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 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

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
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.

Sustainable Austin Blog
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