene (el viernes 28 de abril). Abril es un mes demasiado caluroso para plantar árboles en el centro de Texas, pero hay muchas otras maneras de cuidar los árboles. Su sexto desafío consiste en cuidar un árbol en su propia casa o en un parque local. Cubra un árbol con mantillo (aprenda a hacerlo aquí) o riegue un árbol (aquí tiene una guía). ¿Quiere mantillo gratis? Visite el Centro de Reciclaje y Reutilización.

Illustration of a kite in the air.Desafío 7: Control de la calidad del aire

Cuando termine el Mes de la Tierra, entraremos de lleno en la Semana de Concienciación sobre la Calidad del Aire (1-5 de mayo). Debido a la acumulación de ozono a nivel del suelo, de vez en cuando, en Austin hay días en los que el aire no es saludable para grupos sensibles como niños, ancianos y personas con afecciones respiratorias. Estos se llaman Días de Acción contra el Ozono. Para su quinto desafío, compruebe nuestra calidad de aire local tres días este mes. Queremos saber las fechas en las que lo comprobó, el estado y la cifra del índice de calidad del aire (AQI).

Illustration of a person jumping excitedly.Desafío 8: Comparta lo que aprendió

¡Comparta su conocimiento! A lo largo del Mes de la Tierra, ha explorado distintas prácticas sostenibles para incorporar a su rutina y ha aprendido cómo puede hacer de Austin un lugar más ecológico donde vivir. Ahora queremos que le cuente a alguien que conozca sobre la sostenibilidad. Vamos a querer saber con quién habló y un poco sobre la conversación que tuvo.


¿Todo listo para enviar sus desafíos?

¡Complete el Formulario de presentación de desafíos!


¿Quiere saber de qué otras formas puede celebrar el Mes de la Tierra? ¡Mire estas ideas!


95.º Festival de Cometas de ABC - sábado 1 de abril

Acompañe a otros austineses durante un día de diversión al aire libre en una de las tradiciones primaverales de más larga trayectoria de Austin. Recuerde no dejar su huella. Recoja y llévese consigo todo lo que haya traído.


Día Nacional de la Jardinería - viernes 14 de abril

Conozca más sobre cómo plantar un jardín respetuoso con el clima con las guías del programa Grow Green de la Ciudad de Austin.


 9.º Simposio Anual de Primavera sobre Estudios de Paz y Conflicto: Ciencia Climática, Justicia Climática - viernes 14 de abril

Asista a un simposio de un día de duración organizado por el Centro de Estudios sobre la Paz y los Conflictos del Austin Community College centrado en cómo los efectos actuales y previstos del cambio climático afectan a las comunidades locales y mundiales vulnerables. 


Día de la Belleza de Austin - sábado 15 de abril

Acompañe a otros austineses en un día de servicio comunitario con oportunidades de voluntariado por toda la ciudad. 


Día Internacional de Valoración de los Murciélagos - lunes 17 de abril

Descubra formas de celebrar con la organización Bat Conservation International.


Empresa Circular: Relacionarse y Compartir - jueves 20 de abril

Celebre el Día de la Tierra participando junto con el Programa de Economía Circular de la Ciudad de Austin en el primer evento anual Circular Enterprise Connect & Share (Empresa Circular: Relacionarse y Compartir). Conozca a otros líderes de empresas circulares y organizaciones sin fines de lucro, y manténgase al corriente del Programa de Economía Circular y otros departamentos y programas de la Ciudad de Austin.


Festival ATX del Día de la Tierra - sábado 22 de abril

Celebre el Día de la Tierra con el Festival ATX del Día de la Tierra en Huston-Tillotson University. Escuche paneles interesantes, conozca organizaciones locales y explore formas de ser más sostenible en el futuro.


Día Nacional del Árbol - viernes 28 de abril

Abril es un mes demasiado caluroso para plantar árboles en el centro de Texas, pero hay muchas otras maneras de valorar y de cuidar los árboles. Visite este centro de información en línea sobre los árboles para obtener recursos.


Apague las luces por las aves - todo el mes

¿Sabía que casi dos mil millones de aves pasan por Texas como parte de su migración de primavera y otoño? Ayude a las aves a viajar seguras apagando todas las luces que no sean esenciales por la noche de 11 p. m. a 6 a. m. La migración primaveral de las aves comienza el 22 de abril y continúa hasta el 12 de mayo.

Net-Zero Hero: Dr. Rosamaria Murillo

Published 12 June 2023

Dr. Rosamaria Murillo smiles in front of the El Buen Samaritano building.

