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Sponsored Post – from the City of Austin Office of Sustainability 
Meet Joi Chevalier, our newest Net-Zero Hero! Joi started The Cook’s Nook, Austin’s first shared commercial kitchen and culinary incubator. Prior to opening the Cook’s Nook, Joi worked as an e-commerce product manager and marketing director in the tech industry for nearly 20 years. After leaving the tech field, she decided to pursue her passion for cooking and graduated from the Auguste Escoffier’s School of Culinary Arts.

Soon after, she decided to merge her love of culinary arts with her technology background — eventually opening The Cook’s Nook. Since then, her business has helped more than 30 businesses in the Austin area do research and development, develop products, hold staff meetings, put together business plans, and more. Joi Also serves on the Austin-Travis County Food Policy Board, which advises council on matters related to our local food system.

We spoke with Joi about her commitment to Net-Zero, what her toughest challenges have been, and what advice she has for others.

At my culinary incubator, The Cook’s Nook, we needed to create an energy-efficient space in order to keep down monthly operating expenses as best we could. Since we would be providing a space for small food businesses that are just starting out, we needed our energy costs to be low in order to keep the space affordable for them. We also knew that because we planned to have a commercial production kitchen space, there would be waste, recycling, and organics that would be generated. In short, we wanted to plan ahead.

  

During the envisioning of The Cook’s Nook, we knew that to keep long-term energy consumption and spend low, we had to commit to things like adding double-walls to our building, using energy efficient insulation, insulating our bay doors, closing open roof cavities, choosing LED and sensor lighting, and choosing Energy Star-rated equipment. Additionally, we searched for opportunities with the City and heard about the Universal Recycling Ordinance Zero Waste Business Rebate program, so we started our URO diversion plan early.

  

  

Honestly, the City building requirements were a hurdle. There was no centralized knowledge for small businesses who do not build often regarding requirements for water quality, electrical poles, taps, insulation demands, and wastewater size expectations. This made it very difficult to anticipate costs and plan ahead.

Trash and waste also remain an issue for us since very few haulers service small non-restaurant businesses. These haulers want large parking and access to make bin pickup easy for them, but that’s not how many small businesses are set up. This means that becoming compliant with the URO is sometimes costly, especially for small businesses. We need more service options with an extensive Organics Diversion Program.

Lastly, having food companies understand the URO’s requirements and benefits remains a challenge.

We have efficient and quieter equipment in our space, which makes it a more pleasant production environment and keeps our utility costs more even throughout the year. Seeing the amount of organics we create going to farms or managed differently instead of just going into the trash is a big plus. And, knowing that our cardboard recycling isn’t just tossed into landfill is rewarding.

  

Try to plan your sustainability program ahead of time — and understand your waste management choices prior to building.

 

Want to learn more about The Cook’s Nook? Here’s how to get in contact.

To learn more about Austin’s Net-Zero Goal, view the Community Climate 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.

 

Please note – editorials and sponsored posts are written by guest writers to inform and educate the community on a variety of different viewpoints, as well as to share information about local eco-friendly businesses and organizations. However, they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Austin EcoNetwork.

The post Net-Zero Hero: Joi Chevalier appeared first on Austin EcoNetwork.

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Fanny Cornejo loves monkeys. Ten years ago, she actually spent five months living with yellow-tailed woolly monkeys in Peru.

No people. Just a tent, weekly supply drops, and steep mountains.

Which made following the fast-moving monkeys difficult. So difficult that in the beginning, Fanny would make desperate promises to the monkeys, pleading with them to just slow down a bit.

“Monkeys,” she would say, “if you let me follow you, if you let me study you, I will devote my life to work with you, to try to protect your environment, to try to conserve the rainforest that you’re living in.”

And that is exactly what Fanny has done. Today, she is Peru country director for the Rainforest Partnership, an Austin-based nonprofit organization that works to protect and regenerate tropical rainforests.

Fanny lives in Peru but she spent the past week visiting Austin and took the time to share her experiences as a rainforest conservationist in a presentation delivered on Wednesday night. (You can watch the entire thing below.)

During her presentation, Fanny said that when it comes to rainforests, we tend to think about animals. The jaguars. The frogs. The birds. The monkeys.

