Austin, TX Sustainable Communities Initiative

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Austin, TX, US

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Type: Policy

Status: Ongoing

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The City of Austin's Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI) exists to help the greater Austin region achieve economic prosperity, social justice, and ecological health - the highest possible quality of life in the best possible environment. SCI programs and policies will respond effectively to the real limits of ecological systems while fostering the unprecedented opportunities of a democratic society in which all people are able to develop to their fullest potential. To these ends, the SCI should become a valuable resource for City staff and for area residents by advocating, creating tools, and providing expertise concerning sustainability - from the global to the local perspective.

Three Legs of Sustainable Development

The term "sustainability" was offered in 1987 by the United Nation's World Commission on Environment and Development in its report Our Common Future. According to that document, "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Ultimately, the goal of sustainability is to enhance people's well-being while living within the eco-system's carrying capacity; so while the concept insists that we acknowledge many natural limits that we are currently denying, it also identifies many opportunities that we have overlooked.

Discussions about sustainability are meant to focus our attention on a very basic question: Can this community survive? Are our systems and practices viable for the long-term? Of course we will make changes over time, but we should ask whether some of today's practices are eliminating choices that we will wish we had tomorrow.

While these questions may seem very distant or abstract to some, they are issues we all must face. We must consider whether the world has enough resources to support our consumption of resources and our creation of pollution. We must consider the long-term viability of our economic base. And we have to ask whether our social conditions are improving or worsening. Thus, sustainability is not some distant, abstract goal - it is today's reality.

A central principle of sustainability is the recognition of the interdependence of environmental, economic, and social equity concerns - these are the "three Es". They are often referred to as three legs of a stool - lacking just one means the stool will not stand; emphasizing one over the other puts us on uneven ground. We can begin choosing options that do not sacrifice one of the Es for another. We can make better choices as individuals and in our businesses, governments, and other institutions.

We want to develop sustainably because we want to be able to pass along to our children a community that they will thank us for. We do not want to deplete finite natural resources or weaken the economic and social structures that they will need to build their lives on. Rather, we should be responsible stewards of these resources that everyone depends upon. Thus, in the end, sustainability is not an option, but a necessity.

What is a Sustainable Community?

A sustainable community is one whose prospects for long-term health are good. Its residents do not deplete the resources that they depend on faster than those resources are replenished. Specific characteristics include:

  • respect for basic rights and recognition of basic responsibilities
  • living within ecological carrying capacity
  • equal opportunities for individual development
  • a diverse economic base
  • a vibrant democracy - with an informed, involved citizenry
  • protection of natural diversity
  • improving the minimum standard of living
  • maximizing the use of people's abilities while minimizing the use of natural resources.

Steps You Can Take To Promote Sustainability

Individuals play a vital role in guiding a community - and the world - towards sustainability. The day to day choices each of us makes affect civic life, energy use, people's health, biodiversity, local prosperity, the global climate, etc. We may not always clearly see the impacts of our choices - as citizens, family members, workers, and consumers - on all of these different issues, but they are there.

There is no shortage of information, especially on the Internet, that can help individuals to learn how they can reduce the negative impacts and increase the positive impacts of their lifestyles.

The links below are organized into categories appropriate to individuals and households in Austin.

Building and Construction
Building or remodeling a house? Or maybe just painting a room? Whatever the size of your project, you can choose materials that are healthier for you to live with and are easier on the environment.

Re-use and recycle by shopping at the Austin RE-store - a building materials recycling center. See

See the website of Austin Energy's Green Building Program for lots of helpful information. Go to Austin Energy Green Building Site

You need it everyday. It's production and distribution has a huge impact on communities and the environment - and your health! So avoid pesticides, save the soil, support local farms, grow your own, and enjoy fresher, more nutritious, better tasting food - with help from the following websites:

Get Engaged! With your neighborhood and your region
Genuine democracy must be the first characteristic of a sustainable community. Strong social networks, justice for all, peaceful neighborhoods, and responsible political systems require everyone's input and diligence.

