Sep 27, 2021 - 10:06 am CDT

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

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

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

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

 

Austin Climate Leaders

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

 

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

 

Looking for ways to get involved?

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

 

Sep 13, 2021 - 01:22 pm CDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

The complete list of grant recipients are:

 

Want to learn more about Austin's food system?

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

Aug 31, 2021 - 05:09 pm CDT

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Q: What is your favorite food and why?

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

Jun 17, 2021 - 09:55 am CDT

Field at Q2 Stadium

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Verde! Listos!

 

 

*All photos by Austin FC

Jun 07, 2021 - 05:41 pm CDT

Phil Duran

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Q: What is your favorite food and why?

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

May 25, 2021 - 05:14 pm CDT

Net-Zero Hero David Brearley

 

I’m helping to make Austin net-zero by: building a green home using reclaimed materials and generating power on-site

 

David and MollyMeet David Brearley, a solar energy professional and technical writer. David serves on the Board of Directors for both the Texas Solar Energy Society and Solar Austin. In early 2015, David embarked on a journey to build a green accessory dwelling unit (ADU) that could accommodate guests and also be used as a short-term rental property.

To build it, David and his wife Molly collected a variety of materials from renovation and demolition projects of homes, schools, and even the State Capitol. They also installed a solar array at the property, LED lighting, energy-efficient appliances, and more. Read on to discover what inspired David to build green, what his toughest challenges were, and how he incorporated Craigslist finds into the building's design. 

On Sunday, June 13, their property will be featured on Austin Energy Green Building's virtual Cool House Tour!

 

What inspired you to build a green home?

As a university student, I was blessed with the opportunity to take an American Studies class taught by Barry Lopez, whose works—including, Arctic Dreams and Of Wolves and Men—are part of a proud tradition of American naturalists and cultural critics that stretches from Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson to Wendell Berry and Terry Tempest Williams and beyond. I was profoundly influenced by Barry’s class. For the better part of the decade that followed, I worked by day in the building trades and immersed myself by night in environmental literature.

Fast forward to the Taos Solar Music Festival in the summer of 2002, where I met Carl Bickford who had recently founded a Renewable Energy Program specializing in solar photovoltaic system design and installation at a community college in Farmington, New Mexico. Looking at San Juan College's mobile solar trailer, I realized on the spot that it was possible to combine my skills in construction with my passion for the environment. Later that year, one of our hands-on class projects was to add stand-alone power capabilities to Carl’s net-zero energy home in Aztec, New Mexico. Since 2003, I have worked as a solar professional in a variety of roles. As a true believer in green building and renewable energy, I am always looking for opportunities to walk the talk.

 

Home with solar panel on roof.

 

How did you do it?

To start, we designed and built a small structure. This was partly a function of the fact that we were building an accessory dwelling unit, which is a form of urban infill that increases density and reduces reliance on cars. When we started designing our project, the City of Austin limited ADUs to a maximum of 850 square feet (SF) of interior space. While our permitting was ongoing, this allowance was expanded to 1,100 SF. We stuck with our plan to build a small alley flat with a 550 SF guest suite upstairs and a modest 100 SF of conditioned space downstairs that serves as my home office. We also gained covered off-street parking and much-needed storage space. Given that our 100-year-old front house is only 1,000 SF with a single closet, this modest increase in square footage on the back of the property has a huge impact on our quality of life.

Smaller structures require fewer energy inputs. This is especially true if you focus, as we did, on design features that drive down the long-term cost of ownership. We specified oversized structural framing and used spray foam insulation to fill those deeper stud bays. We specified Energy Star-rated appliances and LED lighting. We installed a highly efficient ducted Mitsubishi mini-split system with an additional wall-mounted cassette for the downstairs office. We leveraged a Texas Gas rebate to install an ultra-high efficiency Rinnai condensing on-demand water heater. We leveraged Austin Energy rebates to install a 4.1-kilowatt roof-mounted Sun Power solar array by Freedom Solar. This small solar array generates more electricity than the back house uses, precisely because the structure is small and efficient.

Building small also allowed us to afford some luxuries that would have otherwise been outside of our budget, such as high-end finishes and custom built-ins. Perhaps most importantly, we rarely paid retail prices for these finishes. Before our construction project began, I salvaged antique longleaf pine out of two houses that were slated for demolition in our neighborhood. We used this salvaged wood for exterior soffits, exterior, and interior trim details, interior accent walls, and even some custom furniture. A friend of ours sold us some salvaged maple gym flooring that we used throughout the upstairs apartment. Other friends donated remnant Italian glass tiles from a public art installation, which tiled our shower stall (with five tiles to spare). My wife, Molly O’Halloran, spotted an oversized longleaf pine door on Craigslist, which we discovered came out of the Texas State Capital. She also found a soapstone countertop on Craigslist. I found remnant pieces of exotic hardwood languishing in the corner of a warehouse.