“However… it tends to not come naturally to us to think about people,” Fanny said, “and how people play a role in the Amazon. How they are living there and how they have been living there for many many millennia.”

Forgetting about people is a mistake Fanny explained, because the truth is, “conservation is about people.”

That’s why Fanny has dedicated her work in the rainforest not just to studying the monkeys, but to embracing community-based conservation. With the Rainforest Partnership, she works with rainforest communities, supporting them in developing sustainable livelihoods that empower and respect both people and nature.

“There is plenty of evidence that when you work with local people,” Fanny said, “and you make them stewards of their own landscape, they are going to be able to achieve the conservation goals that we have much more successfully than when we have a government just managing an area.”

The post Stories From The Frontlines Of Conservation appeared first on Austin EcoNetwork.

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Stressed about all those news articles and videos that show how much trash Americans throw away? Concerned about the environmental impact of landfills?

Here’s one easy way for you to make a real impact.

MoveOutATX is looking for volunteers to help college students divert items from the landfill as they move out of their West Campus apartments later this month.

Last year’s volunteers were able to help rescue 62 tons of furniture, clothes, books, microwaves, etc from the landfill. That’s the equivalent of about 22.5 school buses, filled with things that otherwise would have been thrown in the trash.

What’s MoveOutATX?
MoveOutATX is a partnership between the City of Austin, UT, Keep Austin Beautiful, and the State of Texas Alliance for Recycling (STAR) aimed at rescuing the tons of household items thrown away by college students each year when they move out of their off-campus apartments.

How does it work?
During the last few weeks of July, several donation stations will be set up in the West Campus neighborhood. Students will be rewarded for dropping off their old desks, hampers, toaster ovens, and more with freebies and discount coupons to local businesses. The rescued materials will then be donated to local reuse organizations and to Austinites in need.

So how do I volunteer?
Volunteering is easy. All you have to do is sign up to work a 2.5 hour shift, accepting items and helping manage one of the donations stations. Plus, all MoveOutATX volunteers will be rewarded with cool-it towels and discount stickers that get you perks at local businesses (including free tacos, queso, frozen yogurt, discounted yoga, and more!). You can sign up to volunteer here>>

The post Hate Waste? Then We’ve Got Just The Volunteer Opportunity For You. appeared first on Austin EcoNetwork.

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Partner Post – Austin Creative Reuse 

Calling all you crafters out there! It’s time for another Reuse and Rethink Challenge from Austin Creative Reuse.

Throughout the month of July, Austin’s favorite zero waste craft store is hosting a “Made In The Shade Challenge,” asking folks to create a fun hat for the summer… made entirely from reused materials.

Want to join in on the fun? Here’s how it works.

  • Stop by Austin Creative Reuse anytime this month to pick up all the crafting supplies you could ever need.
  • Start creating! Take your supplies home and create whatever your heart desires. The only rule is that all the materials must be reused.
  • Once you’re done, email two photos of your creation (plus your contact info and a short description of the materials used) to rethink@austincreativereuse.org.
  • The deadline to submit your work is July 31st
  • The winner will be announced on social media

Who says caring for the environment can’t be fun?  🙂

PS – Need some additional inspiration? Check out Austin Creative Reuse’s Pinterest board for some fun ideas!

The post Crafting For The Planet – July Challenge appeared first on Austin EcoNetwork.

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Molly Stevens grew up in nature.

“As a young child, my father used to get us up early in the morning,” Molly said in a recent interview with AEN. “It was kind of like going to church.”

As Molly remembers it, her father would get the family up early and take them along on a little bushwhacking trip through the woods, before stopping at a cluster of virgin white pines where they’d eat their morning breakfast.

“I grew up with a reverence… Maybe when I was four I wouldn’t have called it reverence,” Molly said. “I would have called it, ‘I don’t want to go through those scratchy bushes,’ but I look back on it now and yeah, and the word reverence is the one that I have for that.

And I think that if you don’t have that, if you don’t experience that… how can we expect that this would be a priority for voters when they get to be 20 years old and they’re engaged in public policy? How can we expect that that’s going to be a priority for them if they’ve never had the chance to fall in love with nature?”

As the Executive Director of Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center (a local nonprofit organization that inspires people to develop a lifelong practice of enjoying and protecting nature), Molly has really taken these questions to heart.

