Sep 23, 2020 - 04:38 pm CDT

Walter Moreau Net-Zero Hero

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by: Building affordable housing that uses less energy and produces solar power.

 

Meet Walter Moreau, Executive Director of Foundation Communities — an Austin-based nonprofit affordable housing developer. Since the 1990s, Foundation Communities has offered affordable, attractive homes with onsite support services for thousands of Austin Families. A key focus of their efforts is to use green building principles to save on operating costs, reduce residents’ utility bills and make our community a better place to live. Walter has led the organization since 1997.

Walter spoke with us about his approach to green building and affordable housing in Austin, including what his biggest challenges and rewards have been along the way.

This Sunday, Sept. 27, a Foundation Communities property will be featured on Austin Energy Green Building’s (virtual) Cool House Tour. The Jordan at Mueller building is LEED Gold Certified, and Austin Energy Green Building 5-star rated. Walter calls this project, a “miracle” due to its proximity to downtown and nearby amenities in the Mueller neighborhood. The sustainably built apartments at the Jordan rent for $805-$1,365.

 

Walter Moreau accepting a four-star award and shaking hands with Austin Energy's Debbie Kimberly.

Walter Moreau accepts 4-star Austin Energy Green Building award for the Capital Studios property.

What inspired you to take action?

We’ve only got one planet, and we are using up her resources in an unsustainable way. We are already feeling the impacts of climate change.  Foundation Communities owns over 3,500 apartments, so we have a huge carbon footprint. Many of our green improvements reduce that footprint and also save us money over the long run.

How did you do it?

We never plan to sell any of our affordable housing communities, so we approach them as a long-term owner and steward. We can consider a very long payback period for durable, green renovations that save on energy and water use. Affordable housing is not just about low rents, but also low utility bills for residents.

 

Modern gray building with orange accents. 

What’s been the toughest part?

Well, the easy part was making simple property improvements twenty years ago that had quick payback periods. For example, we could replace toilets and save enough on the water bill to cover the cost in less than a year. We’ve really done most of the ‘low hanging fruit’ like duct sealing, HVAC replacement, insulation, LED lighting, etc. that we can do. The tough part now is finding the money to invest in green improvements that have much longer payback periods.

What’s been the greatest reward?

Foundation Communities started installing solar electric panels on our roofs almost twenty years ago. Today we are the largest private producer of solar power in the region!

What advice would you give others?

Look for improvements that you can make now. Simple, durable, passive solutions (vs mechanical systems) are the most foolproof – so stuff like solar screens, insulation, and shade trees all help. In our new construction, we’ve backed off from pushing the envelope on the latest green gizmos and fallen back on more dependable material and system choices and design features.

 

Aerial view of the Jordan at Mueller.

Building that says "Foundation Communities" on it.  Building courtyard.

The Jordan at Mueller property has 174 kilowatts of solar energy installed on the roof along with many other "green" amenities.

Check out the Jordan at Mueller property on the Cool House Tour!

Join the Cool House Tour on Sept. 27 from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. to see more images of the property, learn the complete design build story and get insights about community planning. Learn more about the event and get your tickets here.

 

Walter Moreau standing next to two people holding a four-star award.

 

Learn more about climate change in Austin and check out our new Austin Climate Equity Plan. We are accepting feedback on the draft plan through Sept. 30, 2020.

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.

Aug 30, 2020 - 11:07 am CDT

 

Given the many uncertainties brought by the pandemic, we are making several changes to the Bright Green Future Grant program for the 2020-21 school year.

First, applications will be accepted starting Oct. 12 through Oct. 26, 2020. Use this form to apply during the application period. Second, instead of applying with original project ideas, we will be offering a “menu” of options for schools to choose from. These options will be sustainability-themed curriculums offered through local nonprofit organizations, which are listed below. The main benefit of this change is that all curriculums offered can be completed whether you are meeting in the classroom or virtually.

We know the COVID-19 situation has impacted students and teachers tremendously, which is why we decided to push the application deadline and make things simpler this year. We hope that the program can return to its original format next year.

Please contact Mary K. Priddy at (512) 921-6843 or mary.priddy@austintexas.gov with questions or concerns.

 


 

Bright Green Future Grant Options for the 2020-21 School Year

The following sustainability-themed grant curriculums will be available:

 

Bee Project Green Intern Program

The BEE Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to training the next generation’s green workforce. The group stands for diversity and equitable pathways to green jobs. 

What will be offered as part of this grant:

The BEE Project’s Green Intern Program will help high school students prepare for green industry jobs by giving them the opportunity to become Energy and Sustainability Managers at their school. The program provides teachers and students the virtual curriculum, training and support. Students will learn the basics of saving energy and water resources in school buildings. In addition, students will work in teams to view energy and water usage data, identify waste and strategize on ways to help save our Earth’s precious resources.

This program will include 8 lessons with project-based learning opportunities. The BEE Project team will provide weekly virtual instruction over this 8-week time frame. By the end of the 8 weeks, students will understand the basics of energy management.

Organization link: www.besteartheverproject.org

Grade level served: High School (Grades 9-12)

Languages offered: English and Spanish

 

EcoRise Sustainable Intelligence Program

EcoRise helps inspire a new generation of leaders to design a sustainable future for all. Their school-based programs empower youth to tackle real-world challenges in their schools and communities by teaching sustainability, design innovation and social entrepreneurship.

What will be offered as part of this grant:

EcoRise teachers receive access to the organization’s comprehensive K-12 bilingual, STEM-based Sustainable Intelligence Curriculum that introduces students to challenges and opportunities surrounding seven distinct eco-themes (water, waste, air, energy, food, transportation and public spaces) and engages youth in developing real-world solutions in their communities through project-based activities, design labs and campus Eco-Audits.

EcoRise teachers will also receive access to their Design Studio Curriculum which guides students through a creative problem-solving process as they invent innovative solutions to a specific sustainability challenge. EV Lessons for Schools and EcoRise Environmental Justice lessons are included in the program.

Organization link: https://www.ecorise.org/

Grade level served: Grades K-12

Languages offered: English and Spanish

 

Ghisallo Cycling Initiative

Ghisallo Cycling Initiative is a 501c3 nonprofit based in Austin, Texas. Since the spring of 2011, they have provided semester-long, after-school Bike Clubs with weekly bicycle maintenance and riding classes as well as an Earn-A-Bike program, Bicycle Rodeos and maintenance and safety clinics. The majority of participants are low-income students and students of color.

What will be offered as part of this grant:

Ghisallo will offer various bicycle-related presentations, clinics and classes designed to help students learn the basics of bicycling, helmet fitting, maintenance and other safety information. The presentations will be virtual and can be offered as part of a school-wide assembly or to single grade or class. Course options will range from beginner-level lessons to more advanced Bike Clubs. Lessons can be co-taught with a PE coach or offered direct-to-student through a minimum of two Ghisallo staff members.

Organization link: http://ghisallo.org/

Grade level served: K-12

Languages offered: Instruction is offered in English, materials are available in English and Spanish

 

PEAS (Partners for Education, Agriculture and Sustainability)

PEAS is a 501c3 homegrown from Cunningham Elementary in AISD. Their staff is made up of former teachers and long-time outdoor educators who are, with support from a racial equity consultant, actively engaging in antiracist work. They firmly believe every person should have access to outdoor education.

What will be offered as part of this grant:

Studies show that there are enormous benefits to spending time outside and interacting with nature. PEAS partners with schools to create, share and implement lessons that tie together TEKS, SEL and outdoor experiences. PEAS will provide outdoor learning support and engaging cross-curricular lessons that help to deepen students' content area understanding while encouraging connections in the great outdoors.

