The City of San Antonio held its first Sustainability Summit in 2015 to collect public input for the then-developing SA Tomorrow Sustainability Plan.

On Tuesday night, more than 600 people gathered for the second annual Sustainability Summit to learn about how individuals and businesses can take those ambitious ideas and goals and turn them into action.

With more than 1 million people expected to move to San Antonio and the region by 2040, Mayor Ivy Taylor told the crowd at the Henry B. González Convention Center that sustainability is a key part in long-term planning.

Hundreds of people attend the SA Tomorrow Sustainability Summit Update.
Hundreds of people attend the SA Tomorrow Sustainability Summit Update. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

“This idea of sustainability can’t just be about talking,” she said, “we have to turn it into action.”

Implementing the SA Tomorrow plan will rely on promoting and incentivizing green-building infrastructure, efficient food systems, and sustainable transportation, Taylor said. Everyone can contribute to the greater effort of reducing unfavorable impacts on the environment, she added.

For example, Taylor encouraged citizens to make their homes more inviting to Monarch butterflies, which fly thousands of miles each year from Canada to Mexico, passing through San Antonio on their way.

Last December, Taylor signed the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge, making San Antonio the nation’s first Monarch Champion City.

Taylor admitted that she has not yet been able to make a butterfly garden in her yard, but she is setting up a pocket pollinator area on her property, where caterpillars can feed on milkweed and nectar after they have turned into butterflies.

Mayor Ivy Taylor receives a Monarch themed art piece. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Mayor Ivy Taylor receives a Monarch-themed art piece during the Monarch Fest at the San Antonio Zoo in March 2016. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

“That sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it?” she said. “Whatever action that you want to take, we need each and every one to do their part to create a sustainable San Antonio now and in the future.”

Technology-Assisted Water and Energy Management

During the “rapid fire talks” several speakers said an increasing number of mobile apps offer potential to make life easier when it comes to things such as remote-controlling energy use or irrigation systems, or planning bus trips and seeking rideshare services.

CPS Energy representatives talked about the utility’s energy saver platform, which offers various ways residential and commercial customers can save money and reduce energy usage.

With the My Thermostat Rewards program, CPS Energy customers can receive a free, installed programmable thermostat or buy their own qualified WiFi model, install it, and get credit from the utility. Using the Total Connect Comfort App, residents can remotely monitor and adjust their home’s temperature.

Cory Kuchinsky, CPS Energy’s director of enterprise risk management and solutions, outlined the utility’s Smart Grid initiative. The effort involves the ongoing rollout of a total of 740,000 smart meters citywide by 2018.

The fully upgraded grid will enable automated, two-way communication between the utility and customers. CPS Energy officials have said the smart grid, where customers can opt out, would increase service and efficiency, reduce costs and emissions, and better support the integration of renewable sources.

San Antonio Water System (SAWS) continues to promote ways to reduce water consumption via conservation and technology. The SAWS board this week rejected year-round stage one watering restrictions in favor of voluntary conservation and public education.

Karen Guz, the utility’s conservation director, highlighted some ways people can make their home or business more water efficient. These include ongoing incentives for installing high-efficiency toilets, and for high-efficiency commercial irrigation systems.

But Guz cautioned summit attendees against thinking such devices and strategies are completely reliable. Like most anything else, Guz said, systems will deteriorate and need maintenance, so it’s important for people to do their research and find a system that works for them before investing in the device or program.

“Efficient and automated technology doesn’t always work,” Guz emphasized.

Mark Peterson, conservation project coordinator for SAWS, said the number of mobile apps and controllers for home and commercial irrigation is rising, but each potential customer should research the promises made by these app developers and distributors, and the technology behind them.

For example, some controllers and apps are developed with meteorological and geographic assumptions made mainly by West Coast programmers and by agronomists. Such assumptions cannot be applied to the weather and land conditions that Texans face year-round, he added.

“Do your homework,” added Adolph Garcia, conservation consultant with SAWS.

There are also plenty of low-tech water conservation and efficiency solutions. Guz said SAWS is promoting a way to purchase a rain barrel at a discounted price through Dec. 9.

Food Production

Lisa Cervantes, who has presided over the Students for Environmental Awareness group at San Antonio College, talked about how the William B. Sinkin EcoCentro facility educates and advocates on behalf of sustainability.

EcoCentro, which also acts as a community center, was named after one of the city’s biggest promoters of solar power and other renewable energies. Sinkin died in 2014.

One of the topics that EcoCentro promotes, Cervantes said, is how people can reduce food waste. Americans toss 37 million tons, or $165 billion, of food annually, she said. That’s food that could be redistributed toward composting or the fight to end hunger.