The interaction of these Craigslist scores and donated or salvaged materials are happy accidents that not only pushed us out of our comfort zone but also gave the project its unique character. The front porch is a good example, as the door, flooring, and wall cladding are all Craigslist scores. The longleaf pine shiplap on the ceiling is salvaged. If we had had an unlimited budget, the results would undoubtedly have been a lot less interesting. The happy accidents resulting from our budget constraints are a perpetual source of joy.

 

Front door surrounded by wood walls.  Person working on placing blue tile.

 

What was the toughest part of making this project a reality, and what did you learn?

Having to work two jobs for at least 18 months was definitely the toughest part of realizing our vision. My wife and I were working with a relatively modest budget. At the same time, we had high standards and expectations for quality of work and building performance. Given these constraints, we did a lot of work by owner. Molly served as the general contractor of record, design consultant, and inspector whisper. I served as the in-house project manager, chasing estimates and coordinating subcontractors and artisans. Anything that fell outside the scope of a subcontractor, Molly and I did ourselves. This included the front and back porches, exterior soffits, interior, and exterior trim, interior accent walls, pocket doors, interior painting, and the electrical finish out. We also had to solve all of the interior and exterior design problems ourselves, such as material selection, paint colors, finishes, treatments, and so forth.

As a result of this DIY work process, construction ran from December 2015 through April 2017, when we closed out the permits. In practice, my work salvaging materials and prepping the site began in early 2015; I did not finish the storage and office spaces downstairs until late 2017. It was a long couple of years. In addition to acquiring some new skills, we learned that dogged persistence pays—eventually.

 

Collage of David working on constructing the house.  Collage of Molly working on constructing the house.

 

What was the greatest reward?

Being able to host friends and family members is by far the best reward. Molly’s parents come here to escape the Chicago winter for two to six weeks at a time. Other friends visit from up north annually. When we do not have personal guests in town, we operate the apartment as a licensed short-term rental unit. Having a steady stream of rental income is very much a quality of life improvement, as it allows us to save more for retirement and will help us age in place. Today, we live in the front house and rent the smaller back house. At some point in the future, we may live in the back and rent out the larger front house. It is also very rewarding to read the positive reviews. Many of our guests report that staying in the East Austin Nest is their favorite Airbnb experience.

 

What is your favorite aspect of this project?

My favorite part of the project is being surrounded by the good works of so many of our talented friends and neighbors. Aldo Valdez-Bohm built our kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanity, window bench seat, and three sets of built-in shelves (kitchen, bathroom, and living room); Aldo also helped me assemble a live edge pecan tabletop. Todd Campbell, a fine art metal worker, built a custom queen-sized bed frame, two table bases, curtain rods, and floating shelf brackets; Todd also loaned us some sculptural pieces. Brent Clifton built us some custom sliding barn doors. When I needed to show proof of insurance to salvage longleaf pine out of a 100-year-old house, Tommy Jacoby, a colleague in the solar industry, not only arranged the paperwork but also got sweaty and dirty with me. Shawn Latta, a former solar colleague who is now a project lead for Open Envelope Studio, built a handsome steel fence on the back of the property as well as exterior stair railings. When I needed to install the longest pieces of shiplap months later at an uncomfortable height, another former college, Aaron Cloninger, walked a high plank to help me out. Stan and Martha Pipkin, who own and operate Austin’s Lighthouse Solar, donated Italian glass tiles to our project and helped us find a steel erector; Lighthouse Solar also rebuilt the main electrical service on our property to accommodate the back house. Last but not least, my dad, who passed away before he could see the fruits of our labor, took some ceiling joists that I salvaged and built a beautiful longleaf pine slat table that is a featured part of our guest suite.

 

Exterior shot of home.

 

What advice would you give others?

Do your homework and start with the fundamentals. Molly and I started by attending Cool House Tours (the next one is coming up on June 13!) and Green By Design workshops hosted by Austin Energy Green Building. We have a legacy library of green building reference books, which is almost as useful and comprehensive as all of the free online resources and tutorials on YouTube. We visit Gail and Pliny Fisk at the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems at every opportunity. You also want to do your homework when shopping for tradespeople. During construction, we made sure to get at least three quotes for each scope of work that we subcontracted out.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, work with an architect. Mistakes in the built environment remain visible for decades. You typically have only one chance to get it right. Molly studied architecture at university and her very first pen and ink sketch from 2014 captured 85% of the back house as it stands today. Getting that final 15% right was a long meditation that required the guidance of a professional with relevant experience and expertise. We worked with a local architect, Craig Nasso, who not only specializes in small spaces but also builds a lot of his own projects on a tight budget using salvaged materials. By working with an architect, we were able to meet our goals and build something that contributes positively to the neighborhood, the built environment, and the natural environment.