Volunteer! The United Way/Capital Area volunteer center can guide you to just the organization you're looking for. Go to Austin Free-Net Neighborhood Network links citizens electronically. See To learn about elected officials of the City of Austin, go to To learn about elected officials of Travis County, go to Practice your rights as a citizen. The League of Women Voters, Austin Area is a great resource. Go to The City of Austin Neighborhood Planning Program is helping residents write plans to guide the development of their neighborhoods. Find out more at

Home Energy Use
Did you know that if your refrigerator is 10 years old or more, a new, energy-efficient model can be as much as 50% more efficient than your old one? Did you know that Texas has more opportunities for renewable energy generation (solar, wind, biomass) than any other state in the nation? Learn lots more at the websites listed below.

Choose renewable energy! Sign up for GreenChoice from Austin Energy. Go to See the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Home Energy Saver website at Energy efficiency information for consumers from the Alliance to Save Energy Austin Energy has information on energy saving programs and rebates in the area. Go to Find energy-efficient appliances at the EPA's Energy Star website. Go to Here's an easy one, reduce your computer's energy use by turning off your screensaver and turning on power management. See

Indoor Air Quality
There are many sources of indoor air pollution in most buildings. These include combustion sources such as oil, gas, kerosene, coal, wood, and tobacco products; building materials and furnishings as diverse as deteriorated, asbestos-containing insulation, wet or damp carpet, and cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed wood products; products for household cleaning and maintenance, personal care, or hobbies; central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices; and outdoor sources such as radon, pesticides, and outdoor air pollution.

The EPA provides information on indoor air quality in your home at The Federal Consumer Information Center also publishes information on indoor air hazards at

In the yard and garden you can make smart choices that will save money, protect environmental resources, and beautify your community.

Use less water. See the City of Austin Water Conservation Division's website at Landscape with native plants. See the City of Austin Grow Green Program at and the "Native Plant Clearinghouse", an on-line service of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center at Use trees to shade your home. See this Green Living factsheet on Windows and Shading at

Local Economy
Why is it important to support local businesses? Our local merchants are a big part of what makes Austin, Austin. And the money they collect is more likely to be re-circulated locally than money spent at other businesses.

To learn more, read "The Benefits of Doing Business Locally" from the Boulder (Colorado) Independent Business Alliance at The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce promotes economic development in Austin. See

Smart Shopping
Economists often speak of people "voting with their dollars". Make sure you're voting for companies and products that reflect your values.

The Green PagesTM is a directory of thousands of socially and environmentally responsible businesses, products and services. See Responsible Shopper is an Internet tool designed to help you learn more about the companies whose products you may use. See The Center for a New American Dream has its "Guide to Environmentally Preferable Purchasing" on-line at

Sustainable Lifestyle
A variety of resources to help you do the right thing:

Green Living - from the Union of Concerned Scientists Buy safe products

Your transportation choices have profound impacts on your life, on the environment, on public costs, and on the livability of our neighborhoods. Here are some facts: It has been estimated that, in the U.S., our $26 billion annual investment in transit realizes $60 billion in total benefits to our communities; on average, it costs a family more than $5,000 per year to own and operate one motor vehicle; and motor vehicles produce the most pollution when their engines are cold - that means those short trips are the worst of all for the environment. Here's where to look for help making positive changes:

The Union of Concerned Scientists can help you buy a greener vehicle, see When it comes to converting energy to motion, the bicycle is the most energy-efficient form of transportation ever devised, and Austin is rated as one of the best cities in America for cycling. Get pedaling with help the Austin Bicycling Coalition. Go to The City of Austin also has a Bicycle/Pedestrian Program. Go to

Get on the Bus! For information on routes and fairs from Capital Metro, go to Learn more! We recommend the website of the Surface Transportation Policy Project. Go to

Waste Reduction
The average American produces twice as much garbage as the average European, and food waste is the single largest category of household waste. We can do better.

Recycle! See the City of Austin Recycling website at or Ecology Action at Compost! Get local composting information at