This program will provide in-person instruction, but PEAS will modify as needed for hybrid or virtual learning if required this spring. All face-to-face instruction will take place outdoors on the school campus. PEAS uses a partner-teaching model that provides experiential professional development for our partner-teachers. PEAS will bring the lesson and materials, and partner-teachers should plan to be actively involved in the lesson.

Organization link: https://www.peascommunity.org/

Grade level served: K-8

Languages offered: English and Spanish

 

Watt Watchers

Watt Watchers of Texas is a state-sponsored STEM program to help boost energy literacy for K-12 students. Through the program, students, teachers and families will learn about saving energy, water and all the resources that make Texas a great place.

What will be offered as part of this grant:

The digital program design allows teachers to have easier access to curriculum resources and will help save on material cost for districts. Designed to go deeper than just turning the lights off, students, teachers and families will have the opportunity to learn about energy conservation and cost saving tips through categories such as food, water and transportation.

Grant funding will provide resources for students to engage with the online curriculum, such as clipboards, pens and printed materials. This self-paced program varies in length depending upon whether it’s a single class or multi-unit, and the scope of the energy savings projected is up to the teachers and students to decide. Please note that no instructors will be provided as part of this program.

Organization link: www.watt-watchers.com 

Grade level served: Grades K-12

Languages offered: English and Spanish

Jun 23, 2020 - 12:52 pm CDT

The Office of Sustainability wants to acknowledge the lives of Mike Ramos, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and countless others killed and devastated by white supremacy and police violence. We see Black people who are raising their voices in the streets to demand justice and stand with them. In the midst of a global pandemic, these tragic acts of police violence amplify and highlight the fact that Black communities face the injustices of systemic racism that are ingrained in every level of our society. We respect and honor the sadness, grief, fear, rage and frustration that Black people and Black communities are feeling through their lived experience.

In our role as City staff working within these institutions, and in our personal lives, we frequently build, shape and perpetuate a culture that is inherently racist. We also know that environmental and other policies in our city have had negative consequences on communities of color. We must acknowledge this systematic harm and neglect, and are committed to actively working to right these wrongs. We are also aware that our field — and our office — is predominately white. We have a lot of work to do in order to be a good reflection of the diverse community we support. In acknowledgment of this, our office made a commitment to undoing racism and addressing our weaknesses through equity action. As part of our Equity Action Plan, developed through the leadership of Austin’s Equity Office, we have committed to:

  • Requiring all staff to participate in anti-racist training (i.e., Undoing Racism) and ensuring that new employees receive training and resources about our Office’s commitment to racial equity.
  • Being intentional about hiring and working with more Black, Indigenous and people of color through our recruitment and contracting process.
  • Centering racial equity in our Community Climate Plan update and in our food system work.
  • Providing focused outreach to racially and economically diverse K-12 schools through our Bright Green Future Grant Program, and awarding more grants to underrepresented schools through the judging process. 
  • Strengthening our relationships through open dialogue with community partners led by people of color.
  • Creating a process for collecting and reporting demographic and client satisfaction data for our programs, and using it to improve equitable outcomes through program design.
  • Sharing more stories and perspectives from Black voices on climate change and environmental justice issues using our social media and other communication channels. 

We will continue to support these actions and conversations by doing the work to become better allies and collaborators. Doing this work and building relationships with community members means we also need to build accountability, and we will continue to check in on our progress and acknowledge when we make mistakes. People of color, specifically Black people, are not obligated to share their experience or demands, but we are open to listening and doing our part wherever we can. Black lives matter — now and always.

In solidarity,

The Office of Sustainability

Mar 04, 2020 - 10:42 am CST

Photo of Adrian Gonzalez with trees in the background.

We’re pleased to introduce you to Adrian Gonzalez, our office's new Communications Intern. We asked him a few get-to-know-you questions so you can learn more about him and his background.

Q: Where are you from?

A: I’m from McAllen, TX, a city in the Rio Grande Valley. It’s about a five-hour drive south of Austin, but the authentic Mexican food, swaying palm trees, and loving people make the dreadful drive totally worth it.

Q: What is your educational background?

A: I am currently in my final semester at St. Edward’s University. In May, I will be graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism & Digital Media and a minor in Communication.

Q: Where did you work before joining our office?

A: Through my four years at St. Edward’s, I’ve been involved in several extracurricular activities that have contributed to my overall learning experience. I am working with the school's Recreation & Wellness department, currently write for Hilltop Views, and participated in a service immersion trip in Los Angeles, Cali. last spring.

Hilltop Views, the student-run newspaper of SEU, is where I’ve been able to work as a graphic designer, staff writer, and Sports Editor. As a section editor, I work directly with staff writers to ensure that they produce quality articles by editing their stories and helping them develop as better journalists. Though I enjoy writing about sports, I’m mainly drawn to storytelling and sharing the interesting experiences that other people have gone through.

Whether it be through written articles, photo essays or video projects, I have been able to contribute to the school’s newspaper while also strengthening my digital media skills.

Q: What will you be working on for the Office of Sustainability?

A: I'm so excited to work alongside such knowledgeable and determined individuals as the office’s Communication Intern. During my internship, I will use my digital media and communication background to inform Austinites about the city’s Community Climate Plan, reducing carbon emissions, and living sustainably. Being a part of a team that works tirelessly to combat climate issues is what I find most rewarding.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do in Austin?

A: My favorite thing about Austin is the abundance of natural spaces. I also enjoy the coffee shops, local restaurants, and unique stores located on South Congress.

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

A: My favorite way to practice a sustainable lifestyle would be minimizing single-use items and relying on reusable methods instead. Being conscious of sustainability, such as switching from plastic water bottles to reusable bottles or replacing single-use K-cups with a reusable K-cup, has made such a difference in the way I live. I’m always open to learning different ways on how to reduce my footprint as well as how to compost and reduce waste.

Q: Are you a dog person or cat person?

A: Perhaps the single-most challenging question humanity has ever faced. Personally, this is a tough one. Growing up, my family had a few dogs that I grew fond of. But, more recently, I’ve had a few cats appear at my family’s house and stick around for the cuddling and food (mostly, just for the food).

But if I had to choose, I’d have to go with dogs. Their loyalty, playfulness, and endless love doesn’t compare. In fact, I plan on adopting a dog after I graduate!

Jan 29, 2020 - 11:34 am CST

Leading with Equity in Austin's Climate Plan Update

As we embark on revising Austin’s Community Climate Plan, a lot has changed since we created our first plan in 2015. We now know that climate change is happening faster than we thought, and that the landscape of potential solutions has changed in terms of cost and technology. We also know that climate solutions have the potential to improve everyone’s quality of life, but climate change impacts don’t affect everyone equally. This is why we are leading with racial equity and learning from the lived experience of people in our community as we explore solutions to the climate crisis.

As part of our planning process, we convened six advisory groups that will focus on specific topics related to energy, transportation, food, and access to nature. We also launched a Climate Ambassadors Program that will give us the opportunity to hear from people in our community who have been historically left out of the conversation.

All-in-all, this effort includes over 130 people who will meet over the course of six months. In order to give everyone a foundation and common understanding of racial equity and environmental justice issues, we asked that everyone participate in an equity-focused workshop.

Two people talking to eachother in a conference room.  A group of people sitting in a circle in a conference room. They are facing a facilitator and powerpoint screen.

Several people sitting in small groups and talking in a conference room. 

 

Laying the foundation for racial equity

In creating the workshop, our goal was to have authentic and meaningful conversations around race, class, and equity in the context of Austin’s history. We chose Dr. Tane Ward to lead the discussion, because he has over 15 years of experience in facilitation with a focus on social issues and expertise in racial and climate justice. 