 

Wood slat table.  Collage of building built-in shelves.

 

Check out David's property on the Cool House Tour!

Join the Cool House Tour on Sunday, June 13, 2021, from 10:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. to see more images of the property, learn the complete design-build story, and more. Learn more about the event and get your tickets here.

 

Home entry with warm wood

 

Learn more about climate change in Austin and check out our draft Austin Climate Equity Plan.

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

Apr 22, 2021 - 02:54 pm CDT

Inhale, exhale. The simple act of breathing is something that most of us have taken for granted at some point or another. But, breathing clean, fresh air is necessary for people to survive and thrive. Perhaps there is no better time to focus on air quality and respiratory health than during a global health crisis spurred by a disease that targets the lungs. 

Because of human-induced climate change, our air quality is in danger of becoming worse. Wildfires, one of the worst causes of air pollution, are happening more often due to our changing climate. Suffer from seasonal allergies? Climate change is making our allergy season worse and longer, too. And, hotter temperatures can lead to an increase in ozone, a harmful pollutant. 

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

The “bad” kind of ozone and particulates 

In Central Texas, our air quality is generally pretty good. However, in the summer, there are times when levels of “bad” ozone — called “ground-level ozone” — reach concentrations that can negatively affect public health. This type of ozone is created when sunlight triggers a chemical reaction between oxygen-containing molecules and pollution that comes from cars, power plants, factories, and other sources. When concentrations become high, “Ozone Action Days” are triggered. We typically have between 5-10 Ozone Action Days per year in Central Texas.

For sensitive populations, such as the very young or elderly, people with respiratory issues like asthma, and those who work outside, avoiding outdoor activity is recommended on Ozone Action Days. This is because ozone is a highly reactive molecule that can irritate and damage airways and make it difficult to breathe. On Ozone Action Days, people can help by avoiding traveling alone in a car, and instead, work from home or use a sustainable form of transportation. Conserving energy is also especially important on these days.

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

Knowing our history

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

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

The ability to breathe clean air is a human right, and we must continue to work together to advocate for clean air in our community. We hope you’ll join us during Air Quality Awareness Week, May 3-7, to help spread the message about why air quality is so important for our health. You can check current air quality conditions in our area at www.airnow.gov and visit our website for more information.

Apr 06, 2021 - 05:34 pm CDT

 

Reflecting on 2020 while celebrating 10 years of sustainability leadership in Austin

Our team is often asked, “What does ‘sustainability' really mean?” To us, it means protecting and improving Austin’s quality of life now and for future generations. The ways we work towards this are numerous. Specifically, our office leads efforts to strengthen our local food system, achieve net-zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions, and identify ways to make Austin resilient in the face of climate threats. We also work across multiple City departments, helping to connect the dots in sustainability efforts happening across our organization and more broadly in the community.

When Chief Sustainability Officer Lucia Athens, a pioneer in green building and sustainability, was hired to lead the office 10 years ago, she was tasked with establishing priorities for the newly-formed Office and setting a course for its future. Today, she leads a staff of 12 full-time employees focused on developing initiatives to lower our emissions and reach community members to help them make sustainability a priority in their daily lives. Here are our top 10 highlights from the past 10 years:

 

  1. Achieved 100% renewable energy for all City operations starting in 2011, resulting in a 72% reduction in annual carbon emissions reduction.

  2. Led the creation and implementation of the City’s Community Climate Plan including a 2020 Equity-focused update and the first Community Climate Ambassadors Program.

  3. Developed a Climate Resilience Action Plan to increase the resilience of City assets and operations in the face of extreme heat, flooding, drought and wildfires.

  4. Selected as one of 25 US Cities to be awarded a $2.5M support and technical assistance package to participate in Bloomberg’s American Cities Climate Challenge.

  5. Created the Austin Green Business Leaders program, a voluntary scoring system to recognize local businesses for sustainability and provide a peer group of 279 businesses.

  6. Launched the Bright Green Future Grants program to fund K-12 teacher- and student-led sustainability projects, which has funded 397 projects since 2012.

  7. Collected data to inform policy decisions, published in the State of the Food System Report (2015 and 2018 update) and the Food Environment Analysis (2017).

  8. Piloted the Good Food Purchasing Program to adopt healthy, sustainable, and humane foods with Austin ISD, the University of Texas, and the Austin Convention Center.

  9. Helped launch the Fresh for Less program, which brings fresh food to neighborhoods with lower access to healthy food through mobile markets and corner stores.

  10. Built a building performance dashboard that gives City facility managers better visibility to their energy and water usage, helping departments save money and resources.

 

View more of our office's accomplishments here>

Mar 26, 2021 - 02:51 pm CDT

We’re pleased to introduce you to Emmie DiCicco, a new Food Policy Planner working with our Food Team on a temporary assignment. We asked Emmie a few get-to-know-you questions so you can learn more about her and her background.