“When I came to Westcave I was really interested in the notion that if we don’t raise a generation of adults who are passionate about the natural world and conserving our natural world,” Molly said, “all the work of the last century is in jeopardy.”

After 14 years of service, Molly retired from Westcave in June. Before doing so, she sat down with AEN to reflect on her decades of work in the environmental movement, her accomplishments, and her strong sense of optimism for the future.

(You can listen to the full interview our short summary below.)

Raising A Generation of Nature Lovers: An Interview With Molly Stevens - SoundCloud
(3275 secs long)Play in SoundCloud

Westcave Preserve

One of the many ways that Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center inspires people to develop a lifelong practice of enjoying and protecting nature is by managing Westcave Preserve. Located about 45 minutes west of downtown Austin, the nature preserve is home to the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and a stunning collapsed grotto (similar to Hamilton Pool, but you can’t swim in it).

The Westcave grotto

As Molly describes it, long before she even arrived at Westcave (in the 1970s), “…It had been sort of like a trespasser’s paradise. It was sort of like Hippie Hollow west. Clothing optional… They would trespass up into the grotto and swim and who knows what all, all kinds of illicit activities happening.”

Austin musician Marcia Ball and comrades lean against a bald cypress tree in the Westcave Grotto during the “Trespassers Years” prior to Westcave becoming a Preserve.

That’s when John Ahrns came in. He served as the preserve manager at Westcave for 37 years. When he first started managing the land, the legend is that he personally hauled 100 bags full of trash out of the canyon.

“The other thing that John did in his first years here is that he sat down at the opening of Heinz Branch Creek with an unloaded shot gun and chased away trespassers…,” Molly explained.

“So that was sort of phase one, was stopping the chronic trespassing that had been going on here and cleaning up the canyon… And once that was done it was sort of fit for visitors….

My first trip here would have been in the early 1990s,” Molly said. “When I came out here, literally there was a Maxwell House coffee can tacked to a tree that if you felt so moved, you could leave some money in the coffee can. And he [John Ahrns] personally took out two or three tours a day on weekends.”

Today, things have grown and changed a bit. An award-winning environmental learning center has been built on the site and Westcave welcomes about 17,000 visitors a year, both on school field trips and weekend tours (which are open to the public).

(You can learn more about how to visit Westcave Preserve here.)

Children In Nature

Before coming to Westcave, Molly had already been working in the environmental space for 20 years, on issues like climate change and ocean restoration at both the Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund.

“One of the great joys of working for Westcave has been that unlike working on climate change and oceans restoration, I’ve really seen the needle move in a big way around the importance of outdoor play and learning,” Molly said. “And that’s been enormously satisfying…”

In the past few years the Children In Nature Collaborative of Austin (a program managed by Westcave) has seen a lot of accomplishments when it comes to outdoor play and learning, including:

1. The passage by Austin City Council of the Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, a document that says all children in Austin should have the opportunity to connect with nature

2. The launch of the Green School Parks initiative, a collaboration with the Austin Parks and Recreation department to create nature-rich outdoor learning spaces at 24 AISD schools in areas with limited park access

3. The launch of the Roadrunner Outdoor Adventure Bus, which provides free/low cost transportation for environmental education field trips to underserved children in Austin.

“We would love there to be a day when a family has a Sunday afternoon together and they’re as likely to go rent canoes on Lady Bird Lake and play on the water as they are to go to the mall or to a movie…,” Molly said. “But the idea is that this becomes part of our culture and part of how we spend our time.

And I will say that it is a lot more likely that an affluent family will do that than a low income family will do that. And so another layer of our work has really been around racial equity in outdoor access and outdoor leadership.”

(If you’d like to get more involved with Westcave’s equity work, you can join the “Equity Outdoors ATX” Facebook group and attend an upcoming Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin Equity Series workshop.)

Spending Time Outdoors

Even though Molly spent 14 years as the executive director of a nature-based organization, even she admits that sometimes it’s hard to take the time to go outside and enjoy the fresh air.

“I’ll sit down and begin noodling around on my iPhone and the next thing I know, 30 minutes have gone by, or worse. And I think, ‘what have I been doing? Where did that time go?’. I think that we have to fight for the place called the out of doors and natural areas and we have to fight for time to spend in nature.”