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by living a mission-driven life and creating access for others.

Meet Dr. Rosamaria Murillo, Chief Executive Officer at El Buen Samaritano (El Buen) and our newest Net-Zero Hero! Dr. Murillo is a public health advocate, immigrant, and changemaker who strives to support the physical and mental well-being of her community.

Dr. Murillo began at El Buen in late 2019, shortly before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. From providing food to over 700 families weekly during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, to bridging the digital divide for youth through access to technology and the internet, to setting up El Buen as a COVID-19 vaccine distribution site, Dr. Murillo has worked to center community resilience throughout her time at El Buen. 

We met with Dr. Murillo during one of El Buen Samaritano’s drive-thru food pantry distribution days to talk about her journey to this work, her experience of leading through the pandemic, and the connections she sees between spirituality and sustainability.

What inspired you to take action?

I am inspired by people and experiences. 

First of all, I am inspired by my lived experience as a first-generation English learner and immigrant in this nation. Every day, I get to work with others that have that same experience — it is what drives me. I’m inspired by the thousands of families we work with, who, despite unimaginable injustices, find a way to provide and thrive. Their strength makes me stronger and inspires me to give all I can to the service of others.

I'm also inspired by youth. I am inspired by their ability to dream and their courage, especially right now. The youth that we serve have experienced so much unimaginable loss and so many challenges. And yet I see them becoming all that they want to be without fear. Every moment that we invest in their well-being is a moment that we make this community and this nation a better place.

A person stands at a whiteboard. Young students work on an activity at a row of desks in front of them.

Students participate in El Buen’s after school enrichment program. Photo courtesy of El Buen Samaritano.

Many years ago, there were individuals working to make our nation a better place by providing my family and me with tools, information, and access to resources — very similar to what we do at El Buen with families today. Their actions back then were like pebbles tossed in a lake. They created a ripple effect into my future. I am here because of the actions, dreams, and visions others had for a stronger community. They believed that I belonged here and that I could make our community a better place for others to thrive.


How did you do it?

As I get older and think about this question, I think it’s not about how I did it but rather how others surrounded me with love, resources, and information to allow me to be here. Our society has us believing that we alone can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, but it could not be further from that. Many of us don’t have boots to begin with, and others have arrived here barefoot. This concept of individuality is incongruent. 

I used to answer this question by starting with the challenges I experienced as an immigrant and English language learner. Now I see that all that I have is 10% me and 90% the support and connectedness of others — the sacrifices of my mother and father, the people who gave me a place to stay when I first arrived in Austin, the people who fed me. Those experiences of love, belonging, and connectedness are what has gotten me here. 

I started at El Buen Samaritano a few months before COVID started. When the pandemic began, like everyone, we didn’t know what to do. The main thing that I held onto was the experience of connectedness. We were a very small team of about 15 people. As an organization, we knew we could not respond to the community by ourselves. We needed to be connected with other nonprofits and local and state governments to have a powerful response to the crisis we were facing. 

We set up an incident command structure to support emergency response operations with and for our community. We went from serving food to about 100 families each week pre-COVID to serving 700 families weekly. We could not have done that without strong connections and support — organizations sourcing food for us, volunteers willing to distribute food, and funders. Since the start of the pandemic, we have also distributed close to $8 million in financial and rental assistance. This would have been impossible without organizations and local government having faith in us as a little organization to complete this work.

Dr. Murillo speaks into a microphone outside. Around her, people attentively listen.Left: volunteers wear Hands for Hope tee shirts. Right: Staff and volunteers load grocery bags into the back of a vehicle.

Above: Dr. Murillo speaks to staff and volunteers at the 2021 Hands for Hope event. Below: Volunteers prepare for the event and distribute food during the 2021 Hands for Hope event. Photos courtesy of El Buen Samaritano.

Before COVID, our community garden had plots for families to grow their own food, and plots for us to use for our food access programs. This largely paused during the pandemic, but we are now working with volunteers to revitalize the gardens. In the near future, we are looking to expand our gardens to make them more accessible to community. We’re also looking to plant fruit trees throughout our 11-acre campus so that anybody who passes by can access fresh fruit. 

Right now, food is extremely expensive, especially fruits and vegetables. We have an opportunity to figure out how to sustain ourselves with the land we have. We use the gardens as a tool and a lab for educating others. Through the gardens, we can talk about sustainability, nutrition, and feeding ourselves from the land. Through these strategies, we hope to create a current and future community of individuals that can help us to sustain ourselves.