Through the course of the workshop, Dr. Ward helped create the space to discuss the history and legacy of colonialism. The conversations were meant to challenge and address long-held perspectives, and create an understanding of how economic and racial segregation impact health, education, and wealth outcomes. As part of the workshop, Dr. Ward offered the following Justice Litmus test:

  1. Is there a sense of urgency in our work?
  2. Are we using either/or thinking or decision-making?
  3. Is our work displaying signs of paternalism?
  4. Is there fear of open conflict in our work?
  5. Is the right to comfort being prioritized in our work?
  6. Are we applying tunnel vision to our work?
  7. Are we avoiding “reinventing the wheel” in our work?
  8. Does growth or money reflect our values?
  9. Are leaders being nurtured and developed horizontally?
  10. Is open critique of our work met with “aggressive appreciation” to minimize the critique or avoid discomfort?

These principles are meant to act as a screening process to help us shift our thinking and behavior in ways that are meant to defeat white supremacist culture. We will be using the Justice Litmus test as a tool to help keep us accountable as we build a plan that is actionable and will result in real change as we strive for climate justice in our community and beyond.

Reflections and takeaways

After the workshop, we asked a couple of participants to reflect on what they took away from the exercise, and how it will impact their work in the future. Here’s what they had to say:

"The workshop prompted us to engage in meaningful discussions about how urban plans reproduce racial injustice. We walked through a series of exercises to envision how the Climate Action Plan can advance equitable solutions. This created a critical foundation for how the group will plan a more green and just Austin." – Miriam Solis, Assistant Professor at the UT School of Architecture

“My experience at the workshop was extremely insightful and full of inspirational nuggets. I plan to apply what I learned in a couple ways. The first is through my day to day job as a Landscape Architect Designer. I plan to emphasize the need for a more equitable lens through more community engagement, using sustainable materiality, and taking into account the socioeconomic impact of the projects I am a part of. The second way is to educate myself more on the history of Austin and other equity issues so I can apply it to my work. Overall, the workshop has broadened my perspective of the relationships between people and place, and ultimately in realizing how the racial divide is still very apparent.” – Francisco J Rosales, Landscape Architect Designer, TBG Partners

 

If you’d like to get involved in the Climate Plan Process, please consider attending one of our five community workshops around Transportation, access to nature, consumerism, and sustainable buildings. You can see the full schedule here under “Get Involved”.

Jan 23, 2020 - 02:01 pm CST

By: Taja Beekley, Sales & Event Manager at the Austin Central Library and proud dog owner of Willoughby.

When we adopt a pet, we commit ourselves to a life of love and care. There are ways that we can incorporate a more earth-friendly approach to their wellbeing. Although it may seem more expensive or time consuming, these endeavors can often lead to a happier and healthier pet, as well as cost savings for their owner.

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint:

  • Pedal your pet to the vet. Select a veterinarian that is close to your home. Have a bike trailer for your kids? Try using it for your four-legged friend. If the clinic is within walking distance and no trailer is required, even better. Willoughby is better behaved at the vet after taking in fresh air on his way to the appointment.
  • Literally “run errands” with your pet. If you are fortunate to reside in an area that is both dog and pedestrian friendly, walk or run your dog to the pet store or other retailer, coffee shop, bank, chiropractor, etc. Often, these places provide free dog treats and water bowls.

Engage in Sustainable Living:

  • Environmental poop bags. Purchase biodegradable/compostable poop bags. Just be aware of false marketing claims and make sure you purchase from reputable brand.
  • Homemade Meals and Treats. Reusable containers are very handy if you have time to prepare food. Willoughby eats a combination of chicken, beef, and salmon. Include older/bruised fruits and vegetables to your dog’s diet — you can always freeze them for later. For those dogs with sensitive stomachs like Willoughby, switching to a homemade diet has saved time and money at the vet.
  • Bones. Buy bones from ranchers at the neighborhood Farmers Market and take your dog to pick them up.
  • Upcycled toys. If you are crafty, old tennis balls and clothes (especially jeans) can be re-purposed for toys. Willoughby especially likes to play with paper boxes.
  • Teeth brushing. Use a bamboo toothbrush and organic coconut oil for oral hygiene. Tooth brushing is now part of Willoughby’s daily routine — he loves the flavor and attention.
  • Compost pet hair and nail clippings. If you are not currently in Austin Resource Recovery’s Curbside Composting Collection Program, try establishing your own compost system at home — you may even be eligible for a rebate.

Go on Green Adventures:

  • Keep Austin Beautiful. Many local nonprofit organizations offer volunteer-based events. Sign up and take your dog. Willoughby loves meeting new friends.
  • Scoop the Poop. Always pick up after your own dog’s waste and other less responsible dog owners — especially around our parks, trails, and waterways.

Jan 23, 2020 - 10:48 am CST

Photo of Raasin McIntosh posing near a couple of brightly-painted pillars. Graphic next to her reads "Raasin McIntosh Net-Zero Hero"

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by: beautifying communities

Headshot of Raasin McIntosh wearing a black hat that says "Texas 1989"

Meet Raasin McIntosh, Olympic and collegiate athlete and Founder of the non-profit organization Raasin in the Sun. Raasin was first inspired to create community beautification projects when she travelled to West Africa in 2012 to compete in front of thousands of fans. There, she became inspired by the local children who were “full of light and energy”. It was then that she decided that she wanted to spend her time inspiring others to shine their light.

Rooted in East Austin, Raasin in the Sun works to beautify urban communities through projects that unite residents. We met up with Raasin at a recently completed mural project on Rosewood Avenue underneath Pleasant Valley Road. Read on to discover what drives her, what her toughest challenges have been, and what advice she has for others.

What inspired you to take action?

Understanding that we have the ability to take action, improve the environment, and inspire others to do the same. To shine light so that others can be truly inspired to shine their own light and rise above adversity.

Community clean-up.  Raasin in work gloves helping with a community clean-up.

How did you do it?

I created Raasin in the Sun to have a platform for creating various types of beautification projects ranging from building community gardens, organizing community clean ups, painting murals, and restoring residential and vacant lots. I’m so inspired when I’m working collaboratively to transform unused places to areas of community pride where people can gather, grow healthy food, and enjoy greener and unique spaces. Bringing together volunteers to do the shared work of beautification means creating strong bonds through tackling problems together creatively.

One of the really memorable projects for me was when we helped restore the home of prominent East Austinites Wilhelmina and Exalton Delco. Wilhelmina is the first African American elected to public office in Austin, and served 10 terms in the Texas Legislature. Another project we completed with our community partners last year involved transforming pillars along Rosewood Avenue underneath Pleasant Valley Road into works of art. For this project, we got to work with six local artists to beautify the pillars. We’ve also worked on garden projects for Ortega Elementary and Cultivo Café in East Austin.

Elderly couple sitting outside their home.  Group photo underneath an overpass.

What's been the toughest part?

The toughest part has been developing and growing our vacant lot initiatives. Vacant lot projects can be a long and challenging process. There are often time constraints since most of the lots are in urban areas with plans for future development. In addition, a crucial component is corporation funding and cooperation from the City to truly help these types of projects come to life so that the community can benefit while the lots are still vacant.

Have there been any unexpected benefits?

Mural beautification has proven to be one of the most impactful types of projects we do, since it allows us to create opportunities for artists to do what they do best. The greatest reward is seeing the efforts and mission of the organization truly play out in the most beautifully creative ways.

Brightly colored collage of Raasin and other artists painting murals on pillars underneath an overpass.

What advice do you have for others?

Let your passion drive your creativity in making the world a better place.

Photo of Raasin smiling next to a quote that reads "Let your passion drive your creativity in making the world a better place."

