Texan by Nature is excited to recognize the City of San Antonio Office of Sustainability as a 2021 TxN 20 honoree for their leadership in conservation and sustainability. The City of San Antonio Office of Sustainability’s commitment to conservation, their projects, programs, best practices, and lessons learned are an example and inspiration for us all.
The City of San Antonio Office of Sustainability was recognized as a 2020 TxN 20 honoree as well! Read the 2020 write-up.
Honoree Industry: Municipal Services
Rising energy costs and increasing concerns about the long-term impact of current levels of energy consumption are important issues for the City of San Antonio. Efforts to improve environmental quality and reduce consumption make sense, both social and economically. The Office of Sustainability of the City of San Antonio provides staff support to City departments, the business community, and other public agencies to develop and implement sustainability initiatives Through innovative programs focusing on energy efficiency, community and corporate sustainability, and sustainable transportation, the Office of Sustainability is working to make San Antonio a great place to live, work, and play while enhancing the environment, quality-of-life, and our economic vitality. The Office of Sustainability’s priority focus is on implementing the City’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan: SA Climate Ready.
What is the City of San Antonio Office of Sustainability’s conservation and sustainability mission and why is it important to your culture?
As the most visited city in Texas, San Antonio welcomes 31 million visitors each year. The city boasts a population of 1.5 million with a diverse culture and world-renowned historical sites, such as the Alamo and San Antonio Missions. Annually, San Antonio’s gross metro product is $134 billion, coming from many of the city’s important industry sectors, such as tourism, which alone brings in approximately $13.4 billion per year. The City of San Antonio’s Office of Sustainability makes San Antonio a great place to live, work, and play, while enhancing the environment, quality-of-life, and economic vitality of the city. As the population of San Antonio grows, rising energy costs and the implications of the long-term impact of current levels of energy consumption are important issues for the City of San Antonio to address.
Efforts to improve environmental quality and reduce consumption make sense both socially and economically for the City of San Antonio. In passing San Antonio’s first Climate Action & Adaptation Plan, the City of San Antonio Office of Sustainability committed to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and is working to achieve Zero Net Energy for all municipal buildings by 2040 through both conservation and procurement of renewable energy for municipal operations.
“Public health and climate action are interconnected. Our climate includes the air that we breathe, the food that is raised for us to consume; the water that we drink, etc. All of these factors (air, food, water) impact our health. Thus, we cannot separate the two. As the Vice-Chair for the Climate Equity Advisory Committee and a public health professional, I’m happy to be working with the Office of Sustainability to advance policy that improves the environment and the lives of our residents.”
– Dr. Adelita Cantu, UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing
How is conservation and sustainability a part of the City of San Antonio Office of Sustainability’s business strategy?
The mission of the City of San Antonio Office of Sustainability is to enhance the environment, quality of life, and economic vitality for all residents and future generations through innovative plans, programs, and policies. The Office of Sustainability is home to programs focused on increasing infrastructure resilience, strengthening public health systems, enhancing emergency management and community preparedness, promotion and protection of green infrastructure and ecosystems, protecting local food security, ensuring equity in adaptation, and increasing resiliency awareness throughout the San Antonio community. Conservation and sustainability are integral to ensuring San Antonio’s resilience in the face of a rapidly changing climate.
“Conservation of our natural resources is integral to San Antonio’s resiliency. We’re honored to be recognized by Texan by Nature once again for being leaders in this space. Balancing urban development with protection of our land, water and wildlife is a challenge, but we, along with our many partners, are committed to making this a priority for the wellbeing of our community.”
– Mayor Ron Nirenberg
What are the City of San Antonio Office of Sustainability’s short and long-term goals as they relate to conservation and sustainability?
Our short term goals include:
Long term goals include:
Who at the City of San Antonio Office of Sustainability is leading your conservation and sustainability efforts and what are some examples of employee engagement in conservation and sustainability at your company?
Collectively, the Office of Sustainability leads the sustainability and climate-related efforts throughout the City by coordinating employee training, working with sustainability leaders in each department on climate initiatives, hosting collaborative interdepartmental teams that tackle municipal energy and fleet policies, and holding departments accountable for their climate strategies through tracking and reporting progress. Although we lead these efforts, one key to San Antonio’s success is that there’s no sole owner of sustainability efforts, responsibility is shared amongst the 40 city departments. Each department has at least one sustainability liaison (appointed by the director) that accelerates or tracks progress of San Antonio’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP) strategies, coordinates climate change training for their employees, and facilitates climate-related discussions in their department. This approach allows the City to move together in one direction and operate less in silos. Primarily, we engage with employees through presentations (e.g. updating departments on the climate action plan), hosting webinars (e.g. National Drive Electric Week – EVs in Texas) and citywide training (e.g. Climate Change 101).