Dr. Murillo stands in front of El Buen's community garden space.

Dr. Murillo visits El Buen Samaritano’s community gardens.

The actions I take every day are driven by my personal mission to be a path for the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of others. It’s a blessing for me to be able to follow my mission, and it aligns so closely with El Buen’s: to create access to health, education, and essential needs. Through this, we envision a future where we all belong and thrive.


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

What could be more rewarding than having the privilege to live a mission-driven life? I get to live my mission at a point in my life where I’m not worrying about where I'm going to get my next meal, if I’m going to have a place to live, or if I will be able to get health care if I need it. I no longer have those needs because somebody invested in me.

Addressing injustice is not a one-and-done thing — it’s a lifelong experience. I get to give back by supporting the next group of leaders that will take this on. It is rewarding for me to see the generation coming up. They are stronger and even more committed to mission-driven work and they teach me a lot about how to have a sustainable home. The young people who work with me are committed to a sustainable world and creating a healthy environment for humans and animals. They are constantly creating awareness for me and the organization about the ways we can reduce waste.


What’s been the toughest part?

On a very personal level, as a woman of color, there has been a retraumatization that has happened during the pandemic. Seeing so much pain and loss experienced by my community through the pandemic and the winter storm brought up my own traumas. I don’t think this is unique to me. I think about other organizations at the frontlines of serving the community throughout this pandemic, many being led by people of color, people who themselves have experienced acts of discrimination and racism. It can be a really tough experience to have and can retraumatize those of us who are serving community. It is very personal to acknowledge that I myself feel sad and tired. There is a feeling of not wanting to let anyone down, which can be rooted in the trauma itself. Like: if not us, then who? Who is going to be here for the long term? 

I’m also leading a team of individuals that can be feeling this same way. How can I reenergize and nurture them so we can move courageously through this experience together? It’s a commitment I make every day. I couldn’t do this work without my team.

Dr. Murillo in front of a food distribution line at El Buen Samaritano.

Dr. Murillo and the team at El Buen Samaritano pose for a photo together.

Above: Dr. Murillo in front of a food distribution line. Below: Dr. Murillo poses with her team.

So, being human is the toughest part. I have a tendency to be a hero. If something’s wrong, I want to be on the frontlines trying to figure out how to fix it. One of the toughest parts for me, especially throughout the pandemic, has been how to stay healthy and take care of myself so I can be here for the ultramarathon that we’re running right now.


Your work at El Buen Samaritano is rooted in a spiritual practice. What are ways in which your faith and sustainability intersect?

We are a mission of the Episcopal diocese which puts us in the category of being a faith-based organization, but at El Buen Samaritano, it’s not about any one faith. We work to create a space where everybody belongs, independent of beliefs. When we work to support the physical and mental well-being of individuals, we believe that nurtures their spirit. 

My spirituality is about hope. It is the hope that the seed we plant today becomes a huge tree that provides oxygen and nurturance for others. This hope for a better world drives me. Hope that by not putting plastic out in the world, our oceans will be cleaner. Hope that teaching youth today will lead them to leave the world a better place than they found it. This is how sustainability and faith intersect for me.


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

There are three recommendations that have felt most powerful to me. First, a book called Enrique’s Journey [by Sonia Nazario]. It is about the journey of immigrants taking trains that come from South America into the U.S. 

Second, there’s a documentary called The End of Poverty. The documentary talks about how we can undo 500 years of oppression on Indigenous land. It’s very powerful and overwhelming.

Finally, I would recommend the documentary series Unnatural Causes. This talks about the connection between health and wealth and the experience of racism in our bodies and its impact on our health. It was made in 2008, but when you see it today, it’s like it could have been made yesterday.

Families line up for a COVID-19 vaccine distribution event hosted at El Buen Samaritano.

Families line up for a vaccine distribution event hosted at El Buen Samaritano. Photo courtesy of El Buen Samaritano.


What advice do you have for others?

Attitude, attitude, attitude! How I see the world gets me through both challenging and happy times. I choose to see the world as a place of opportunity, possibility, and love. I believe that how you see the world matters.

You also have to listen. Spend 90% of your time listening and the other 10% taking substantial, courageous action. I have to say this to myself all the time because I love to talk! And more than just calling out the injustice in the world, work for justice. Take actions that leave the world better than you found it.

Dr. Murillo stands at the entrance sign to El Buen Samaritano.

