‘We need to do more, faster’: Sustainability report celebrates wins, sets expectations for SA in 2024

Report comes with supplemental links and QR codes for readers

A skyline view of downtown San Antonio. (Istock/Getty Images, Istock/Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio’s Office of Sustainability released its 2023 annual report on Tuesday, highlighting some of the group’s commendable efforts while setting goals for the new year.

The report, which charts metrics related to climate and sustainability issues affecting the Alamo City, comes with several scannable QR codes and links.

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Regarding the conversation of climate change in San Antonio, Chief Sustainability Officer Douglas Melnick sets things straight from the beginning of the report.

“... we can take one piece of advice from our critics, we need to do more, faster,” Melnick said. “The climate science is clear. Climate change is here, and we need more urgent action.”

The full report can be viewed at the end of this article. Below are a few key points.

A focus on energy

Emphasis in the report was quickly placed on the city’s on-site solar project.

Last November, the San Antonio City Council approved the $30 million project to install rooftop, parking and park canopy solar systems across 42 city facilities. Installations are expected to begin in Spring 2024, with an anticipated completion in the fall of 2026.

On top of the project working toward the city’s goal for net zero energy on municipal buildings, cost savings, weather protection and job creation are expected.

A separate report out Tuesday jointly published by the Environment Texas Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group ranked Texas third in rooftop solar generation.

The report noted San Antonio’s role in driving clean energy usage in the state.

Heat in San Antonio

San Antonio experienced extreme temperatures last summer. One way the city is working to combat heat in parts of the city is through urban heat island mitigation utilizing cool pavement.

The report said that in 2021, the city became the first in Texas to fight heat with cool pavement. The project was expanded in 2023, investing $1 million to install cool pavement in sections of roads in all of San Antonio’s 10 city council districts.

The cool pavement practice uses a water-based asphalt treatment that can reflect some solar radiation. A partnership between UTSA and the Southwest Research Institute is measuring felt heat on the West Side, a part of the city that researchers say has disproportionately less tree coverage, a driving reason for warmer temperatures.

Community collaborations

Several community groups and organizations are highlighted as key partners in the report, including Gardopia Gardens and SanArte Healing & Cultura Clinic.

The youth voice is represented by the 31 students who make up the Mayor’s Youth Engagement Council for Climate Initiatives.

Some social media users questioned the public input process, citing the SA Climate Ready Board Committee’s absence from the city meetings website.

“What is going on with the SA climate ready boards?” one user wrote. “They have not convened in a year and all of the current members’ terms have expired. How are we supposed to update the CAAP with ‘prioritized emissions reduction targets’ if there’s no public input from the SA climate ready boards.”

The climate equity advisory committee’s last meeting, slated for Feb. 28, 2023, was ultimately canceled. Meanwhile, the technical and community advisory committee’s last meeting was held on the same day.

The Office of Sustainability did not return a follow-up email by the time of publication asking for clarification on the reason for the prolonged committee hiatus. This story will be updated when that email comes in.

Addressing sustainable transportation

Transportation emissions are at the top of the top three greenhouse gas emissions affecting San Antonio.

“Transportation emissions are the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in San Antonio,” the report said.

The report touts a heightened focus on electric and hybrid vehicles. Of note was data gathered from the Office of Sustainability’s partnership with Blink Charging — an EV charging equipment provider — on the office’s Electric Vehicle San Antonio (EVSA) program.

EVSA works in collaboration with city policy to promote the planning and programming efforts around electric transportation, the report said.

The city’s focus on EVs comes as new laws from last year’s legislative session will bill prospective EV drivers.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 505 into law to bill electric vehicle drivers an additional $200 a year for registration. The fee is meant to make up for the state’s lost revenue from gasoline taxes used to pay for road construction and maintenance, the Texas Tribune reports.

Another transportation modality that garnered conversation last year came from the cycling community, specifically around the Bike Network Plan, which aims to improve bike infrastructure and safety for cyclists in San Antonio.

To view the SA Climate Ready dashboard, click here.

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About the Author

Mason Hickok is a digital producer trainee at KSAT. He graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a communication degree and a minor in film studies. He also spent two years working at The Paisano, the independent student newspaper at UTSA. Outside of the newsroom, he enjoys the outdoors, walking his dogs and listening to podcasts.

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