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Travis County Commissioners field 2020 sustainability report

Monday, April 26, 2021 by Seth Smalley

Tom Gleason, sustainability project manager with Transportation and Natural Resources, presented the 2020 annual sustainability report to the Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday.

While the report has historically focused on solid waste and TNR’s diversion efforts, it has expanded within the last couple of years to cover more comprehensive sustainability efforts. Such efforts include the greenhouse gas inventory and the climate action plan, as well as energy and water conservation measures.

“We’re looking at areas such as energy waste, diversion, recycling, transportation and more. Covid has really highlighted some challenges and vulnerabilities within our supply chains in our health care system. We have had to pivot a lot of our outreach and engagement efforts to go virtual. While we continue to provide many services, we’ve done so at a distance and using best practices outlined by Austin Public Health,” Gleason said.

The majority of greenhouse gas pollution in the county, the report found, is coming from buildings and facilities, followed by the county vehicle fleet, followed closely by county employee commutes. Forty-six thousand metric tons of CO2 were measured for the 2020 fiscal year, a marked decrease from the 2019 fiscal year.

The 46,000 metric tons of CO2 emitted last year by county operations is the equivalent of burning about 51 million pounds of coal, or powering about 5,300 single-family homes for a year. Transportation, building and facility emissions comprised 90 percent of all carbon emissions in Travis County operations.

The pandemic was one of the reasons for the steep emissions decline in the 2020 fiscal year, Gleason noted.

“While there were a lot of negative consequences and impacts from the pandemic, we do find a silver lining in that our emissions went down,” he said, before cautioning: “We saw that globally, however, and now we’re seeing global emissions creeping back up as things begin to reopen.”

Another key highlight from the report was the Commissioners Court’s adoption of a net-zero carbon emissions resolution by 2030, which would mean eliminating the entire 46,000 metric tons of CO2 the county is responsible for. Additionally, the resolution made mention of entirely offsetting the greater county community’s carbon emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement.

In terms of cost savings, the county spent $800,000 less in 2020 than in 2019. The county also spent half a million dollars less in water consumption, a fact Gleason partially attributes to the adoption of using reclaimed water to cool buildings. He noted that this practice has saved the county more than 22 million gallons of drinking water.

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