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

A: I’m from Philadelphia, PA — the home of soft pretzels, ‘wooder ice,’ and the beloved mascot Gritty. I have so much love for Philly, particularly the attitude and the people. What other city can pull off the slogan, ‘No one likes us, we don’t care?’ In reality, there is such a caring, vibrant, and connected music, art, DIY, and activist community that finds room for everyone. It’s a bit of a hike from Texas, but you’d be missing out if you never visited.

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

A: Growing up working class in one of the country’s poorest cities inspired me from a young age to want to work towards a more just world. During my undergraduate journalism program at Temple University, I primarily covered community issues in low-income, neighborhoods of color — often blurring the lines between journalist and organizer. After graduating and working on political campaigns, I co-founded a grassroots organization to end corruption and voter suppression at the state level in PA. Seeing the crisis of how special interests, like big agriculture and big food, are able to prevent reform and enact real policy changes spurred me to continue my career in public policy.

In August, I started the Master of Global Policy program at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, specializing in food policy’s intersection with poverty, racism, and environmental devastation. My policy interests have been heavily influenced by both my lived experience and previous advocacy work, including with the Poor People’s Campaign, which is picking up where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr left off to end poverty.

After meeting Food Policy Manager Edwin Marty during a discussion in my ‘Green New Deal and Food’ class under Dr. Raj Patel, I immediately wanted to join his team to work on food systems at the local level in Austin. I feel really lucky to join the office and some of the best thinkers on sustainability.

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

A: Right now, I’m excited to be working on a report that identifies the various policy levers that cities have to create a more resilient food system and decrease food insecurity — a task more critical than ever while we just experienced a crisis on top of a crisis. I’m also following state legislation introduced that could reduce barriers to access food safety nets.

I really appreciate the opportunity to gain experience working for the first time in government, rather than outside of it on the advocacy side.

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

A: Since moving to Austin, I have become a breakfast taco fiend, and trying new taco places is still one of my favorite things to do. Mr. Natural and Vegan Nom are at the top of my list, but Nissi VegMex is my next spot to check out.

One of my favorite places to unwind around Austin is volunteering at the Central Texas Pig Rescue. Before moving to Texas, I had no idea the joy that comes from sitting among hundreds of pigs. While I’ve enjoyed a slower-paced Austin than I’m used to, I look forward to shows and festivals returning to the city (whenever it’s safe to do so!)

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

A: Following a vegan diet is my favorite thing I do to reduce my carbon footprint because not only does it help mitigate climate change, it saves animals! I’m an avid cooker and baker, so I love finding new vegetables to prepare, ‘veganizing’ deserts, and sharing recipes. I also bike over driving whenever possible to reduce GHG emissions and sneak in exercise.

Q: What is your favorite food and why?

A: There are very few foods that I don’t like! One of my absolute favorites is mushrooms — they are funky, earthy, and can create some really wonderful textures. If I see something with mushrooms on the menu, I have to order it. I recently tried making pasta for the first time using a recipe for porcini mushroom ravioli from the ‘Wicked Healthy Cookbook’ by Chad and Derek Sarno and they were fabulous. Highly recommended!

Feb 04, 2021 - 03:43 pm CST

We’re pleased to introduce you to Keoni James, a new Austin Corps intern in our office who attends Akins High School. We asked Keoni a few get-to-know-you questions so you can learn more about him and his background.

 

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

A: I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, which is known for its beautiful beaches. I moved around a lot because I was in a military family, but what I loved best about Hawaii is being able to hike. When I was younger, I absolutely loved the tropical region and rainy weather. I also loved the people since it just felt like a big family to me.

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

A: I am currently a senior at Akins High School. I am a part of the LGBTQ community and I have a dog and a guinea pig. What interested me in joining the Office of Sustainability was that they acknowledge climate change and equity. I feel like those are the two most important issues that'll help our future as a city.

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

A: I am very excited to accomplish better public speaking skills. I tend to be a shy person at first, so speaking in front of people usually makes me feel hesitant. I'm excited to hopefully speak to other students and learn to have fun with it.

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

A: My favorite place in Austin is honestly just my neighborhood. It is very green and spacious; I also love how you can sometimes see deer in certain areas. I usually walk with my siblings to the park to just get some fresh air and stay active.

Q: What is your favorite sustainability-related thing you do in your personal life?

A: I think my favorite sustainable thing to do is cook. I like to look up vegetarian or vegan recipes and go shopping at the farmer's market for fresh food. I also know that I want to get into having plants to take care of.

Q: What is your favorite food and why?

A: My favorite food is a Hawaiian dish called Loco Moco, which is white rice topped with a hamburger, a fried egg, and brown gravy. When I was in California I went to a Hawaiian restaurant and the taste was just phenomenal, it just brought back memories of the food from my home.