You can help advance the mission of El Buen Samaritano by becoming a volunteer. There are opportunities to support adult or youth education, the food pantry and distribution programs, or during special events.

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


Net-Zero Hero: Matthew Gaston

Published 6 June 2023

Matthew Gaston stands in front on palms and a waterfall in the Hartman Prehistoric Garden.

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by educating our community about the importance of plants and sustainable landscapes.

Matthew Gaston is many things: educator, TikToker, native Central Texan, friend of plants, and our newest Net-Zero Hero! Matthew is passionate about fostering a love of plants — particularly native plants — throughout Central Texas and beyond. From his work as Education Director for the Zilker Botanical Garden Conservancy to his popular social media accounts, Matthew’s knowledge, passion, and humor come together to create engaging experiences for his audiences, whether they are social media followers or elementary students on a field trip.

We met with Matthew to talk about what inspired his love of plants, his role as Education Director, and, in celebration of Pride Month, what plants have meant to him as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. And, of course, we met at the most fitting place we could think of: Zilker Botanical Garden.

What inspired you to take action?

I was initially inspired by my grandparents to learn more about plants. This interest continued to grow at a summer camp at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens. I was intrigued by plants’ shape, stillness, growth, and their service and uses to people and other animals. At the San Antonio Botanical Garden, I received a pamphlet about plants that attract pollinators. All the plants on the list were native species that provided food or habitat for native animals. I was particularly keen on hummingbirds, so I had my eyes set on planting Turks Cap throughout my backyard. I soon learned that planting native species was also the most sustainable as they required the least inputs (like water, fertilizer, and maintenance).

Matthew lifts the leaves on a cycad to look for a cone.

Two photos. On the left, Matthew touches young leaves of a Carboard Palm. On the right, Matthew pulls back a fennel plant to reveal green caterpillars.

At many points along our walk, Matthew stops to show off something in the garden that excites him. Clockwise from top: the cone of a cycad, Swallowtail caterpillars on a fennel plant, the symmetry of growth in the Cardboard Palm.

I’m very passionate about the benefits of native plants. By planting native species, not only are we supporting local wildlife, but we are also working towards being net-zero and more sustainable. Native plants are more tolerant to Austin’s intense heat, drought, and freezing weather, which makes it less likely that one would need to replant every year. These native plants are also best adapted to our soils, so intensive soil alteration is not required. Lastly, if we buy native plants, we are more likely to buy local, which supports our community. 

I am inspired to educate folks on the importance of plants and sustainable landscapes for a plethora of reasons. These reasons range from my simple desire to see lots of pollinators thriving in Austin to the personal ease and cost-effectiveness of planting sustainably to my desire to reduce the current capitalistic approaches to landscaping by spending loads of money on herbicides, fertilizers, annual plants, and pesticides. Suburban America needs to drastically alter its opinions of the yard.

Matthew looks up at a palm tree while chatting.

Matthew points out elements of a Cycad in the Hartman Prehistoric Garden.


How did you do it?

As the Education Director at Zilker Botanical Garden, I have a special opportunity to coordinate educational offerings for school groups and adults alike where I can incorporate sustainability concepts. With our docent-led field trips, we create discussion topics and activities based on each grade’s learning objectives. For Kindergarten groups, we discuss the importance of water as we walk through the Taniguchi Japanese Garden. What do you notice? Is it clear? Is there anything living in the water? Who needs water? For 3rd Grade, we emphasize the habitats found throughout the garden. And with High Schoolers, we teach them how to use a Dichotomous Key to identify native plants.

Matthew points to a tagged tree in Zilker Botanical Garden.

Matthew points out one of the tagged trees in the garden, sharing that many school groups ask about their purpose and meaning.

By introducing these ideas to young folks, we can gradually incorporate concepts of sustainability so that they are not seen as “we need to change and be sustainable” but instead to “we are already sustainable”. We utilize the materials from the City of Austin’s Grow Green program and the “Green Garden” at Zilker Botanical Garden to highlight techniques and methods for a sustainable landscape:

  1. Make a plan
  2. Amend the soil
  3. Efficient irrigation
  4. Select native and well-adapted species
  5. Mulch
  6. Reduce turf grass
  7. Low maintenance

I prefer to call the Green Garden the Sustainable Garden as it makes more sense to kids. They are a bit too literal with the ‘green’ part… 

Outside of work, I create short educational videos explaining various aspects of plants. I discuss everything from how water moves through a plant to how the Texas Department of Transportation plants wildflowers along the roadways. The majority of my videos are impromptu and improvised, so whatever happens is what I keep in the published video. My plant videos are created simply to entertain and also to help folks appreciate the green shrubbery on the side of the road they never noticed. By pointing out interesting features — whether social, cultural, or ecological — I hope people can appreciate plants more and understand their significance in becoming net-zero.