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

Nov 19, 2019 - 12:57 pm CST

Giving thanks sustainably

As Thanksgiving approaches, menu planning, trips to reconnect with family and friends, and Black Friday shopping lists can be front-of-mind. We propose shifting your perspective to slow down and simplify this year. Since this is a holiday based on gratitude, why not start from a place of feeling abundant and plentiful? When we recognize everything we already have, it’s easier to think about ways to reduce our impact on the planet.

Here are five tips to have a more sustainable Thanksgiving that begins with a mindset focused on the plenty all around us:

 

Explore your local farmer’s market

There are so many beautiful fruits and vegetables grown locally! Buying local food means fewer food miles, which in turn means lower greenhouse gas emissions. Conventionally grown food travels roughly 1,500 miles from farm to plate, compared to just 50 miles for local products. And smaller local farms typically use more sustainable farming methods like using compost as a natural fertilizer.

Ditch the disposables

With so many different dishes being served and with so many people at the table, Thanksgiving dinner can turn into a big pile of dishes. So, it’s not uncommon for regular plates, cups, napkins, and silverware to be swapped with disposables. But this is a special occasion that deserves the fine china or grandma’s heirlooms! Sure, it’ll mean a little extra time at the sink, but it’s also a time to reflect on the memories of other special dinners and events where you’ve used the extra-special plates and silver.

Grow what you throw

Every Thanksgiving, Americans throw away over 200 million pounds uneaten turkey. That’s a lot of food being wasted. Compost your table scraps this year and turn what would be wasted into fertilizer for future food instead.

Create a holiday gift list that’s not about stuff

Instead of waiting in long lines on Black Friday or placing orders on Cyber Monday that involves lots of packaging and delivery miles traveled, consider creating a holiday gift list focused on services, experiences, or time. Treating those you love to a spa service, a dinner out, tickets to a concert, or a gift certificate to babysit may be more meaningful than stuff. Your friends and family will be touched, and the earth will be thankful as well!

Avoid the food coma and get outside

Many families like to celebrate Thanksgiving Day by watching a movie or a sports game on TV together. Try mixing it up this year and get outside for a while. Take a walk with your loved ones to a nearby park, enjoy some pre-dinner snacks on the front porch, or play frisbee or football in the crisp autumn air. Getting outside and embracing nature is a great way to give thanks to the earth!

 

Deep breaths everybody – Thanksgiving can be a time to slow down and truly give thanks. And embracing just a few of the above changes amounts to a much bigger impact for the planet!

Nov 15, 2019 - 03:50 pm CST

Photo of woman with short brown hair in front of a doorway to a home. Text reads "Taylor Youngblood Net-Zero Hero"

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by: encouraging neighbors to actively take part in zero waste.

 

Meet Taylor Youngblood, a recycle and reuse advocate and Zero Waste Block Leader. Taylor regularly provides advice to her neighbors in the Mueller neighborhood about recycling, composting, and reuse. She tables at events, runs a blog, and has started several collection programs for hard-to-recycle items in her neighborhood. Taylor’s passion is to make zero waste concepts accessible to everyone and she makes it her mission to answer even the most detailed questions from community members.

We spoke with Taylor about what motivates her, what her toughest challenges have been, and what inspires her share her zero waste knowledge. Read more below.

 

What inspired you to take action?

It all started when I was walking my dogs and observing recycling and trash carts in my neighborhood one day. When I looked closely, I noticed that there was so much contamination in the recycling carts. Just as sad were all the discarded items that could have had a second life if they had been reused or donated.

When the opportunity to attend Zero Waste Block Leader training came up, I jumped at the opportunity to learn all I could about recycling in Austin.  It seemed like the more I learned, the more questions I started getting from neighbors and friends. That’s when I decided to really amp things up.

Net-Zero can feel like this big, abstract concept. The long road from here to there can seem intimidating, overwhelming, and even impossible to tackle all at once. My goal is to make that road feel accessible and navigable. Being a Zero Waste Block Leader lets me share my passion.

A bright red poster with detailed recycling instructions for the Mueller Recycling Group.  Taylor and her husband composting

Taylor tabling at an outreach event.

 

How did you do it?

I work to stay up-to-date on what Net-Zero actually means across the different domains: compost, recycling, re-use, etc. I try to break down those details and rules into practical daily habits and share them on my blog alittlemore.green, social media, at neighborhood events, and really wherever anyone wants to talk to me about zero waste. What I’m shooting for is habits that are easy to understand, adopt, and even enjoy.

I began by posting photos, comments, and Austin Resource Recovery links on our neighborhood Facebook Group and NextDoor. A neighbor recommended I use my Zero Waste Block Leader title, so I started including it on posts and wearing my Block Leader shirt at Mueller events. I love walkup questions!

After curbside composting came to our neighborhood, I was asked to write an article introducing and explaining the program for the neighborhood newsletter. Then the questions really started coming in! I began tabling at all the neighborhood events and attending and presenting at the neighborhood association meetings. I started a blog to share longer posts and more in-depth information.

I also started collecting Styrofoam and random large items for the Austin Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center at my home. Soon, I was receiving requests for more collection times and a wider variety of materials. Neighbors started asking how they could help with these collections so I started the Mueller Recycling Group where you can sign up to collect items from neighbors that need to be taken to the Drop-off Center or mailed in to a program like TerraCycle. That evolved further once I learned about other opportunities to recycle like Wands for Wildlife and contact lens recycling. That led me to start working with Mueller’s local businesses to recycle their products as well. I hope to find more opportunities in the future.

Taylor holding up a recyclable plastic package.  Taylor and her son composting

Whats's been the toughest part?

Figuring out how to educate and engage people. Despite reaching out in person and on more than four digital platforms, it’s still difficult to connect with everyone. I can’t seem to find the missing link. It’s also frustrating and sad when people genuinely don't know they're contaminating their recycling or compost. And, trying to educate people on what they don’t know they don’t know is a real uphill battle.

 

Have there been any unexpected benefits?

Meeting more neighbors than I ever would have otherwise. Being a Zero Waste Block Leader has led to several leadership positions in the neighborhood and helped me make so many friends. That has been amazing! Engagement really brings neighbors together and builds community — a place where neighbors stop and greet each other by name.

The greatest reward is the increased interest. I’m starting to see more in-depth and difficult questions. I’m seeing people participate across multiple discussions and helping to advise each other directly. And, of course, I’m always thrilled when neighbors tell me they share my posts with friends and family! That’s so inspiring.

Taylor about to compost a coffee filter.  Taylor recycling laundry bottle and yogurt container in her home.

What advice do you have for others?

Look, listen and be available. Look with beginner’s eyes for areas where you can help. Where can you speak up on a topic or issue that you have passion or knowledge about?

Listen to your community. I think I’ve been successful at affecting change because I listen to neighbors’ concerns and questions, I follow up with them, and I get them an answer. I make myself available and I show I’m a real person experiencing the same things they are.

Communication is key. Providing more information is always better than less. I want to know everything I can about everything recycling and compost, and others out there do too.

Reach people who are new to Austin. People are moving here every day, and we need to educate them about how to reuse and properly recycle items in Austin. We need to get everyone on board if we’re going to achieve Net-Zero.

Taylor with her son outside of her home next to a sign that reads "Zero Waste Block Leader austinrecycles.com"

 

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

 

Nov 14, 2019 - 02:31 pm CST

We’re pleased to introduce you to Celine Rendon, a Community Engagement Specialist working with us on temporary assignment. Celine will be helping our office's efforts to reach community members about the Climate Plan Update and will be helping to manage the Community Climate Ambassadors Program.

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

Q: Where are you from?

For any military brat this is a hard question. I was born in Sacramento but lived in Tucson for seven years and Okinawa for nine years. I’ve been living in Texas for 5 years now and love the people here, especially growing up around a lot of different cultures.