The SA Climate Ready Municipal Education Platform has been developed to fulfill a key climate strategy within CAAP: to educate and empower all residents with knowledge to address climate change in the community and at the workplace. Recognizing that the City of San Antonio’s local government employs 13,000 people and is instrumental in the planning and development of the city, the municipality is leading by example to scale up mitigation and adaptation initiatives. Led by the Office of Sustainability, the multi-pronged education platform is an essential facet of meeting the city’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. In the Spring of 2021, 8,000 employees attended five training sessions focused on the city’s climate action plan, mitigation, adaptation and equity, greenhouse gases, climate shock and stressors, and climate resilience. Average quiz scores improved (e.g. C- to A) as the training went on and employees became more engaged. Some of the comments we heard from employees include:
What conservation and sustainability programs and projects does the City of San Antonio Office of Sustainability lead and participate in?
Energy Efficiency Fund:
The Energy Efficiency Fund (EEF) was established by San Antonio City Council through an ordinance in 2011. The main purpose was to fund energy conservation projects within municipally-owned facilities in an effort to reduce the City’s annual $40 million dollar utility expenditure. The EEF was designed as a financial mechanism to capture utility savings from all energy and water conservation projects into a revolving account. To capture savings, the utility budgets for each department are set at the pre-energy retrofit level. After energy projects are implemented and energy savings are calculated, a one-twelfth transfer is made each month from the affected departments’ utility fund into the EEF. This continues for the useful life of each project. For example, the utility savings for a lighting retrofit project are captured for 15 years. These savings are then reinvested into future energy projects with a practical return on investment standard. In 2012, City Council voted to include the EEF as a permanent program within the Fiscal Year 2013 Adopted Budget (October 2012 – September 2013). This action represents a long-term commitment by the City to pursue energy conservation. All current and future projects, as well as associated personnel costs, are funded out of the EEF without incurring debt. This method has effectively turned a one-time influx of grant funds into a permanent source of revenue for energy initiatives – creating a truly sustainable program. San Antonio is the only city in the State of Texas with such a fund in place and is one of only a handful in the country to utilize this model. During the past 10 years the Energy Efficiency Fund has:
Overall, the City has experienced reduced utility expenditures, invested in deferred maintenance projects, sustained in-house expertise and professional engineering services, dedicated funding for future projects, and environmental air quality benefits from improved facility operations.
SA Climate Ready:
One of our significant ongoing projects is the SA Climate Ready Engagement & Communications Initiative. The main objective of this initiative is to continue education, awareness, and conversation to ensure cross-sector involvement and buy-in for implementation of climate mitigation and adaptation policies, programs, and projects. Additionally, we set aside funding for a set of mini grants that will be given to grassroots organizations or other community-led entities. The main goal of the mini grants is to understand the views and opinions of San Antonio’s frontline communities, who experience the ‘first and worst’ consequences of climate change, and to better gauge their attitudes and awareness about climate change and the human impact on the planet. Currently, the amount set aside for these mini grants is 20% of the total annual contract amount of $195,000.
In order to effectively implement the CAAP and prioritize strategies, two externally recruited committees were established: a Technical and Community Advisory Committee and a Climate Equity Advisory Committee. Members of both committees are selected based on technical expertise in elements related to climate mitigation and adaptation or other important areas related to plan implementation; representation of important perspectives; and an interest in collaboration to bring about successful outcomes. The mission for the Technical & Community Advisory Committee is to advise City staff and City Council on the implementation of the CAAP, and long-term sustainability plans. The Committee is designed to provide expertise, diverse perspectives, and input regarding implementation of the CAAP as the City works to achieve greenhouse gas reduction and adaptation goals. The mission for the Climate Equity Advisory Committee is to advise City staff and City Council on the advancement of equity-centered implementation of the CAAP and long-term sustainability plans.
On December 4, 2021 we celebrated the 1- year anniversary of the City of San Antonio’s first Climate Action & Adaptation Plan. The SA Climate Ready Forum was a 100% virtual event featuring short videos showcasing our community’s accomplishments around climate action in 2020. These accomplishments included the passage of the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, the new CitiesWithNature designation, electric vehicle (EV) initiatives, municipal sustainability updates and the energy efficiency fund, the Share the Streets program, and the American Cities Climate Challenge, among many others. The virtual forum included self-paced video watching followed by a Town Hall with Office of Sustainability Staff.
