Updated Sep 20, 2022 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on sustainability efforts in Houston

On Tuesday, September 20, Axios race and justice reporter Russell Contreras and Houston reporter Jay Jordan led conversations focused on sustainability efforts and eco-friendly initiatives in the city at an event to kick off the launch of the Axios Houston newsletter. Guests included Houston chief resilience and sustainability officer Priya Zachariah, Texas Southern University Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice director Robert D. Bullard, and Harris County Precinct 2 commissioner Adrian Garcia.

Priya Zachariah discussed what resilience in the face of climate stressors looks like for a local community and how Houston is applying sustainability to public goods like the transit system to reduce the city’s environmental footprint.

  • On building community climate resilience: “When we talk about resilience, we hold true the assumption that how communities and systems respond to climate shocks and stressors is really a measure of how vulnerable they are, and that vulnerability can come from a place of socioeconomic vulnerability, the education attainment gap, lack of access to fresh food, lack of access to essential mobility.”
  • On integrating sustainability into mass transit: “The thing that I want to place at the center of this discussion is the fact that mass transit always should have a place when you’re thinking about sustainability and when you’re thinking about resilience, because it provides that essential mobility…”

Robert D. Bullard emphasized how the city’s climate solutions have to evolve alongside an increase in extreme weather events and the necessary steps to effectively address environmental injustice in Houston.

  • On increasing climate crises in Houston: “We used to plan for disasters June through November, but winter storm Uri hit us in February, so we have to think about 12-month, 24/7 solutions that can address these converging problems…it deals with addressing poverty, addressing issues around health, addressing issues around access to clean water and clean air, and even something as simple as having access to a park…”
  • On environmental injustice and racism in Houston’s communities of color: “If this kind of pollution and discovery happened in River Oaks, we would not have families having to wait year after year after year. The disaster was one, but waiting is the second disaster…we need to eliminate those kind of textbook examples.”

Adrian Garcia explained the importance of public and private sector collaboration on climate solutions and the challenges to spearheading sustainability in Harris County.

  • On creating relationships with industry: “It’s all about creating that neighborly relationship where we can talk to each other, work through challenges, create opportunity and demonstrate that there is a great day in front of us.”
  • On recent challenges to environmental health in Houston: “We do need to recognize that concrete batch plants next to residential areas are harmful to the community’s health, their respiratory conditions. In precinct 2, I have some of the greatest disparities…so I take the community’s health status very seriously, and I take seriously the issue that we lack a great deal of mobility on the east side of Harris County.”

In the View from the Top segment, American Chemistry Council president and chief executive officer Chris Jahn and Huntsman Corporation president and CEO and American Chemistry Council chairman Peter Huntsman highlighted the role of industry partnerships in integrating sustainability across energy and manufacturing sectors.

  • Peter Huntsman: “The energy consumption is all about moving weight…if we can make things lighter, if we can make things stronger, if we can make things cleaner, everything from an operating facility all the way down to a microchip processor, if we can make those things cleaner and do it with better chemistry, do it with better transparency, it’s good for business all across. And Houston is ideally situated, being not just the energy capital of the world but it’s also one of the chemistry capitals of the world.”

Thank you American Chemistry Council (ACC) for sponsoring this event.

Go deeper