Q: What is your educational background?

A: I recently graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Environmental Science. My focus was in Geography and I hold a Bridging Disciplines Program certificate in Public Policy. I credit much of my knowledge and experience to community organizations like PODER. These organizations have given me many of the tools and resources for empowerment in the environmental field.

Q: Where did you work before joining our office?

A: Before joining the city, I interned with TCEQ's Nonpoint Source team. I helped develop ArcGIS layers to facilitate stakeholder-driven water quality planning and implementation. I also worked with the Office of Sustainability during the summer of 2018 as their Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Fellow. It’s great to be back!

Q: What will you be working on for the Office of Sustainability?

A: I am a Community Engagement Specialist assisting with promoting, supporting, and integrating community involvement into the 2020 Community Climate Plan update. This means applying an equity lens to all of our engagement efforts around climate planning and working to empower environmental justice efforts led by communities of color. As part of this effort, I will be managing the Community Climate Ambassadors Program.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do in Austin?

A: I love the Texas heat and enjoy swimming, biking, and laying out in the sun!

Q: What is the most recent (or your most favorite) sustainable thing you do in your personal life?

A: Just bought a new bike that I want to explore more of Austin with. I hope to get my friends to bike with me!

Q: What is your favorite book?

A: I really like The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri because the author explores themes of cultural identity that I have experienced in my own life.

Q: Are you a dog or a cat person?

A: I like dogs, particularly older dogs, because they tend to be more relaxed and sweet.

 

Aug 30, 2020 - 11:07 am CDT

 

Given the many uncertainties brought by the pandemic, we are making several changes to the Bright Green Future Grant program for the 2020-21 school year.

First, applications will be accepted starting Oct. 12 through Oct. 26, 2020. Use this form to apply during the application period. Second, instead of applying with original project ideas, we will be offering a “menu” of options for schools to choose from. These options will be sustainability-themed curriculums offered through local nonprofit organizations, which are listed below. The main benefit of this change is that all curriculums offered can be completed whether you are meeting in the classroom or virtually.

We know the COVID-19 situation has impacted students and teachers tremendously, which is why we decided to push the application deadline and make things simpler this year. We hope that the program can return to its original format next year.

Please contact Mary K. Priddy at (512) 921-6843 or mary.priddy@austintexas.gov with questions or concerns.

 


 

Bright Green Future Grant Options for the 2020-21 School Year

The following sustainability-themed grant curriculums will be available:

 

Bee Project Green Intern Program

The BEE Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to training the next generation’s green workforce. The group stands for diversity and equitable pathways to green jobs. 

What will be offered as part of this grant:

The BEE Project’s Green Intern Program will help high school students prepare for green industry jobs by giving them the opportunity to become Energy and Sustainability Managers at their school. The program provides teachers and students the virtual curriculum, training and support. Students will learn the basics of saving energy and water resources in school buildings. In addition, students will work in teams to view energy and water usage data, identify waste and strategize on ways to help save our Earth’s precious resources.

This program will include 8 lessons with project-based learning opportunities. The BEE Project team will provide weekly virtual instruction over this 8-week time frame. By the end of the 8 weeks, students will understand the basics of energy management.

Organization link: www.besteartheverproject.org

Grade level served: High School (Grades 9-12)

Languages offered: English and Spanish

 

EcoRise Sustainable Intelligence Program

EcoRise helps inspire a new generation of leaders to design a sustainable future for all. Their school-based programs empower youth to tackle real-world challenges in their schools and communities by teaching sustainability, design innovation and social entrepreneurship.

What will be offered as part of this grant:

EcoRise teachers receive access to the organization’s comprehensive K-12 bilingual, STEM-based Sustainable Intelligence Curriculum that introduces students to challenges and opportunities surrounding seven distinct eco-themes (water, waste, air, energy, food, transportation and public spaces) and engages youth in developing real-world solutions in their communities through project-based activities, design labs and campus Eco-Audits.

EcoRise teachers will also receive access to their Design Studio Curriculum which guides students through a creative problem-solving process as they invent innovative solutions to a specific sustainability challenge. EV Lessons for Schools and EcoRise Environmental Justice lessons are included in the program.

Organization link: https://www.ecorise.org/

Grade level served: Grades K-12

Languages offered: English and Spanish

 

Ghisallo Cycling Initiative

Ghisallo Cycling Initiative is a 501c3 nonprofit based in Austin, Texas. Since the spring of 2011, they have provided semester-long, after-school Bike Clubs with weekly bicycle maintenance and riding classes as well as an Earn-A-Bike program, Bicycle Rodeos and maintenance and safety clinics. The majority of participants are low-income students and students of color.

What will be offered as part of this grant:

Ghisallo will offer various bicycle-related presentations, clinics and classes designed to help students learn the basics of bicycling, helmet fitting, maintenance and other safety information. The presentations will be virtual and can be offered as part of a school-wide assembly or to single grade or class. Course options will range from beginner-level lessons to more advanced Bike Clubs. Lessons can be co-taught with a PE coach or offered direct-to-student through a minimum of two Ghisallo staff members.

Organization link: http://ghisallo.org/

Grade level served: K-12

Languages offered: Instruction is offered in English, materials are available in English and Spanish

 

PEAS (Partners for Education, Agriculture and Sustainability)

PEAS is a 501c3 homegrown from Cunningham Elementary in AISD. Their staff is made up of former teachers and long-time outdoor educators who are, with support from a racial equity consultant, actively engaging in antiracist work. They firmly believe every person should have access to outdoor education.

What will be offered as part of this grant:

Studies show that there are enormous benefits to spending time outside and interacting with nature. PEAS partners with schools to create, share and implement lessons that tie together TEKS, SEL and outdoor experiences. PEAS will provide outdoor learning support and engaging cross-curricular lessons that help to deepen students' content area understanding while encouraging connections in the great outdoors.

This program will provide in-person instruction, but PEAS will modify as needed for hybrid or virtual learning if required this spring. All face-to-face instruction will take place outdoors on the school campus. PEAS uses a partner-teaching model that provides experiential professional development for our partner-teachers. PEAS will bring the lesson and materials, and partner-teachers should plan to be actively involved in the lesson.

Organization link: https://www.peascommunity.org/

Grade level served: K-8

Languages offered: English and Spanish

 

Watt Watchers

Watt Watchers of Texas is a state-sponsored STEM program to help boost energy literacy for K-12 students. Through the program, students, teachers and families will learn about saving energy, water and all the resources that make Texas a great place.

What will be offered as part of this grant:

The digital program design allows teachers to have easier access to curriculum resources and will help save on material cost for districts. Designed to go deeper than just turning the lights off, students, teachers and families will have the opportunity to learn about energy conservation and cost saving tips through categories such as food, water and transportation.

Grant funding will provide resources for students to engage with the online curriculum, such as clipboards, pens and printed materials. This self-paced program varies in length depending upon whether it’s a single class or multi-unit, and the scope of the energy savings projected is up to the teachers and students to decide. Please note that no instructors will be provided as part of this program.

Organization link: www.watt-watchers.com 

Grade level served: Grades K-12

Languages offered: English and Spanish

Sustainable Austin Blog
Jun 23, 2020 - 12:52 pm CDT

The Office of Sustainability wants to acknowledge the lives of Mike Ramos, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and countless others killed and devastated by white supremacy and police violence. We see Black people who are raising their voices in the streets to demand justice and stand with them. In the midst of a global pandemic, these tragic acts of police violence amplify and highlight the fact that Black communities face the injustices of systemic racism that are ingrained in every level of our society. We respect and honor the sadness, grief, fear, rage and frustration that Black people and Black communities are feeling through their lived experience.