Sep 13, 2021 - 01:22 pm CDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

The complete list of grant recipients are:

 

Want to learn more about Austin's food system?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Q: What is your favorite food and why?

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

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

Field at Q2 Stadium

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Verde! Listos!

 

 

*All photos by Austin FC

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

Phil Duran

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Q: What is your favorite food and why?

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

Sustainable Austin Blog
May 25, 2021 - 05:14 pm CDT

Net-Zero Hero David Brearley

 

I’m helping to make Austin net-zero by: building a green home using reclaimed materials and generating power on-site

 

David and MollyMeet David Brearley, a solar energy professional and technical writer. David serves on the Board of Directors for both the Texas Solar Energy Society and Solar Austin. In early 2015, David embarked on a journey to build a green accessory dwelling unit (ADU) that could accommodate guests and also be used as a short-term rental property.

To build it, David and his wife Molly collected a variety of materials from renovation and demolition projects of homes, schools, and even the State Capitol. They also installed a solar array at the property, LED lighting, energy-efficient appliances, and more. Read on to discover what inspired David to build green, what his toughest challenges were, and how he incorporated Craigslist finds into the building's design. 

On Sunday, June 13, their property will be featured on Austin Energy Green Building's virtual Cool House Tour!

 

What inspired you to build a green home?

As a university student, I was blessed with the opportunity to take an American Studies class taught by Barry Lopez, whose works—including, Arctic Dreams and Of Wolves and Men—are part of a proud tradition of American naturalists and cultural critics that stretches from Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson to Wendell Berry and Terry Tempest Williams and beyond. I was profoundly influenced by Barry’s class. For the better part of the decade that followed, I worked by day in the building trades and immersed myself by night in environmental literature.

Fast forward to the Taos Solar Music Festival in the summer of 2002, where I met Carl Bickford who had recently founded a Renewable Energy Program specializing in solar photovoltaic system design and installation at a community college in Farmington, New Mexico. Looking at San Juan College's mobile solar trailer, I realized on the spot that it was possible to combine my skills in construction with my passion for the environment. Later that year, one of our hands-on class projects was to add stand-alone power capabilities to Carl’s net-zero energy home in Aztec, New Mexico. Since 2003, I have worked as a solar professional in a variety of roles. As a true believer in green building and renewable energy, I am always looking for opportunities to walk the talk.

 

Home with solar panel on roof.

 

How did you do it?

To start, we designed and built a small structure. This was partly a function of the fact that we were building an accessory dwelling unit, which is a form of urban infill that increases density and reduces reliance on cars. When we started designing our project, the City of Austin limited ADUs to a maximum of 850 square feet (SF) of interior space. While our permitting was ongoing, this allowance was expanded to 1,100 SF. We stuck with our plan to build a small alley flat with a 550 SF guest suite upstairs and a modest 100 SF of conditioned space downstairs that serves as my home office. We also gained covered off-street parking and much-needed storage space. Given that our 100-year-old front house is only 1,000 SF with a single closet, this modest increase in square footage on the back of the property has a huge impact on our quality of life.

Smaller structures require fewer energy inputs. This is especially true if you focus, as we did, on design features that drive down the long-term cost of ownership. We specified oversized structural framing and used spray foam insulation to fill those deeper stud bays. We specified Energy Star-rated appliances and LED lighting. We installed a highly efficient ducted Mitsubishi mini-split system with an additional wall-mounted cassette for the downstairs office. We leveraged a Texas Gas rebate to install an ultra-high efficiency Rinnai condensing on-demand water heater. We leveraged Austin Energy rebates to install a 4.1-kilowatt roof-mounted Sun Power solar array by Freedom Solar. This small solar array generates more electricity than the back house uses, precisely because the structure is small and efficient.

Building small also allowed us to afford some luxuries that would have otherwise been outside of our budget, such as high-end finishes and custom built-ins. Perhaps most importantly, we rarely paid retail prices for these finishes. Before our construction project began, I salvaged antique longleaf pine out of two houses that were slated for demolition in our neighborhood. We used this salvaged wood for exterior soffits, exterior, and interior trim details, interior accent walls, and even some custom furniture. A friend of ours sold us some salvaged maple gym flooring that we used throughout the upstairs apartment. Other friends donated remnant Italian glass tiles from a public art installation, which tiled our shower stall (with five tiles to spare). My wife, Molly O’Halloran, spotted an oversized longleaf pine door on Craigslist, which we discovered came out of the Texas State Capital. She also found a soapstone countertop on Craigslist. I found remnant pieces of exotic hardwood languishing in the corner of a warehouse.

