Zeroing in on Sustainability

Eating locally produced food does more than satisfy your taste buds — it’s good for the environment, too. Supporting Central Texas farmers and makers is just one of the many ways you can help the City of Austin reach its goal of making our community carbon neutral by 2050.

As the climate changes, our local government is working to lessen the impacts for Austin residents by cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions. Some of its initiatives include the aforementioned 2050 goal, as well as a resolution for net-zero carbon emissions from all city municipal operations by 2020.

“A really important distinction between the municipal goal and the community-wide goal is that when we say ‘municipal operations,’ we mean the 5,050 vehicles and the 200 buildings the city owns, like City Hall,” says Zach Baumer, climate program manager for the city’s Office of Sustainability. “But when you compare that to the community-wide target, we mean my emissions, your emissions, your car, my house, every restaurant — all of the emissions.”

When the resolution to lower municipal greenhouse gases was originally passed by the Austin City Council in 2007, city operations produced nearly 250,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. They now produce less than a fifth of that amount, and Baumer says they’re on track to meet the goal of zero emissions by the end of this year.

This success is made possible by an increase in energy-efficient buildings, city cars that use biodiesel and electricity, Austin Energy’s GreenChoice program and the purchase of carbon offsets for the remaining emissions.

The next big step is meeting the same goal in 2050 for community -wide carbon emissions. “All of the emissions in our boundary of Travis County total about thirteen million metric tons of CO2 per year,” says Baumer. “That challenge is really different from trying to get city operations to zero.”

Electricity is currently the highest producer of greenhouse gases in the community, but thanks to Austin Energy’s efforts to use 90 percent carbon-free energy by 2027, this can be easily remedied. Transportation is the next biggest contributor.

“Right now, over seventy-five percent of people get in gasoline-powered cars every single day and drive around, most of the time by themselves,” Baumer says. “Transportation is just a much more dispersed and challenging problem to solve.”

Though it may seem like a tall order to decrease carbon emissions from transportation, one simple step Austinites can take to reduce their fuel-based footprint is to buy locally produced foods.

“The more local food that we produce, the less food has to be shipped from far away,” Baumer says. “Most of the local food is produced in a non-industrial-intensive way, which creates less emissions, too … The push for better, healthier, more local food will help local farmers and can help [us reach] our emission targets.”

For more information on the resolution, visit austintexas.gov/climate

By Darby Kendall