It’s a fight that Molly thinks is well worth our time.

“I am by nature an optimist. I always joke that that’s my greatest strength and my greatest weakness…,” Molly said. “We can’t give up. We simply can’t. We have to be smart, and clever, and creative, and resourceful, and resilient. And solve these problems. We just have to. There’s no other way to go. I think that is in me.”

Children enjoying one of Westcave’s outdoor programs

AEN Editor-In-Chief Amy Stansbury serves on the Board of Directors for Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center.

The post Raising A Generation Of Nature Lovers appeared first on Austin EcoNetwork.

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Nature In The City Podcast, Season Two, Episode 6: Language, Art, and Waterways

Each year, we follow along with Dr. Kevin Anderson, a geographer and philosopher managing the Environmental Research Center for the City of Austin, as he shares his knowledge about the world around us. In 2019, the topic is “The Geography of Flowing Water: Rivers, Streams, Nature, and Culture.”

In this month’s lecture Kevin addresses the Riverrun in the talk, “Language, Art, and Waterways.”

Want to watch the video version of this month’s lecture? Check it out below:

The post #6 – Language, Art, and Waterways appeared first on Austin EcoNetwork.

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Nature In The City Podcast, Season Two, Episode 5: Myth, Meaning, and Flowing Water

Each year, we follow along with Dr. Kevin Anderson, a geographer and philosopher managing the Environmental Research Center for the City of Austin, as he shares his knowledge about the world around us. In 2019, the topic is “The Geography of Flowing Water: Rivers, Streams, Nature, and Culture.”

In this month’s lecture Kevin addresses life at the Round River in the talk, “Myth, Meaning, and Flowing Water.”

Want to look through Kevin’s slideshow presentation from this month? You can check it out here.

The post #5 – Myth, Meaning, and Flowing Water appeared first on Austin EcoNetwork.

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Sponsored Post – from Austin Resource Recovery  Why did you decide to become a Zero Waste Block Leader?

I have always been passionate about recycling and sustainable waste management. I love donating things to groups that can get the most benefit out of them. When I heard about the Zero Waste Block Leader program in 2014 I was so excited to participate. I have learned a ton about ARR and their services, and I really geek out on how these things work. I also wanted to be involved in my neighborhood, especially after seeing what was turning up in trash and recycling carts. The decision to volunteer my time as a Zero Waste Block Leader was an easy one for me to make.

What are some fun ways you introduce zero waste to your neighbors?

I use multiple communication methods to reach as many of my neighbors as I can. I regularly post on our neighborhood’s social media sites and write quarterly articles for our neighborhood newsletter.  I’ve also started a blog, alittlemore.green, to discuss topics in depth with those who are interested. I also do bulk runs for the neighborhood to the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center.

Which do you prefer more; recycling, composting or reuse?

This is such a tough question! I’ll pick reuse. I’ve always been fascinated by the WWII posters that promoted the collection of basically everything to be reused for the war effort. I like the mental challenge of deciding how best to reuse something, where to donate materials, or if a repair service is available for an item.

What are some challenges you face trying to be more Zero Waste and how do you overcome them?

When I had my son we backed off a bit from being Zero Waste just to make our lives less stressful (fewer things to think about). As he gets older and more involved and responsible I’m looking forward to reintroducing Zero Waste practices again, like bulk product shopping with our own containers. I’ve learned that you can make small gradual changes that do make a difference when we all participate.

How have you made the Zero Waste lifestyle easier to follow in your home, for your family, or with your neighbors?

We have all our kitchen bins in one pull-out drawer and they’re all separated for trash, recycling, compost and plastic bags/film collection. Having everything in one spot makes it fast and easy. My husband leaves out what he’s not sure about and we talk about it. My family, friends and neighbors will send me questions. I love getting random 9pm questions about if ice cream cartons can be recycled, or the after-breakfast question if bacon grease can be composted! I make sure I am talking about what my family is doing, questions I get and what ARR and Austin are trying to accomplish. My neighbors seem to really connect with our story as a real local family dealing with Austin living.

What do you think is the best way to reduce the materials we use every day?