In our role as City staff working within these institutions, and in our personal lives, we frequently build, shape and perpetuate a culture that is inherently racist. We also know that environmental and other policies in our city have had negative consequences on communities of color. We must acknowledge this systematic harm and neglect, and are committed to actively working to right these wrongs. We are also aware that our field — and our office — is predominately white. We have a lot of work to do in order to be a good reflection of the diverse community we support. In acknowledgment of this, our office made a commitment to undoing racism and addressing our weaknesses through equity action. As part of our Equity Action Plan, developed through the leadership of Austin’s Equity Office, we have committed to:

  • Requiring all staff to participate in anti-racist training (i.e., Undoing Racism) and ensuring that new employees receive training and resources about our Office’s commitment to racial equity.
  • Being intentional about hiring and working with more Black, Indigenous and people of color through our recruitment and contracting process.
  • Centering racial equity in our Community Climate Plan update and in our food system work.
  • Providing focused outreach to racially and economically diverse K-12 schools through our Bright Green Future Grant Program, and awarding more grants to underrepresented schools through the judging process. 
  • Strengthening our relationships through open dialogue with community partners led by people of color.
  • Creating a process for collecting and reporting demographic and client satisfaction data for our programs, and using it to improve equitable outcomes through program design.
  • Sharing more stories and perspectives from Black voices on climate change and environmental justice issues using our social media and other communication channels. 

We will continue to support these actions and conversations by doing the work to become better allies and collaborators. Doing this work and building relationships with community members means we also need to build accountability, and we will continue to check in on our progress and acknowledge when we make mistakes. People of color, specifically Black people, are not obligated to share their experience or demands, but we are open to listening and doing our part wherever we can. Black lives matter — now and always.

In solidarity,

The Office of Sustainability

Sustainable Austin Blog
Mar 04, 2020 - 10:42 am CST

Photo of Adrian Gonzalez with trees in the background.

We’re pleased to introduce you to Adrian Gonzalez, our office's new Communications Intern. We asked him a few get-to-know-you questions so you can learn more about him and his background.

Q: Where are you from?

A: I’m from McAllen, TX, a city in the Rio Grande Valley. It’s about a five-hour drive south of Austin, but the authentic Mexican food, swaying palm trees, and loving people make the dreadful drive totally worth it.

Q: What is your educational background?

A: I am currently in my final semester at St. Edward’s University. In May, I will be graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism & Digital Media and a minor in Communication.

Q: Where did you work before joining our office?

A: Through my four years at St. Edward’s, I’ve been involved in several extracurricular activities that have contributed to my overall learning experience. I am working with the school's Recreation & Wellness department, currently write for Hilltop Views, and participated in a service immersion trip in Los Angeles, Cali. last spring.

Hilltop Views, the student-run newspaper of SEU, is where I’ve been able to work as a graphic designer, staff writer, and Sports Editor. As a section editor, I work directly with staff writers to ensure that they produce quality articles by editing their stories and helping them develop as better journalists. Though I enjoy writing about sports, I’m mainly drawn to storytelling and sharing the interesting experiences that other people have gone through.

Whether it be through written articles, photo essays or video projects, I have been able to contribute to the school’s newspaper while also strengthening my digital media skills.

Q: What will you be working on for the Office of Sustainability?

A: I'm so excited to work alongside such knowledgeable and determined individuals as the office’s Communication Intern. During my internship, I will use my digital media and communication background to inform Austinites about the city’s Community Climate Plan, reducing carbon emissions, and living sustainably. Being a part of a team that works tirelessly to combat climate issues is what I find most rewarding.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do in Austin?

A: My favorite thing about Austin is the abundance of natural spaces. I also enjoy the coffee shops, local restaurants, and unique stores located on South Congress.

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

A: My favorite way to practice a sustainable lifestyle would be minimizing single-use items and relying on reusable methods instead. Being conscious of sustainability, such as switching from plastic water bottles to reusable bottles or replacing single-use K-cups with a reusable K-cup, has made such a difference in the way I live. I’m always open to learning different ways on how to reduce my footprint as well as how to compost and reduce waste.

Q: Are you a dog person or cat person?

A: Perhaps the single-most challenging question humanity has ever faced. Personally, this is a tough one. Growing up, my family had a few dogs that I grew fond of. But, more recently, I’ve had a few cats appear at my family’s house and stick around for the cuddling and food (mostly, just for the food).

But if I had to choose, I’d have to go with dogs. Their loyalty, playfulness, and endless love doesn’t compare. In fact, I plan on adopting a dog after I graduate!

Sustainable Austin Blog
Jan 29, 2020 - 11:34 am CST

Leading with Equity in Austin's Climate Plan Update

As we embark on revising Austin’s Community Climate Plan, a lot has changed since we created our first plan in 2015. We now know that climate change is happening faster than we thought, and that the landscape of potential solutions has changed in terms of cost and technology. We also know that climate solutions have the potential to improve everyone’s quality of life, but climate change impacts don’t affect everyone equally. This is why we are leading with racial equity and learning from the lived experience of people in our community as we explore solutions to the climate crisis.

As part of our planning process, we convened six advisory groups that will focus on specific topics related to energy, transportation, food, and access to nature. We also launched a Climate Ambassadors Program that will give us the opportunity to hear from people in our community who have been historically left out of the conversation.

All-in-all, this effort includes over 130 people who will meet over the course of six months. In order to give everyone a foundation and common understanding of racial equity and environmental justice issues, we asked that everyone participate in an equity-focused workshop.

Two people talking to eachother in a conference room.  A group of people sitting in a circle in a conference room. They are facing a facilitator and powerpoint screen.

Several people sitting in small groups and talking in a conference room. 

 

Laying the foundation for racial equity

In creating the workshop, our goal was to have authentic and meaningful conversations around race, class, and equity in the context of Austin’s history. We chose Dr. Tane Ward to lead the discussion, because he has over 15 years of experience in facilitation with a focus on social issues and expertise in racial and climate justice. 

Through the course of the workshop, Dr. Ward helped create the space to discuss the history and legacy of colonialism. The conversations were meant to challenge and address long-held perspectives, and create an understanding of how economic and racial segregation impact health, education, and wealth outcomes. As part of the workshop, Dr. Ward offered the following Justice Litmus test:

  1. Is there a sense of urgency in our work?
  2. Are we using either/or thinking or decision-making?
  3. Is our work displaying signs of paternalism?
  4. Is there fear of open conflict in our work?
  5. Is the right to comfort being prioritized in our work?
  6. Are we applying tunnel vision to our work?
  7. Are we avoiding “reinventing the wheel” in our work?
  8. Does growth or money reflect our values?
  9. Are leaders being nurtured and developed horizontally?
  10. Is open critique of our work met with “aggressive appreciation” to minimize the critique or avoid discomfort?

These principles are meant to act as a screening process to help us shift our thinking and behavior in ways that are meant to defeat white supremacist culture. We will be using the Justice Litmus test as a tool to help keep us accountable as we build a plan that is actionable and will result in real change as we strive for climate justice in our community and beyond.

Reflections and takeaways

After the workshop, we asked a couple of participants to reflect on what they took away from the exercise, and how it will impact their work in the future. Here’s what they had to say:

"The workshop prompted us to engage in meaningful discussions about how urban plans reproduce racial injustice. We walked through a series of exercises to envision how the Climate Action Plan can advance equitable solutions. This created a critical foundation for how the group will plan a more green and just Austin." – Miriam Solis, Assistant Professor at the UT School of Architecture

“My experience at the workshop was extremely insightful and full of inspirational nuggets. I plan to apply what I learned in a couple ways. The first is through my day to day job as a Landscape Architect Designer. I plan to emphasize the need for a more equitable lens through more community engagement, using sustainable materiality, and taking into account the socioeconomic impact of the projects I am a part of. The second way is to educate myself more on the history of Austin and other equity issues so I can apply it to my work. Overall, the workshop has broadened my perspective of the relationships between people and place, and ultimately in realizing how the racial divide is still very apparent.” – Francisco J Rosales, Landscape Architect Designer, TBG Partners

 

If you’d like to get involved in the Climate Plan Process, please consider attending one of our five community workshops around Transportation, access to nature, consumerism, and sustainable buildings. You can see the full schedule here under “Get Involved”.

