Sustainability Series: A Greener Look at Houston

Greater Houston must not only be known as the world leader in developing energy sources, but also known for promoting energy conservation and environmental sustainability, the other essential elements of the energy equation. The recommendation is to pursue activities that set the pace for best practices, including economic viability, that help promote Houston as the Energy City of the Future. —Houston Energy Future

This summer as an intern with One World Strategy Group, I focused on a series of environmentally sustainable projects underway in Houston, Texas. I became interested in sustainability during my studies at the University of Oklahoma. I had no idea what the word meant when I first heard it and the curiosity led me to take many classes focused on sustainable communities, renewable energy resources, and life cycle analysis.

What is sustainability? I can tell you that the word “sustainability” is hard to define at times and varies depending on who you are talking to. As a student studying environmental sustainability, I have learned that sustainability equates how to maintain productivity over time in our environment, economy, and society through our choices. Collectively, these projects will improve the quality of street infrastructure and drainage, transportation, and water in and around the city of Houston. This should be exciting news for Houstonians!

Example of a Green City- North America’s first carbon-neutral community. Photo Credit: Dockside Green

Why sustainability? Major cities around the world are using sustainability to create a new modern world with the best interest of its people and environment in mind. Since the Industrial Revolution, American cities have relied on coal and petroleum oil for their energy resources. With a peak oil production approaching in the near future and a major carbon footprint left by coal, U.S. cities are beginning to look at energy alternatives to assist in sustainability such as biofuels, solar power, hydropower, and wind power. Cities are also taking a more environmentally-friendly approach to implementing city policies and urban planning. The state of California is leading the U.S. with a number of its cities committing to stay green. Together, these cities and others have formed Green Cities California, a coalition attempting to “accelerate the adoption of sustainability policies and practices through collaborative effort.” Cities such as San Francisco have placed bans on plastic bags to reduce litter and prevent the harming of marine life. These bans have also resulted in decreased greenhouse gas emissions and decreased petroleum and water use. San Jose chose to implement green building policies for all its city facilities, which reduced operating costs. San Francisco and San Jose are among many cities that have used green practices involving energy, transportation, and water.

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With Texas being the second most populous state behind California, Houston could help to set a precedent for other cities in the state. The city of Houston recently won the $1M Bloomberg prize for its “One Bin for All” proposal. The proposal will allow residents to mix trash, recyclables and lawn waste in a single bin ready for automatic sorting.

The city of Austin is already making efforts to become one of the greenest cities in Texas through its announcement to become carbon neutral by 2020. As the largest city in the state of Texas and the fourth largest in the nation, becoming a green city could mean potential economic growth for Houston.

In a city that is sometimes referred to as “The Energy Capital of the World”, sustainability is a great fit for Houston. When national and international businesses are looking at Houston as a potential hot spot for new offices, three things come to mind: affordability, infrastructure, and quality of life.  Houston is already one of the most affordable U.S. cities. However, the city is working on improving infrastructure and the quality of life through various projects under ReBuild Houston which I’ll explain in more detail in my next post. Stay tuned!

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