Rapid Fire Talks speaker Lisa Valentine Cervantes (right) poses for a photo at the SA Tomorrow Sustainability Summit Update.
San Antonio College student Lisa Valentine Cervantes (right) poses for a photo at the SA Tomorrow Sustainability Summit. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Cervantes noted that disposed food is the biggest waste in a landfill, and decomposed food makes up 18% of methane released into the air.

“When we waste food, it has far-reaching impacts on the climate, resource conservation and food security,” Cervantes said.

Texas is the second hungriest, or food insecure, state in the U.S., Cervantes said, and children make up 36% of the San Antonio Food Bank’s total clientele.

Cervantes, who plans to earn a degree in environmental public policy, offered two proposals to help address this issue. One is making a food recovery sector of the City’s solid waste collection department. Another is to expand composting opportunities for food service companies, from restaurants to manufacturers and distributors.

“By increasing opportunities for composting, we could reduce the food going to landfills,” she added.

LocalSprout CEO Mitch Hagney gives 7 minute talk about creating a food hub in Downtown San Antonio.
LocalSprout CEO Mitch Hagney gives a seven-minute talk about creating a food hub in downtown San Antonio. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Mitch Hagney, CEO of LocalSprout, talked about how his company helps craft sustainable farming and food production opportunities in an urban space, thus reducing the distance food has to travel to get to restaurants and customers.

He is developing a 16,000-sq. ft. Eastside warehouse into a food hub and creating a co-working and co-production space for partner organizations, businesses, and agencies.

Chris Babis of the Green Space Alliance of South Texas (GSAST) called for a comprehensive food systems approach, filled with partnerships and innovation, to shore up a community’s resiliency.

Because of the complexity of contemporary food systems, existing challenges affect people’s daily lives, public health, economies, and food security, Babis said.

Babis is overseeing the development of a new program for GSAST. It will concentrate on land and water conservation, urban farm production, and sustainable landscapes.

“It gives GSA (the ability) to capacity-build, partner with new social enterprises or to be engaged with the community in ways that could not happen 10 years ago,” he added.

Light Pollution

Too much artificial light can affect energy bills, public safety, and health, according to Cindy Luongo Cassidy, owner of Green Earth Lighting. She represented the International Dark Sky Association at the summit.

Texas Section Leader of International Dark-Sky Association Cindy Luongo Cassidy demonstrates how directing light is more efficient.
Texas Section Leader of International Dark Sky Association Cindy Luongo Cassidy demonstrates how directing light is more efficient. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Very bright exterior lighting can cause glare that impairs night vision. Spread across growing human communities, such lighting can disrupt feeding, hunting, and navigational and reproductive systems and rhythms of the natural world, she added.

Cassidy outlined several ways to reduce light pollution, the easiest of which is to aim lights downward instead of up or horizontal. Makeshift shields can also be crafted to direct light away from the night sky. An empty can of pineapple juice can work, she said: Cut out the lid, drill a hole in the other side, paint (if desired), and run the bulb through.

These and other methods can help protect the “heritage of the night sky,” safeguard public health, save people money on energy usage, and help people be good neighbors overall, she added.

Transportation

Other speakers addressed efficient transportation in a growing city. Cristian Sandoval, founder and executive director of Earn-A-Bike Co-op, described how his volunteer-driven nonprofit is creating equitable access to cycling by providing affordable bicycle usage and maintenance.

“What a bike does is allow you to get out and feel things, connect with others, and get healthy,” Sandoval said. Earn-A-Bike is working with ArtPace and the City’s Office of Sustainability to develop ARTBikeSA.

Sandoval said details on ARTBikeSA, an initiative blending creativity, art, health, and sustainability, will be revealed on Dec. 1.

Cristian Sandoval teaches how to adjust a bicycle seat post. Photo by Scott Ball.
Cristian Sandoval teaches girls how to adjust a bicycle seat at Martinez Street Women’s Center in June 2015. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Hannah Santiago, project manager for VIA Metropolitan Transit, said VIA seeks to provide more public mass transportation options for San Antonio’s growing population. A more efficient mass transit system will contribute to the local quality of life, she said.

“VIA wants to use transit as a catalyst to create more great places in San Antonio,” Santiago added. In order to encourage use of mass transit even on one particular day, VIA will give free Election Day rides to local polling sites for anyone with their voter registration card.

Sustainability Awards

Earlier in the evening, Anita Ledbetter, executive director of Build San Antonio Green, and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) announced the winners of this year’s Sustainability Awards.

“We know of the importance of all forms of renewable energy, but the most important energy is in this room, the human resources committed to doing something about this,” Doggett said.

Each award honors an example of a green-building technique or a commitment to promoting sustainability:

Awards for exemplary sustainable programs:

Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz

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