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

The most rewarding thing about botanical education and science communication is seeing someone come to a realization that plants are more important than they thought — even better if we can utilize multiple senses. From the amazement at smelling the Chocolate Daisy (Berlandiera lyrata) to tasting the sour sweetness of an Agarita berry, these multisensory experiences leave significant impressions. Hopefully, the memory of smelling or tasting these native plants cements in someone’s mind that sustainable landscaping does not have to mean cacti and rocks. Additionally, when folks make the connection that they can grow a sustainable garden that is full of flowers and buzzing with life, I am thrilled.

Matthew stands on the bottom of a set of stairs in Zilker Botanical Garden's Herb Garden.

Matthew in the Herb Garden.

It’s also rewarding to be able to present to folks on everything from plant propagation to soil science to sustainable design. Connecting with others who are also interested in plants and improving our environment is a pure delight. I gave a presentation on green roofs and living walls to a garden club, and when I showed them a photo of a roof covered in wildflowers, they all oooh’ed and ahh’ed. I was delighted to hear them so wowed by green roofs. 


What’s been the toughest part?

This is a tough question, as I have been rather privileged not to experience anything too tough. My work at Zilker Botanical Garden is not necessarily tough, except that I accept perhaps too many groups, and we struggle to find sufficient educational volunteers to lead them all. If you are reading this, please consider becoming a docent at Zilker Botanical Garden. Join me and the ZBG team in helping educate school groups and adults on the importance of plants.

Matthew points out plants on a table with people gathered around him.

Two photos. On the left, Matthew runs a demonstration with kids. On the right, Matthew stands at a display while talking to a visitor in Zilker Botanical Garden.

Matthew leads various educational programs at Zilker Botanical Garden.

In my video-making endeavors, perhaps the most challenging things are the negative comments. I find that 95% of comments are from people who are properly engaging in the topic or terribly complimentary, but 5% spew disgruntled gabble. Fortunately, I find these mostly humorous.

I made a joke once in one of my videos about how I do not like roses, and someone called me facile, identifying that I had failed to acknowledge the thousands of people who had bred them. I consider myself silly and good-humored, so I wanted to comment something along the lines of “what a pity as their work was futile” or something like that, but I know that he would have failed to appreciate my lack of appreciation. 


Our interview will come out during Pride Month, a time when we celebrate and honor LGBTQIA+ history, community, and culture. Some may be surprised to learn that the green stripe in the Pride flag represents a connection with nature. As someone who lives in both these worlds, what does that connection mean to you?

Nature was my escape as a kid. When I didn’t feel comfortable, I would go outside and look at the plants. I was a terribly socially anxious, closeted gay kid, so when I was feeling stressed at a party or family gathering, I would simply go outside with the plants. Nature and plants were sort of my escape. I feel like plants are calm, understanding, and accepting because plants themselves are rather queer.

Matthew walks along the edge of a pond in the Taniguchi Japanese Garden.

A peaceful moment: Matthew looks for water spiders in the ponds of the Taniguchi Japanese Garden.

I recall in my introductory biology course in undergrad, the professor was describing flowers. A flower that has only male reproductive parts or only female reproductive parts is called imperfect. If the flower has both male and female reproductive parts, then it is called perfect. Additionally, this flower is called bisexual. I was delighted to hear someone saying that the bisexual flower was perfect. These small details in botanical jargon further cemented my opinion that plants were, like myself, queer. 

Furthering on the concept that plants are allies of the LGBTQIA+ community, there is even a whole stereotype around the idea of “Plant Gays” — a gay person who is into plants and perhaps makes it their personality. I am perhaps a plant gay. 


What advice do you have for others?

Sometimes I like to give the following plant advice:

We might think that we have failed if our plant dies.

But better to grow it and fail than to have never tried.

We ought to do our best to prevent things from going wrong, but we must understand we are learners lifelong.

Overall what I would want to tell everyone is: be yourself, be brave, make mistakes, and have fun!

Matthew stands with lots of green foliage behind him.