ReWorksSA launched in 2018 as a program dedicated to helping local businesses either start or improve recycling programs in the workplace. Businesses are given access to tools that can help them calculate their diversion rate, right size their waste and recycling containers, create recycling signage, or find local haulers. The ReWorks team also conducts a waste assessment to help businesses understand their waste streams. As of July 2021, ReWorksSA has helped over 100 businesses achieve certification. In 2021, that vision expanded and ReWorksSA is now one of the City’s key climate initiatives. To become certified, businesses must follow best practices in recycling, energy and water efficiency, transportation, and sustainable consumption.
In 2018, the Office of Sustainability established Electric Vehicles San Antonio (EVSA), a comprehensive program to accelerate transportation electrification in San Antonio. The program includes research, policy, planning, public engagement, infrastructure and encouragement. The City of San Antonio’s EV charging public-private partnership, launched in 2021, is providing publicly accessible electric vehicle charging infrastructure on city property to encourage and support emission-free transportation. City-branded infrastructure is placed in popular areas like parks, libraries, and surface parking lots, offering encouragement and reassurance for electric vehicle drivers while advancing the city’s greenhouse gas and ground-level ozone reduction goals.
Share the Streets:
During the pandemic, COVID Stay Home, Work Safe policies led to dramatic drop in vehicle miles traveled and growth in walking and biking. In an effort to retain healthy levels of physical activity and social distancing we identified under-utilized street space that could be used to expand opportunities for safe outdoor activity. Share the Streets took elements from projects found in Oakland, Austin, and Denver to create partially closed streets for a period of one month. The streets chosen for this pilot were Cincinnati Avenue and Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Neighborhoods on the westside were prioritized based on the city’s emphasis on equity, and due to community support and connections to major destinations.
Youth Engagement for Climate Initiatives:
The Mayor’s Youth Engagement Council for Climate Initiatives (MYECCI) was established to empower San Antonio’s next generation of climate champions with the tools they need to become effective advocates in their community. There is a strong focus on engaging youth of color and students that have been historically underrepresented in the environmental movement. Led by the Office of Sustainability in partnership with EcoRise, this is an essential part of a multi-pronged climate education platform developed with a goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. The MYECCI launched with 35 area youth, representing each City Council district and 23 different schools, including public, private, charter and homeschool. Interestingly, the move to remote learning due to the pandemic, while challenging for initial recruitment, has provided an opportunity for broader inclusion. Rather than encountering transportation and scheduling barriers, students are able to embrace the technology they’ve grown accustomed to in their schooling to be fully present and informed for their meetings. Meeting virtually is allowing deeper and broader participation, as well as the opportunity to interface with more VIPs and subject-matter experts.
Monarch Butterfly Habitat:
In the spring of 2021, San Antonio launched the North American Friendship Garden at Confluence Park on the San Antonio River. The garden is a collaborative effort between the Consulate of Canada in Texas, the Consulate of Mexico in San Antonio, the City of San Antonio, San Antonio River Authority, and the San Antonio River Foundation. The garden is in the heart of the important Central Flyway, supporting the iconic Monarch Butterfly as well as other pollinator and migratory species as they travel between Canada and Mexico using San Antonio as a rest stop.
How do you see the future of conservation and sustainability evolving, and what role will the City of San Antonio Office of Sustainability play in that progress?
Support for conservation is nothing new in San Antonio. Our community has had a deep respect for the Edwards Aquifer, our source of freshwater, for many years. Residents consistently vote to enhance aquifer protection and diligently follow water saving recommendations from our municipal utility. During the early quarantine period of 2020, we saw an increase in home gardens, with some seed providers completely running out of their stock. Interest in local parks and green areas also increased, with many residents using these spaces for recreation, fitness, and socially distanced socializing. Now that the benefits of green spaces and vegetation have been more fully experienced, the renewed reverence for these assets will only continue to grow.
In addition, conservation and sustainability continue to increase in importance as we see the devastating impacts of climate change on human and natural systems. The role of the Office of Sustainability is and will continue to be in the advocacy for expansion of conservation efforts in San Antonio. The Climate Action & Adaptation Plan, our primary guiding document, deliberately includes a series of mitigation strategies under the umbrella of promoting biodiversity and healthy ecosystems as well as a series of adaptation strategies under promote, restore, and protect green infrastructure and ecosystems. Our goal is to fully implement these strategies to achieve net carbon neutrality by 2050 while increasing the quality of life for all residents, including insects, animals, and plants.