Sustainable Austin Blog
Jan 23, 2020 - 02:01 pm CST

By: Taja Beekley, Sales & Event Manager at the Austin Central Library and proud dog owner of Willoughby.

When we adopt a pet, we commit ourselves to a life of love and care. There are ways that we can incorporate a more earth-friendly approach to their wellbeing. Although it may seem more expensive or time consuming, these endeavors can often lead to a happier and healthier pet, as well as cost savings for their owner.

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint:

  • Pedal your pet to the vet. Select a veterinarian that is close to your home. Have a bike trailer for your kids? Try using it for your four-legged friend. If the clinic is within walking distance and no trailer is required, even better. Willoughby is better behaved at the vet after taking in fresh air on his way to the appointment.
  • Literally “run errands” with your pet. If you are fortunate to reside in an area that is both dog and pedestrian friendly, walk or run your dog to the pet store or other retailer, coffee shop, bank, chiropractor, etc. Often, these places provide free dog treats and water bowls.

Engage in Sustainable Living:

  • Environmental poop bags. Purchase biodegradable/compostable poop bags. Just be aware of false marketing claims and make sure you purchase from reputable brand.
  • Homemade Meals and Treats. Reusable containers are very handy if you have time to prepare food. Willoughby eats a combination of chicken, beef, and salmon. Include older/bruised fruits and vegetables to your dog’s diet — you can always freeze them for later. For those dogs with sensitive stomachs like Willoughby, switching to a homemade diet has saved time and money at the vet.
  • Bones. Buy bones from ranchers at the neighborhood Farmers Market and take your dog to pick them up.
  • Upcycled toys. If you are crafty, old tennis balls and clothes (especially jeans) can be re-purposed for toys. Willoughby especially likes to play with paper boxes.
  • Teeth brushing. Use a bamboo toothbrush and organic coconut oil for oral hygiene. Tooth brushing is now part of Willoughby’s daily routine — he loves the flavor and attention.
  • Compost pet hair and nail clippings. If you are not currently in Austin Resource Recovery’s Curbside Composting Collection Program, try establishing your own compost system at home — you may even be eligible for a rebate.

Go on Green Adventures:

  • Keep Austin Beautiful. Many local nonprofit organizations offer volunteer-based events. Sign up and take your dog. Willoughby loves meeting new friends.
  • Scoop the Poop. Always pick up after your own dog’s waste and other less responsible dog owners — especially around our parks, trails, and waterways.

Sustainable Austin Blog
Jan 23, 2020 - 10:48 am CST

Photo of Raasin McIntosh posing near a couple of brightly-painted pillars. Graphic next to her reads "Raasin McIntosh Net-Zero Hero"

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by: beautifying communities

Headshot of Raasin McIntosh wearing a black hat that says "Texas 1989"

Meet Raasin McIntosh, Olympic and collegiate athlete and Founder of the non-profit organization Raasin in the Sun. Raasin was first inspired to create community beautification projects when she travelled to West Africa in 2012 to compete in front of thousands of fans. There, she became inspired by the local children who were “full of light and energy”. It was then that she decided that she wanted to spend her time inspiring others to shine their light.

Rooted in East Austin, Raasin in the Sun works to beautify urban communities through projects that unite residents. We met up with Raasin at a recently completed mural project on Rosewood Avenue underneath Pleasant Valley Road. Read on to discover what drives her, what her toughest challenges have been, and what advice she has for others.

What inspired you to take action?

Understanding that we have the ability to take action, improve the environment, and inspire others to do the same. To shine light so that others can be truly inspired to shine their own light and rise above adversity.

Community clean-up.  Raasin in work gloves helping with a community clean-up.

How did you do it?

I created Raasin in the Sun to have a platform for creating various types of beautification projects ranging from building community gardens, organizing community clean ups, painting murals, and restoring residential and vacant lots. I’m so inspired when I’m working collaboratively to transform unused places to areas of community pride where people can gather, grow healthy food, and enjoy greener and unique spaces. Bringing together volunteers to do the shared work of beautification means creating strong bonds through tackling problems together creatively.

One of the really memorable projects for me was when we helped restore the home of prominent East Austinites Wilhelmina and Exalton Delco. Wilhelmina is the first African American elected to public office in Austin, and served 10 terms in the Texas Legislature. Another project we completed with our community partners last year involved transforming pillars along Rosewood Avenue underneath Pleasant Valley Road into works of art. For this project, we got to work with six local artists to beautify the pillars. We’ve also worked on garden projects for Ortega Elementary and Cultivo Café in East Austin.

Elderly couple sitting outside their home.  Group photo underneath an overpass.

What's been the toughest part?

The toughest part has been developing and growing our vacant lot initiatives. Vacant lot projects can be a long and challenging process. There are often time constraints since most of the lots are in urban areas with plans for future development. In addition, a crucial component is corporation funding and cooperation from the City to truly help these types of projects come to life so that the community can benefit while the lots are still vacant.

Have there been any unexpected benefits?

Mural beautification has proven to be one of the most impactful types of projects we do, since it allows us to create opportunities for artists to do what they do best. The greatest reward is seeing the efforts and mission of the organization truly play out in the most beautifully creative ways.

Brightly colored collage of Raasin and other artists painting murals on pillars underneath an overpass.

What advice do you have for others?

Let your passion drive your creativity in making the world a better place.

Photo of Raasin smiling next to a quote that reads "Let your passion drive your creativity in making the world a better place."

To learn more about Austin's Net-Zero Goal, view the Community Climate 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
Nov 19, 2019 - 12:57 pm CST

Giving thanks sustainably

As Thanksgiving approaches, menu planning, trips to reconnect with family and friends, and Black Friday shopping lists can be front-of-mind. We propose shifting your perspective to slow down and simplify this year. Since this is a holiday based on gratitude, why not start from a place of feeling abundant and plentiful? When we recognize everything we already have, it’s easier to think about ways to reduce our impact on the planet.

Here are five tips to have a more sustainable Thanksgiving that begins with a mindset focused on the plenty all around us:

 

Explore your local farmer’s market

There are so many beautiful fruits and vegetables grown locally! Buying local food means fewer food miles, which in turn means lower greenhouse gas emissions. Conventionally grown food travels roughly 1,500 miles from farm to plate, compared to just 50 miles for local products. And smaller local farms typically use more sustainable farming methods like using compost as a natural fertilizer.

Ditch the disposables

With so many different dishes being served and with so many people at the table, Thanksgiving dinner can turn into a big pile of dishes. So, it’s not uncommon for regular plates, cups, napkins, and silverware to be swapped with disposables. But this is a special occasion that deserves the fine china or grandma’s heirlooms! Sure, it’ll mean a little extra time at the sink, but it’s also a time to reflect on the memories of other special dinners and events where you’ve used the extra-special plates and silver.

Grow what you throw

Every Thanksgiving, Americans throw away over 200 million pounds uneaten turkey. That’s a lot of food being wasted. Compost your table scraps this year and turn what would be wasted into fertilizer for future food instead.