I think the best way to reduce waste is by bringing your own reusable containers, especially at the grocery store and on-the-go for drinks. I love when I discover a store or business that rewards people who bring their own containers to take away groceries or gives a discount for using your own cup. If we could encourage that activity in other businesses in Austin it would cut out unneeded packaging in a big way. It can be another “weird” thing we do!

What do you do with non-recyclable material?

I’m glad to say we don’t have much. I take what we do have to the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center or donate to local groups, and when I’ve completely run out of options it does end up in our trash. I do not have any of the all-in-one type TerraCycle boxes for the extremely small amount of legitimate trash we have. Perhaps I’ll ask for one for Christmas though!

What do you look forward to the most this coming year?

I started the Mueller Recycling Group for neighbors and businesses to discuss, collect and recycle more difficult items like mascara wands and contact lenses.

I am excited to grow the group and help our neighborhood businesses become more educated about recycling and composting opportunities for their business-specific products and by-products.

Are there any uncommon ways you’ve incorporated zero waste into your lifestyle?

One thing we do that may be uncommon is trying to buy reused or post-consumer recycled products for pet care for our three dogs. We shop for pet supplies on reuse websites and donate any equipment or prescriptions we can back to vet clinics in need. We groom them ourselves, and all their pet hair goes in the compost. We buy most of our food and treats in bulk and use post-consumer recycled dog waste bags.

What are some fun ways you get your child involved?

My son is very enthusiastic about putting recyclables and compostables in the right bins. He even likes to pick up litter when we are out at parks. We talk about the different materials things are made of and which items go in which bins. He has also attended a few neighborhood events with me and likes to help handing out brochures.

Please note – editorials and sponsored posts are written by guest writers to inform and educate the community on a variety of different viewpoints, as well as to share information about local eco-friendly businesses and organizations. However, they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Austin EcoNetwork.

The post Block Leader Profile: Taylor Youngblood appeared first on Austin EcoNetwork.

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Even if you consider yourself to be pretty well-informed person, keeping track of the Texas Legislature can be tough. Our state’s lawmaking body only meets for 140 days every other year and during that time, literally thousands of bills are proposed. Now that all the excitement of the 86th session of the Legislature has ended (their last day was May 27th), we thought we’d share with you a little recap about how things went down for the environment in 2019.

We talked all about the specific bills that passed or died in this year’s legislative session on the latest episode of our partner radio show, Shades of Green. You can listen to the entire podcast, featuring Adrian Shelley (executive director of Public Citizen) and Bay Scoggin (state director for the Texas Public Interest Group) above or download it on iTunes.

Additional Thoughts

1. Environment Texas has already published its biennial legislative scorecard, ranking the environmental performances of all of our state legislators. You can look through the entire list here.

In releasing the scorecard, Luke Metzger (executive director of Environment Texas) said that this legislative session wasn’t actually all that bad for the environment.

“We won some and we lost some, but overall this session turned out to be a net positive for the environment,” said Luke in a press release. “Clean air and parks will get big boosts in funding and we fended off attacks on wind and solar power. On the other hand, oil companies are a step closer to being able to dump their wastewater in our rivers and toughened penalties on peaceful protesters of their pipelines. Still, given the power and influence of big polluters in the Legislature, it could have been worse.”

2. The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club also posted a recap of this year’s legislative session on their blog, which you can read here. 

3. One bill that did pass this legislative session that’s already raised a lot of concern from the environmental community is HB3557, aka the protest bill.

What it does – As the Sierra Club explains, the bill “adds significant criminal penalties to any protest activity which destroys facilities, or impairs or interferes with the operations of ‘critical infrastructure.'”

In this case, “critical infrastructure” means things like oil and gas pipelines and according to several different environmental organizations, makes protests like the ones orchestrated against the Dakota Access Pipeline more difficult.

In an interview with AEN, Jennifer K. Falcon (campaign manager with the Society of Native Nations) explained that for her, this is really a social justice issue, calling the new law an, “over-criminalization of black and brown bodies, who often carry the burden of society’s waste, and are often the ones protesting this industry coming into their communities.”

You can listen to our entire interview with Jennifer below.

How A New Texas Law Could Impact Pipeline Protests - SoundCloud
(909 secs long)Play in SoundCloud

The post Recapping The 86th Legislative Session (From An Environmental Perspective) appeared first on Austin EcoNetwork.

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