For more humor and plant knowledge, follow Matthew on your favorite social media platform or visit Zilker Botanical Garden, and you might run into him. If you’d like to explore resources for creating a more sustainable garden, find resources from the City of Austin’s Grow Green program. 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

Employee Sustainability Spotlight: Karlee Taylor

Published 25 May 2023

Karlee Taylor: Sustainability Spotlight

At the Office of Sustainability, we are proud to work in an organization where so many employees are committed to supporting a brighter, greener Austin — both in and out of the office. Karlee TaylorEnvironmental Conservation Information Specialist with the Wildland Conservation Division of Austin Water, is a shining example.

For Karlee, living a sustainable life is rooted in valuing and respecting not only the earth, but also her local community. In speaking with Karlee, she emphasized that her individual actions are motivated by values she hopes to share with others: "the value of food, water, energy and community resources."

These values guide Karlee to act with intention and care in how she navigates the world, beginning with where she lives. Karlee worked with her partner to utilize repurposed materials in the design and construction of the yurt they now call home. In support of a just, local food system, they transformed the land they live on to create a thriving home garden for growing food. To minimize food waste, Karlee makes stock, preserves, pickles, and dehydrates food, and shares fruits and vegetables with her larger community. Any unused food Karlee finds herself with is composted to create a rich and healthy soil for her home garden.

Photos showing the before and after of Karlee's garden. The after photos show a lush, well maintained space with vegetables and sunflowers.

As an employee of Austin Water's Wildland Conservation Division, Karlee is reminded daily that water is a finite resource. To support our waterways, Karlee designed her garden using berms and swales, a centuries-old landscaping technique that slows water movement naturally during rain. The design promotes healthy soil, allows the water to infiltrate into the ground, and, in Karlee's case, supports the Edwards Aquifer and Barton Springs. Their home also features a handmade rainwater harvesting system that was created using second-hand materials. Energy is another precious commodity in the Taylor household. Karlee and her partner are working on building a second-hand solar energy system to meet the majority of their energy needs and are always looking for creative ways to minimize electricity use when possible, like line drying their clothes.

Truly rooted in community, Karlee's focus on sustainability is a shared experience. "My landmates and I have a lot of fun doing some of these things together," shared Karlee. "Our neighborhood is always willing to swap and share and support." For Karlee, most clothes come from second-hand shops and textiles are responsibly mended, donated, swapped, or recycled when needed. Local growers, makers, and neighbors are always the first stop when things are needed. Each sustainable action is made possible and strengthened by the community that exists around her. "It seems so hard to start on some of these paths alone," Karlee added.

We thank Karlee for all she is doing to help support a vibrant and resilient Austin! Learn more about what you can do to support a sustainable city.

A photo of Karlee in her yurt; clothes drying on an outdoor clothes line above a garden.


Announcing the 2023 Friends in Gardening Award Winner: Tina Coba

Published 24 May 2023

Tina Coba stands in the Overton Elementary School Garden with an award and certificate.

At the Office of Sustainability, we know that the many school gardens across Austin offer students an opportunity for play, discovery, and learning — and that they wouldn't be possible without the tremendous support of volunteers. The Friends in Gardening Award was created in 2023 by the Central Texas School Garden Network to recognize the efforts of an outstanding school garden volunteer. This week, Mary K. Priddy, Education and Outreach Coordinator with the Office of Sustainability and Coordinator for the Central Texas School Garden Network, was proud to present the first-ever Friends in Gardening (FiG) Award to Tina Coba, Instructional Specialist at Overton Elementary School.

Tina was nominated by Elizabeth Harper, Program Manager at EcoRise. In her nomination, Elizabeth called out how much Tina has been able to get done in just a few short years of working on the garden. "Tina, by her own admission, didn’t know much about gardening going in, so it was really a matter of trial and error, learning alongside the students, and it has worked," said Elizabeth. The Overton Elementary School Gardens now covers over 5,000 square feet. The school brought in more than $4,000 in Eco-Audit Grants from EcoRise, partnered with local non-profit PEAS to offer gardening programming during the school day, and hosted dozens of volunteers through It's My Park Day events. Elizabeth continued, "Most importantly, each of the more than 424 students at Overton have gotten to spend at least some time outdoors these past two school years, learning about ecosystems, biodiversity, soil, vegetables, and more."

Mary K. Priddy presents the Golden Gnome trophy to Tina Coba.

Meeting with Tina, her enthusiasm for the garden is infectious. She is a military veteran who now supports dozens of teachers in her role at Overton. She calls the garden her "legacy project." In walking through the space, Tina points out the milkweed (they're hoping for butterfly visitors soon) and shows off the recently installed pond. In the vegetable flats this year, Tina shares that they are growing potatoes and sweet potatoes, a new experiment for the school. Tina, her team, and students are now working on a plan to add a rain barrel to their storage shed so that they can qualify for Green School Park status. As the winner of the FiG Award, Tina received a $50 Central Market gift card, a certificate of recognition, and the coveted Golden Gnome trophy.