The interaction of these Craigslist scores and donated or salvaged materials are happy accidents that not only pushed us out of our comfort zone but also gave the project its unique character. The front porch is a good example, as the door, flooring, and wall cladding are all Craigslist scores. The longleaf pine shiplap on the ceiling is salvaged. If we had had an unlimited budget, the results would undoubtedly have been a lot less interesting. The happy accidents resulting from our budget constraints are a perpetual source of joy.

 

Front door surrounded by wood walls.  Person working on placing blue tile.

 

What was the toughest part of making this project a reality, and what did you learn?

Having to work two jobs for at least 18 months was definitely the toughest part of realizing our vision. My wife and I were working with a relatively modest budget. At the same time, we had high standards and expectations for quality of work and building performance. Given these constraints, we did a lot of work by owner. Molly served as the general contractor of record, design consultant, and inspector whisper. I served as the in-house project manager, chasing estimates and coordinating subcontractors and artisans. Anything that fell outside the scope of a subcontractor, Molly and I did ourselves. This included the front and back porches, exterior soffits, interior, and exterior trim, interior accent walls, pocket doors, interior painting, and the electrical finish out. We also had to solve all of the interior and exterior design problems ourselves, such as material selection, paint colors, finishes, treatments, and so forth.

As a result of this DIY work process, construction ran from December 2015 through April 2017, when we closed out the permits. In practice, my work salvaging materials and prepping the site began in early 2015; I did not finish the storage and office spaces downstairs until late 2017. It was a long couple of years. In addition to acquiring some new skills, we learned that dogged persistence pays—eventually.

 

Collage of David working on constructing the house.  Collage of Molly working on constructing the house.

 

What was the greatest reward?

Being able to host friends and family members is by far the best reward. Molly’s parents come here to escape the Chicago winter for two to six weeks at a time. Other friends visit from up north annually. When we do not have personal guests in town, we operate the apartment as a licensed short-term rental unit. Having a steady stream of rental income is very much a quality of life improvement, as it allows us to save more for retirement and will help us age in place. Today, we live in the front house and rent the smaller back house. At some point in the future, we may live in the back and rent out the larger front house. It is also very rewarding to read the positive reviews. Many of our guests report that staying in the East Austin Nest is their favorite Airbnb experience.

 

What is your favorite aspect of this project?

My favorite part of the project is being surrounded by the good works of so many of our talented friends and neighbors. Aldo Valdez-Bohm built our kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanity, window bench seat, and three sets of built-in shelves (kitchen, bathroom, and living room); Aldo also helped me assemble a live edge pecan tabletop. Todd Campbell, a fine art metal worker, built a custom queen-sized bed frame, two table bases, curtain rods, and floating shelf brackets; Todd also loaned us some sculptural pieces. Brent Clifton built us some custom sliding barn doors. When I needed to show proof of insurance to salvage longleaf pine out of a 100-year-old house, Tommy Jacoby, a colleague in the solar industry, not only arranged the paperwork but also got sweaty and dirty with me. Shawn Latta, a former solar colleague who is now a project lead for Open Envelope Studio, built a handsome steel fence on the back of the property as well as exterior stair railings. When I needed to install the longest pieces of shiplap months later at an uncomfortable height, another former college, Aaron Cloninger, walked a high plank to help me out. Stan and Martha Pipkin, who own and operate Austin’s Lighthouse Solar, donated Italian glass tiles to our project and helped us find a steel erector; Lighthouse Solar also rebuilt the main electrical service on our property to accommodate the back house. Last but not least, my dad, who passed away before he could see the fruits of our labor, took some ceiling joists that I salvaged and built a beautiful longleaf pine slat table that is a featured part of our guest suite.

 

Exterior shot of home.

 

What advice would you give others?

Do your homework and start with the fundamentals. Molly and I started by attending Cool House Tours (the next one is coming up on June 13!) and Green By Design workshops hosted by Austin Energy Green Building. We have a legacy library of green building reference books, which is almost as useful and comprehensive as all of the free online resources and tutorials on YouTube. We visit Gail and Pliny Fisk at the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems at every opportunity. You also want to do your homework when shopping for tradespeople. During construction, we made sure to get at least three quotes for each scope of work that we subcontracted out.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, work with an architect. Mistakes in the built environment remain visible for decades. You typically have only one chance to get it right. Molly studied architecture at university and her very first pen and ink sketch from 2014 captured 85% of the back house as it stands today. Getting that final 15% right was a long meditation that required the guidance of a professional with relevant experience and expertise. We worked with a local architect, Craig Nasso, who not only specializes in small spaces but also builds a lot of his own projects on a tight budget using salvaged materials. By working with an architect, we were able to meet our goals and build something that contributes positively to the neighborhood, the built environment, and the natural environment.

 

Wood slat table.  Collage of building built-in shelves.

 

Check out David's property on the Cool House Tour!

Join the Cool House Tour on Sunday, June 13, 2021, from 10:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. to see more images of the property, learn the complete design-build story, and more. Learn more about the event and get your tickets here.