How does the City of San Antonio Office of Sustainability quantify investment and return on conservation and sustainability?
The SA Climate Ready Climate Action & Adaptation Plan requires the Office of Sustainability to complete a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventory every two years, which is one of the main ways investments are quantified. The GHG Inventory generally tracks seven key greenhouse gases, then converts them to a common unit for comparison: carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) which is generally called the Global Warming Potential (GWP). The larger the GWP of a GHG, the higher its contribution to climate change. Since the report is conducted frequently, we are able to measure progress by comparing the total CO2e emitted per year. We are also able to track emissions from specific sectors (including transportation, building energy use, solid waste, industrial processes etc.) to prioritize strategies that will have the greatest impact. From 2016 to 2019, San Antonio’s total community emissions decreased by 0.2%.
Two of the largest sources of emissions in the City’s operations are buildings (30%) and fleet (21%). As previously mentioned, the Energy Efficiency Fund was established to fund energy conservation projects within municipal buildings to reduce the city’s overall utility expenditure. Each investment in a municipal building creates energy savings. In the past 10 years, the $10M investment has resulted in savings of $1.65M in avoided utility costs.
The majority (over 90%) of City vehicles are funded through an internal service fund, called the Equipment Renewal and Replacement Fund, under which City departments are charged a monthly “lease” fee. The Fund recovers the vehicle’s lifetime cost, thereby paying for the subsequent acquisition costs of future vehicles. Recently, an EV Fleet & Infrastructure Study was conducted to analyze the conversion of the City’s fleet to electric vehicles. After filtering through 5,500 vehicles, 1,202 vehicles were found to be suitable for EV conversion based on the department’s operations, and 315 of those vehicles had a lower total cost of ownership. The study estimated that the top 100 scoring EVs would result in a 25% cost reduction per mile AND over the vehicle’s lifecycle they would see a 78% reduction in nitrous oxide and a 98% reduction in volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
What is the one lesson that the City of San Antonio Office of Sustainability has learned from your conservation and sustainability efforts that others can take back and think about applying within their own space?
The ethical framework grounding the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP) is climate equity, prioritizing the communities burdened the most by climate change, those that contribute the least to climate change, and those most socially vulnerable to it. Continuing San Antonio’s history of successful sustainable initiatives requires significant investment in frontline communities, including low-income, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), the elderly, children, and the disabled, because they have been and will experience the ‘first and worst’ consequences of climate change due to cost, existing infrastructure, and lack of representation. This means that the Office of Sustainability weaves climate equity throughout most programs, especially those that encompass the larger San Antonio community. One of the ways that we ensure climate equity is by being transparent and engaging residents through various avenues. Most recently, we set aside a portion of our engagement and communications initiative funding for grassroots organizations, community services providers, mutual aid networks, religious associations, or other community-led entities, with a goal to understand the views and opinions of San Antonio’s frontline communities so that we can take these into consideration when strategizing the implementation of the CAAP, and to inform the development of an adequate public information strategy.
Why is Texas an important home or base of operations for the City of San Antonio Office of Sustainability?
San Antonio is one of the four major cities in Texas as well as one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation. As we strive to serve the current residents of our city, we are also working to plan for and accommodate an estimated one million additional residents that will be living in our community by 2040. As part of the municipal government, we have a responsibility to prepare for a future that is projected to have hotter temperatures, longer droughts, and more intense rain events. The Office of Sustainability plays an important role in serving the community through our mission to enhance the environment, quality of life, and economic vitality through innovative programs and policies for all residents, as well as future generations.
Learn more about the City of San Antonio Office of Sustainability’s conservation and sustainability efforts here.
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CoSA employs 13,000 people in SA, 8,000 employees attended climate action plan training from the Office of Sustainability.
Additionally, the Mayor’s Youth Engagement Council for Climate Initiatives (MYECCI) was established to empower San Antonio’s next generation of climate champions, launching with 35 area youth.
In the past 10 years, CoSA’s Energy Efficiency Fund invested over $10M in energy conservation projects, received $3.1M in utility rebates, and saved $1.65M in avoided utility costs.
CoSA’s ReWorksSA works with local business to start or expand recycling services and has certified 100 businesses as using best-practices recycling.
In 2021, San Antonio launched the North American Friendship Garden – creating habitat to support monarch butterflies and pollinators.
From 2016 to 2019, San Antonio’s total community emissions decreased by 0.2%
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