SA Tomorrow Logo. Courtesy image.

Interested in how a blend of ecology, culture and economics can help make San Antonio – and our world – more self-sustainable? Then the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center will be the place to be Tuesday, June 23.

The San Antonio Office of Sustainability will host its inaugural San Antonio Sustainability Forum 5-8 p.m. in the grotto area of the convention center, near Market Street.

Admission is free to the public, and parking will be free in the convention center garage as well as at all downtown meters after 5 p.m. Online registration is encouraged before attending the forum, but not required.

Organizers created the forum to educate attendees on the many parts of sustainability: green/eco-friendly buildings, renewable energy, community gardens, water conservation, among other related methods and products.

According to organizers, this forum is more than just experts and government officials lecturing about green building practices or reducing an individual’s carbon footprint. Ideas generated at the event will contribute to a sustainability plan that covers fields such as water conservation, air quality, land use, transportation, social equity and resilience.

The Roots of Change community garden is located at 1416 E. Commerce St. Photo  by the city of San Antonio.
The Roots of Change community garden is located at 1416 E. Commerce St. Photo courtesy of the City of San Antonio.

This long-range sustainability plan is a branch of SA Tomorrow, a three-tiered planning initiative to help guide the city toward smart, sustainable growth over the next 25 years. San Antonio is expected to receive more than one million additional people by 2040.

It is, as city leaders have often put it, a sustainable future envisioned through the SA2020 process. The sustainability plan, which covers city operations and the private sector, is a guide for improving quality of life and overall flexibility while balancing the impact of the city’s projected growth with economic, environmental and social resources.

Douglas Melnick, the city’s chief sustainability officer, was unavailable for additional comment, but stated in a press release that the forum could help attendees make a positive impact on the community using sustainability methods.

“By creating a space where the community can learn, share ideas and be inspired to action, the sustainability forum will provide a platform to help define what sustainability means to San Antonio,” Melnick stated.

In January of this year, City Council awarded a contract not to exceed $200,000 to Boston-based Kim Lundgren Associates, which defeated six other responders to a Request For Proposals to develop a sustainability plan for San Antonio. The company, which specializes in forming such plans, has one year to accomplish this goal for San Antonio. The contract features a one-year renewal option.

Company founder/CEO, Kim Lundgren, said the sustainability forum has morphed from a public brainstorming workshop into what she calls “a fun, exciting evening.”

Five breakout stations will provide a variety of activities Tuesday night at the convention center. Robert Rivard, director of The Rivard Report, will moderate “Sustainability in Action” – a series of TEDx-style presentations and panel discussions that summarize current activities potentially inspire future action.

Scheduled participants here include Melnick; Kimberly Stoker, environmental and sustainability director for CPS Energy; Anita Ledbetter, executive director of Build SA Green (BSAG); Eric Cooper, president/CEO of San Antonio Food Bank (SAFB); Karen Guz, conservation director for San Antonio Water System; Steve Graham, assistant general manager of the San Antonio River Authority (SARA), and Matthew Hobson, assistant director of the city’s Waste Management Division.

Councilmember Ron Nirenberg (D8) will moderate a “fireside chat” with SA Tomorrow city department leaders including Melnick; Terry Bellamy, assistant director of the city’s Transportation and Capital Improvements Department; and John Dugan, the city’s planning and community development director.

Each panelist will explain how a sound sustainability plan relies upon robust programs for solid waste disposal, food distribution, energy, green building and water management.

Molly Cox, interim president/CEO of SA2020, will lead a “speed planning” session in which participants will rotate through a number of tables for 10 minutes each to offer quick ideas about sustainability.

An expo hall will house organizational and corporate sponsor information tables.

“This is an opportunity to pave a way forward, to educate the community on what sustainability is,” Lundgren said. “It’s great that people recognize the term ‘sustainability’ but don’t really know all that it involves.”

Lundgren further explained that sustainability means more than just living and doing business in an eco-friendly way.

“It’s about energy conservation, having more transportation options, the way we eat, having more jobs with a living wage,” she said.

The “Sustainovation” (Sustainability-Innovation) Tech Zone will offer interactive polling, continuously stream previously recorded speaker presentations, and host other online engagement platforms.

The following previously recorded Ted Talks will be looped along with a few other videos:

Suzanne Scott, SARA general manager on “Confessions of the San Antonio River;” Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and Texas Tech University political science professor on “What If Climate Change is Real?;” and Mitch Hagney, CEO of local hydroponic farming company LocalSprout on “Distributed Urban Agriculture.”

LocalSprout CEO Mitchell Hagney expertly monitors his hydroponic crops. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
LocalSprout CEO Mitchell Hagney expertly monitors his hydroponic crops. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Charlene Heydinger, executive director of Keeping PACE in Texas, which helps businesses finance their way toward energy efficiency, and Ryan Beltran of Elequa, a local startup dealing with sustainable water treatment will host live presentations.

Lundgren said San Antonio’s private and public sector have been doing “amazing things” regarding the future of sustainability. She said the general public must be given evolving sustainable technologies and methods to include sustainability in their everyday lives.

Beltran is one example of talking the talk and walking the walk. Primarily a filmmaker, Beltran has studied how communities worldwide are addressing water issues, mainly seeking eco-friendly ways to increase cleaner drinking water supplies.

Beltran’s young company has resorted to open sourcing to further business growth and allow other like-minded people evolve similar technologies and methods. Elequa uses electricity-based technology to kill bacteria and separate contaminants in water. He says this process, electrocoagulation, is inexpensive, simple and chemical free. He said having grown up in Texas, he appreciates how precious water is in times of drought.

“We’ve found that this technology needs to mature, so it’s perfect to use as an open source model,” Beltran said. “We’re still laying out the foundation for a business model.”

Beltran receives help from local makers Don Smeller and Les Hall of 10BitWorks to craft open source water purification prototypes, which Beltran hopes to release this fall.

Beltran said this has been helpful because his company has been chosen to lead a workshop about water purification at SXSW Eco. The event, to be held this October in Austin, is a space for businesses, innovators and designers to drive economic, social and environmental change.

“Sustainability is efficiency. It’s recycling, using less energy, reducing our carbon footprint,” Beltran said. “If everybody takes a little less to consume, we all benefit in the long run. We’re all consuming way too much.”

Examples such as Beltran and Elequa, Lundgren explained, help people realize sustainability is real and achievable, even in one’s own corner of the world.

“It helps people to see sustainability isn’t just some amorphous term, and it’s not something off in the future. It’s happening now,” Lundgren said.

The sustainability forum is presented in part by CPS Energy, San Antonio River Authority, San Antonio Food Bank, Build San Antonio Green, San Antonio Water System, SA2020, TEDx San Antonio, the Solid Waste Management Department and the city’s Office of Emergency Management.

*Featured/top image: SA Tomorrow Logo. Courtesy image. 

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Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.