 

Home entry with warm wood

 

Learn more about climate change in Austin and check out our draft Austin Climate Equity Plan.

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

Sustainable Austin Blog
Apr 22, 2021 - 02:54 pm CDT

Inhale, exhale. The simple act of breathing is something that most of us have taken for granted at some point or another. But, breathing clean, fresh air is necessary for people to survive and thrive. Perhaps there is no better time to focus on air quality and respiratory health than during a global health crisis spurred by a disease that targets the lungs. 

Because of human-induced climate change, our air quality is in danger of becoming worse. Wildfires, one of the worst causes of air pollution, are happening more often due to our changing climate. Suffer from seasonal allergies? Climate change is making our allergy season worse and longer, too. And, hotter temperatures can lead to an increase in ozone, a harmful pollutant. 

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

The “bad” kind of ozone and particulates 

In Central Texas, our air quality is generally pretty good. However, in the summer, there are times when levels of “bad” ozone — called “ground-level ozone” — reach concentrations that can negatively affect public health. This type of ozone is created when sunlight triggers a chemical reaction between oxygen-containing molecules and pollution that comes from cars, power plants, factories, and other sources. When concentrations become high, “Ozone Action Days” are triggered. We typically have between 5-10 Ozone Action Days per year in Central Texas.

For sensitive populations, such as the very young or elderly, people with respiratory issues like asthma, and those who work outside, avoiding outdoor activity is recommended on Ozone Action Days. This is because ozone is a highly reactive molecule that can irritate and damage airways and make it difficult to breathe. On Ozone Action Days, people can help by avoiding traveling alone in a car, and instead, work from home or use a sustainable form of transportation. Conserving energy is also especially important on these days.

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

Knowing our history

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

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

The ability to breathe clean air is a human right, and we must continue to work together to advocate for clean air in our community. We hope you’ll join us during Air Quality Awareness Week, May 3-7, to help spread the message about why air quality is so important for our health. You can check current air quality conditions in our area at www.airnow.gov and visit our website for more information.

Sustainable Austin Blog
Apr 06, 2021 - 05:34 pm CDT

 

Reflecting on 2020 while celebrating 10 years of sustainability leadership in Austin

Our team is often asked, “What does ‘sustainability' really mean?” To us, it means protecting and improving Austin’s quality of life now and for future generations. The ways we work towards this are numerous. Specifically, our office leads efforts to strengthen our local food system, achieve net-zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions, and identify ways to make Austin resilient in the face of climate threats. We also work across multiple City departments, helping to connect the dots in sustainability efforts happening across our organization and more broadly in the community.

When Chief Sustainability Officer Lucia Athens, a pioneer in green building and sustainability, was hired to lead the office 10 years ago, she was tasked with establishing priorities for the newly-formed Office and setting a course for its future. Today, she leads a staff of 12 full-time employees focused on developing initiatives to lower our emissions and reach community members to help them make sustainability a priority in their daily lives. Here are our top 10 highlights from the past 10 years:

 

  1. Achieved 100% renewable energy for all City operations starting in 2011, resulting in a 72% reduction in annual carbon emissions reduction.

  2. Led the creation and implementation of the City’s Community Climate Plan including a 2020 Equity-focused update and the first Community Climate Ambassadors Program.

  3. Developed a Climate Resilience Action Plan to increase the resilience of City assets and operations in the face of extreme heat, flooding, drought and wildfires.

  4. Selected as one of 25 US Cities to be awarded a $2.5M support and technical assistance package to participate in Bloomberg’s American Cities Climate Challenge.

  5. Created the Austin Green Business Leaders program, a voluntary scoring system to recognize local businesses for sustainability and provide a peer group of 279 businesses.

  6. Launched the Bright Green Future Grants program to fund K-12 teacher- and student-led sustainability projects, which has funded 397 projects since 2012.

  7. Collected data to inform policy decisions, published in the State of the Food System Report (2015 and 2018 update) and the Food Environment Analysis (2017).

  8. Piloted the Good Food Purchasing Program to adopt healthy, sustainable, and humane foods with Austin ISD, the University of Texas, and the Austin Convention Center.

  9. Helped launch the Fresh for Less program, which brings fresh food to neighborhoods with lower access to healthy food through mobile markets and corner stores.

  10. Built a building performance dashboard that gives City facility managers better visibility to their energy and water usage, helping departments save money and resources.

 

View more of our office's accomplishments here>

Sustainable Austin Blog
Mar 26, 2021 - 02:51 pm CDT

We’re pleased to introduce you to Emmie DiCicco, a new Food Policy Planner working with our Food Team on a temporary assignment. We asked Emmie a few get-to-know-you questions so you can learn more about her and her background.