The gardens at Overton Elementary School.

Research has proven time and time again that when young people spend time outside, they reap many physical and emotional benefits. We celebrate and thank Tina for going above and beyond to support not only Overton's school gardens but also, in doing so, its students. In the words of her nominator, Elizabeth, "Personally, in my work with EcoRise, I get to meet a lot of gardening heroes across many schools, both within Austin and across Texas. No one in my mind is more deserving of the FiG award than Ms. Tina Coba who is always all in for students and for the environment."

If you would like to explore ways to green your school's campus, learn more about the Bright Green Future Grant program.

Mary K. Priddy and Tina Coba pose at the Overton Elementary School gardens with the Golden Gnome trophy and Tina's certificate.


Net Zero Heroes: Sagar Kumashi & Saket Sripada

Published 18 May 2023

Sagar Kumashi and Saket Sripada stand with arms around each others' shoulders in front of a the bicycle sign at the Central Library.

We’re helping to make Austin Net-Zero by biking our way through life.

May is National Bike Month. To celebrate, we sat down with two Austinites who are doing their part to support a more sustainable Austin one ride at a time. Meet Sagar Kumashi and Saket Sripada. Sagar and Saket are friends committed to reducing their carbon footprint. In Austin, emissions caused by transportation are one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and the primary source of air pollution locally. Through their daily rides, Sagar and Saket are contributing to a greener, more livable city with each trip they take.

We met with Sagar and Saket in the Seaholm EcoDistrict to chat about their passion for biking, their favorite outdoor spaces in Austin, and what advice they have for future riders.

What inspired you to take action?

Saket: My middle school assembly always ended with a mantra that essentially translates to, “there is plenty for everyone’s needs but not enough for anyone’s greed.” In the same school, we had environmental and eco-conservation themed workshops and clubs. My science teachers especially encouraged me to participate in them.

From these experiences, I became pretty interested in working on cleaner fuels from as young as middle school. However, all through my teens and twenties, I was not very mindful of pollution and ecological damage due to human activities. Once I learned more about emissions and my own carbon footprint, I was called to reduce my impact.

Two photos. On the left: Saket stands with his helmet on in front of the Shoal Creek Trail. On the right: Sagar stands with his helmet on in the same location.

Left to right: Saket and Sagar pose at the Central Library balcony.

Sagar: There’s the saying that, “the right thing to do is often the hardest thing to do.” However, by providing rebates on e-bike purchases, and adding bike lanes to arterial roads in the city, I feel that City of Austin has been making it easier for people to do the right thing. These factors played a big role in pushing me towards getting my own e-bike when I moved to the city in 2021. For almost two years now, I have been using my e-bike for my daily commute and have been taking it on bike trails as often as I can.

I also want to commend the MetroBike by Bcycle station network in downtown Austin, something that I am sure Saket will also mention. Renting and using a MetroBike from one of these stations has always been an optimal experience for me.


How did you do it?

Saket: I strongly believe in reducing our carbon footprint. Once I identified sources of greatest emissions, I just picked the most important aspects of my urban lifestyle and tried to cut those out from my day-to-day life. I avoid fuel-powered machines when I can, like elevators and a personal car. I limit stovetop/gas cooking and instead choose to pressure-cook. I always turn off unused electric appliances. I also try my best in my roles at work and in my apartment to reduce paper (mis)use by going digital. 

My daily commutes, like getting groceries and other errands, ended up being some of the easiest ones for me to turn nearly carbon zero. I try my best to promote biking in my community as a healthy and reliable alternative. 

Sagar and Saket pose with their bicycles on the Shoal Creek Trail.

Friends on two-wheels: Sagar and Saket pose with their bicycles.

Sagar: Saket actually encouraged me to bike. After moving to Austin, I spent the first couple of months figuring out which commute option would suit me best. Saket, who had already spent a couple of years in the city, nudged me towards investing in a good bike. Seeing how he had been able to effectively use this mode of transport convinced me to adopt a similar approach.


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

Sagar: When I think about how my conscious lifestyle choices – such as my mode of transport and my commitment to recycling – minimize my carbon footprint, I am filled with a sense of satisfaction and pride.