Create a holiday gift list that’s not about stuff

Instead of waiting in long lines on Black Friday or placing orders on Cyber Monday that involves lots of packaging and delivery miles traveled, consider creating a holiday gift list focused on services, experiences, or time. Treating those you love to a spa service, a dinner out, tickets to a concert, or a gift certificate to babysit may be more meaningful than stuff. Your friends and family will be touched, and the earth will be thankful as well!

Avoid the food coma and get outside

Many families like to celebrate Thanksgiving Day by watching a movie or a sports game on TV together. Try mixing it up this year and get outside for a while. Take a walk with your loved ones to a nearby park, enjoy some pre-dinner snacks on the front porch, or play frisbee or football in the crisp autumn air. Getting outside and embracing nature is a great way to give thanks to the earth!

 

Deep breaths everybody – Thanksgiving can be a time to slow down and truly give thanks. And embracing just a few of the above changes amounts to a much bigger impact for the planet!

Sustainable Austin Blog
Nov 15, 2019 - 03:50 pm CST

Photo of woman with short brown hair in front of a doorway to a home. Text reads "Taylor Youngblood Net-Zero Hero"

I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by: encouraging neighbors to actively take part in zero waste.

 

Meet Taylor Youngblood, a recycle and reuse advocate and Zero Waste Block Leader. Taylor regularly provides advice to her neighbors in the Mueller neighborhood about recycling, composting, and reuse. She tables at events, runs a blog, and has started several collection programs for hard-to-recycle items in her neighborhood. Taylor’s passion is to make zero waste concepts accessible to everyone and she makes it her mission to answer even the most detailed questions from community members.

We spoke with Taylor about what motivates her, what her toughest challenges have been, and what inspires her share her zero waste knowledge. Read more below.

 

What inspired you to take action?

It all started when I was walking my dogs and observing recycling and trash carts in my neighborhood one day. When I looked closely, I noticed that there was so much contamination in the recycling carts. Just as sad were all the discarded items that could have had a second life if they had been reused or donated.

When the opportunity to attend Zero Waste Block Leader training came up, I jumped at the opportunity to learn all I could about recycling in Austin.  It seemed like the more I learned, the more questions I started getting from neighbors and friends. That’s when I decided to really amp things up.

Net-Zero can feel like this big, abstract concept. The long road from here to there can seem intimidating, overwhelming, and even impossible to tackle all at once. My goal is to make that road feel accessible and navigable. Being a Zero Waste Block Leader lets me share my passion.

A bright red poster with detailed recycling instructions for the Mueller Recycling Group.  Taylor and her husband composting

Taylor tabling at an outreach event.

 

How did you do it?

I work to stay up-to-date on what Net-Zero actually means across the different domains: compost, recycling, re-use, etc. I try to break down those details and rules into practical daily habits and share them on my blog alittlemore.green, social media, at neighborhood events, and really wherever anyone wants to talk to me about zero waste. What I’m shooting for is habits that are easy to understand, adopt, and even enjoy.

I began by posting photos, comments, and Austin Resource Recovery links on our neighborhood Facebook Group and NextDoor. A neighbor recommended I use my Zero Waste Block Leader title, so I started including it on posts and wearing my Block Leader shirt at Mueller events. I love walkup questions!

After curbside composting came to our neighborhood, I was asked to write an article introducing and explaining the program for the neighborhood newsletter. Then the questions really started coming in! I began tabling at all the neighborhood events and attending and presenting at the neighborhood association meetings. I started a blog to share longer posts and more in-depth information.

I also started collecting Styrofoam and random large items for the Austin Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center at my home. Soon, I was receiving requests for more collection times and a wider variety of materials. Neighbors started asking how they could help with these collections so I started the Mueller Recycling Group where you can sign up to collect items from neighbors that need to be taken to the Drop-off Center or mailed in to a program like TerraCycle. That evolved further once I learned about other opportunities to recycle like Wands for Wildlife and contact lens recycling. That led me to start working with Mueller’s local businesses to recycle their products as well. I hope to find more opportunities in the future.

Taylor holding up a recyclable plastic package.  Taylor and her son composting

Whats's been the toughest part?

Figuring out how to educate and engage people. Despite reaching out in person and on more than four digital platforms, it’s still difficult to connect with everyone. I can’t seem to find the missing link. It’s also frustrating and sad when people genuinely don't know they're contaminating their recycling or compost. And, trying to educate people on what they don’t know they don’t know is a real uphill battle.

 

Have there been any unexpected benefits?

Meeting more neighbors than I ever would have otherwise. Being a Zero Waste Block Leader has led to several leadership positions in the neighborhood and helped me make so many friends. That has been amazing! Engagement really brings neighbors together and builds community — a place where neighbors stop and greet each other by name.

The greatest reward is the increased interest. I’m starting to see more in-depth and difficult questions. I’m seeing people participate across multiple discussions and helping to advise each other directly. And, of course, I’m always thrilled when neighbors tell me they share my posts with friends and family! That’s so inspiring.

Taylor about to compost a coffee filter.  Taylor recycling laundry bottle and yogurt container in her home.

What advice do you have for others?

Look, listen and be available. Look with beginner’s eyes for areas where you can help. Where can you speak up on a topic or issue that you have passion or knowledge about?

Listen to your community. I think I’ve been successful at affecting change because I listen to neighbors’ concerns and questions, I follow up with them, and I get them an answer. I make myself available and I show I’m a real person experiencing the same things they are.

Communication is key. Providing more information is always better than less. I want to know everything I can about everything recycling and compost, and others out there do too.

Reach people who are new to Austin. People are moving here every day, and we need to educate them about how to reuse and properly recycle items in Austin. We need to get everyone on board if we’re going to achieve Net-Zero.

Taylor with her son outside of her home next to a sign that reads "Zero Waste Block Leader austinrecycles.com"

 

To learn more about Austin's Net-Zero Goal, view the Community Climate 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
Nov 14, 2019 - 02:31 pm CST

We’re pleased to introduce you to Celine Rendon, a Community Engagement Specialist working with us on temporary assignment. Celine will be helping our office's efforts to reach community members about the Climate Plan Update and will be helping to manage the Community Climate Ambassadors Program.

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

Q: Where are you from?

For any military brat this is a hard question. I was born in Sacramento but lived in Tucson for seven years and Okinawa for nine years. I’ve been living in Texas for 5 years now and love the people here, especially growing up around a lot of different cultures.

Q: What is your educational background?

A: I recently graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Environmental Science. My focus was in Geography and I hold a Bridging Disciplines Program certificate in Public Policy. I credit much of my knowledge and experience to community organizations like PODER. These organizations have given me many of the tools and resources for empowerment in the environmental field.

Q: Where did you work before joining our office?

A: Before joining the city, I interned with TCEQ's Nonpoint Source team. I helped develop ArcGIS layers to facilitate stakeholder-driven water quality planning and implementation. I also worked with the Office of Sustainability during the summer of 2018 as their Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Fellow. It’s great to be back!

Q: What will you be working on for the Office of Sustainability?

A: I am a Community Engagement Specialist assisting with promoting, supporting, and integrating community involvement into the 2020 Community Climate Plan update. This means applying an equity lens to all of our engagement efforts around climate planning and working to empower environmental justice efforts led by communities of color. As part of this effort, I will be managing the Community Climate Ambassadors Program.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do in Austin?

A: I love the Texas heat and enjoy swimming, biking, and laying out in the sun!

Q: What is the most recent (or your most favorite) sustainable thing you do in your personal life?

A: Just bought a new bike that I want to explore more of Austin with. I hope to get my friends to bike with me!

Q: What is your favorite book?

A: I really like The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri because the author explores themes of cultural identity that I have experienced in my own life.

Q: Are you a dog or a cat person?

A: I like dogs, particularly older dogs, because they tend to be more relaxed and sweet.

 

Sustainable Austin Blog