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

A: I’m from Philadelphia, PA — the home of soft pretzels, ‘wooder ice,’ and the beloved mascot Gritty. I have so much love for Philly, particularly the attitude and the people. What other city can pull off the slogan, ‘No one likes us, we don’t care?’ In reality, there is such a caring, vibrant, and connected music, art, DIY, and activist community that finds room for everyone. It’s a bit of a hike from Texas, but you’d be missing out if you never visited.

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

A: Growing up working class in one of the country’s poorest cities inspired me from a young age to want to work towards a more just world. During my undergraduate journalism program at Temple University, I primarily covered community issues in low-income, neighborhoods of color — often blurring the lines between journalist and organizer. After graduating and working on political campaigns, I co-founded a grassroots organization to end corruption and voter suppression at the state level in PA. Seeing the crisis of how special interests, like big agriculture and big food, are able to prevent reform and enact real policy changes spurred me to continue my career in public policy.

In August, I started the Master of Global Policy program at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, specializing in food policy’s intersection with poverty, racism, and environmental devastation. My policy interests have been heavily influenced by both my lived experience and previous advocacy work, including with the Poor People’s Campaign, which is picking up where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr left off to end poverty.

After meeting Food Policy Manager Edwin Marty during a discussion in my ‘Green New Deal and Food’ class under Dr. Raj Patel, I immediately wanted to join his team to work on food systems at the local level in Austin. I feel really lucky to join the office and some of the best thinkers on sustainability.

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

A: Right now, I’m excited to be working on a report that identifies the various policy levers that cities have to create a more resilient food system and decrease food insecurity — a task more critical than ever while we just experienced a crisis on top of a crisis. I’m also following state legislation introduced that could reduce barriers to access food safety nets.

I really appreciate the opportunity to gain experience working for the first time in government, rather than outside of it on the advocacy side.

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

A: Since moving to Austin, I have become a breakfast taco fiend, and trying new taco places is still one of my favorite things to do. Mr. Natural and Vegan Nom are at the top of my list, but Nissi VegMex is my next spot to check out.

One of my favorite places to unwind around Austin is volunteering at the Central Texas Pig Rescue. Before moving to Texas, I had no idea the joy that comes from sitting among hundreds of pigs. While I’ve enjoyed a slower-paced Austin than I’m used to, I look forward to shows and festivals returning to the city (whenever it’s safe to do so!)

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

A: Following a vegan diet is my favorite thing I do to reduce my carbon footprint because not only does it help mitigate climate change, it saves animals! I’m an avid cooker and baker, so I love finding new vegetables to prepare, ‘veganizing’ deserts, and sharing recipes. I also bike over driving whenever possible to reduce GHG emissions and sneak in exercise.

Q: What is your favorite food and why?

A: There are very few foods that I don’t like! One of my absolute favorites is mushrooms — they are funky, earthy, and can create some really wonderful textures. If I see something with mushrooms on the menu, I have to order it. I recently tried making pasta for the first time using a recipe for porcini mushroom ravioli from the ‘Wicked Healthy Cookbook’ by Chad and Derek Sarno and they were fabulous. Highly recommended!

Sustainable Austin Blog
Feb 04, 2021 - 03:43 pm CST

We’re pleased to introduce you to Keoni James, a new Austin Corps intern in our office who attends Akins High School. We asked Keoni a few get-to-know-you questions so you can learn more about him and his background.

 

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

A: I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, which is known for its beautiful beaches. I moved around a lot because I was in a military family, but what I loved best about Hawaii is being able to hike. When I was younger, I absolutely loved the tropical region and rainy weather. I also loved the people since it just felt like a big family to me.

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

A: I am currently a senior at Akins High School. I am a part of the LGBTQ community and I have a dog and a guinea pig. What interested me in joining the Office of Sustainability was that they acknowledge climate change and equity. I feel like those are the two most important issues that'll help our future as a city.

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

A: I am very excited to accomplish better public speaking skills. I tend to be a shy person at first, so speaking in front of people usually makes me feel hesitant. I'm excited to hopefully speak to other students and learn to have fun with it.

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

A: My favorite place in Austin is honestly just my neighborhood. It is very green and spacious; I also love how you can sometimes see deer in certain areas. I usually walk with my siblings to the park to just get some fresh air and stay active.

Q: What is your favorite sustainability-related thing you do in your personal life?

A: I think my favorite sustainable thing to do is cook. I like to look up vegetarian or vegan recipes and go shopping at the farmer's market for fresh food. I also know that I want to get into having plants to take care of.

Q: What is your favorite food and why?

A: My favorite food is a Hawaiian dish called Loco Moco, which is white rice topped with a hamburger, a fried egg, and brown gravy. When I was in California I went to a Hawaiian restaurant and the taste was just phenomenal, it just brought back memories of the food from my home.

Sustainable Austin Blog