Saket: For me, the sheer joy of merely having biked so much is in itself a pleasure! I get my cardio workout thanks to the hills of Austin and get to explore so many unique niches of the city that many who drive would never even know. The ultimate rewards are almost always the fabulous sunsets I get to see from the bridges across rivers, creeks along the river, or from Mt. Bonnell!

Saket gets ready to ride, strapping on his helmet.

Saket gets ready to ride, strapping on his helmet.

Sagar: It’s also really nice to see my enthusiasm for sustainable living being shared by a like-minded friend like Saket!


What’s been the toughest part?

Sagar: Apart from the conventional challenges that most bike riders face in Austin – such as the occasional inclement weather – e-bike owners like myself find it harder to fix the bikes ourselves. A lot of the electrical components of the bike are custom parts unique to the e–bike brand. This makes troubleshooting problems and finding replacement parts quite tricky.

Saket: I find that the hills of Austin can be a challenge in the summer, as can winter precipitation. Otherwise, the only struggle has been rough pavement and potholes in some of the roads downtown during my daily commute to UT. These can definitely cause some back aches from all the bumps! There’s also a lot of bike theft in the city! That’s why I try to stick to the MetroBike bikes offered by CapMetro. As a student, I get a discounted membership.


Our interview will come out in May over National Bike Month. Why is biking so meaningful to each of you and do you have any tips for navigating the city on two wheels?

Saket: Bicycles have been a very integral part of my life ever since I was four. I had friends who loved to cycle around through all my childhood and my teens. It became a very powerful way for me to gain independence from public transport, in addition to quickly exploring niche areas of my neighborhood that would take longer by foot. In my twenties, bicycling became even more empowering as my preferred mode of rapid local commute to beat the traffic. It required almost no parking (and walking through parking lots!), no external dependence for maintenance – I could even take it to get my groceries! 

Sagar:  Yes, I agree. For me, biking is a fantastic way to get to know your city more intimately. Streets and corners that you would normally zip past in a car feel more familiar and memorable on a bike. From a practical standpoint, commuting on an e-bike is faster in the busier parts of downtown, when compared to a car. You don’t experience the same level of traffic in the bike lanes, and you spend very little time, effort, and money on parking.

Sagar gets his e-bike from Mod Bikes, a local company, ready for a ride.

Sagar gets his e-bike from Mod Bikes, a local company, ready for a ride.

Saket: As someone who strongly believes in the principles of reduce, reuse, recycle, biking provides a guilt free way for enjoying nature and fun places without having to walk hours or drive. In Austin, MetroBike has been a blessing, especially for social biking and my summer commute! I strongly recommend exploring the MetroBike program.


Where are some of your favorite places in Austin for biking or, more generally, spending time in nature?

Sagar: I love exploring Southern Walnut Creek, Veloway, COTA, Onion Creek, the Ann & Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, and the bike routes in Downtown and South Austin – especially South Lamar and Sunset Valley!

Saket:  Personally, I like riding through Zilker, Shoal Creek, the Seaholm EcoDistrict and beach, every bit of the Ann & Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, Mt. Bonnell, and Red Bud Isle. I also love taking scenic drives going from Mozart's up to Mayfield Preserve, downtown east of Congress, and the Hancock and Muny Golf Courses.


What advice do you have for others?

Saket:  Find a community of folks who are true to your cause, like me with environmental sustainability! For me, a lot of challenge was from dealing alone with the conflict of personal convenience versus making environmentally conscious decisions, like commuting between Dallas and Austin. Driving in my personal car is so convenient. Carpooling with others or taking the bus can be less convenient, but yet I know these options are so much better for the planet! Trying to reconcile a lot of decisions alone was fatiguing! 

Sagar and Saket ride down the Shoal Creek Trail with their backs to the camera.

Sagar and Saket side by side on a ride.

Sagar:  It’s easier now to make lifestyle choices that are environmentally sustainable and to find like-minded, environmentally-conscious people than it was in the past. If you are in Austin and are looking for guidance or enthusiasm on this front, I feel Saket is one of the best people you can talk to! He has a wealth of experience when it comes to sustainable living, and you can easily reach him on most social media platforms.

Saket: Thanks, Sagar. As I said, I feel that finding a community of folks who understand the struggles and have been working to address similar things can greatly uplift us by easing the loneliness and isolation.


Saket and Sagar stand with their bikes in the greenspace of the Seaholm Plaza.

Looking to explore the city on two wheels? Check out resources from the City of Austin's Bicycle Program and discover ways to celebrate Bike Month by following Get There ATX on Facebook. 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