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City of Houston issues report highlighting progress of climate, sustainability plans

Here's what resilience and sustainability wins Houston has had the past three years. Photo courtesy of the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability

Houston is making strides in its commitment to combat climate change and build a more resilient future for its residents, according to a recent report.

Three years after Resilient Houston and the Climate Action Plan launched in 2020, the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability, in collaboration with other departments, has issued a report on the progress of both plans.

"The creation of the Mayor's Office of Resilience and Sustainability (MORS) as a combined office in October 2021 is a visionary and bold step that brings a holistic perspective to the practice of resilience and sustainability in Houston," Priya Zachariah, chief resilience and sustainability officer, writes in the report.

"When Houston talks about resilience – it means building capacity in our most vulnerable communities to respond, grow, and thrive in the face of climate shocks and stressors," she continues. "When Houston talks about sustainability – it means reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but it also means energy affordability, energy reliability, and energy access for everyday Houstonians."

The report identified some of the biggest wins within the city's plans, including highlighting that 172 out of 201 Resilient Houston sub-actions and 69 out of 96 Climate Action Plan actions have been completed or are in progress. The combined efforts have led to a series of accomplishments over the past year that are driving Houston toward becoming a more sustainable, equitable, and climate-resilient city.

“Earth Day HTX 2023 marked three years of laser-focused cooperation between all city departments and our dedicated community partners to push forth initiatives for a cleaner, greener Houston and I’m proud to say that we are exceeding expectations mapped out in these two plans,” Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a statement. “We track 30 measurable goals and are transparent with where we are on each one of them. We are on track to meet or exceed almost every goal and even though this is my last year in office, the wheels are in motion for future administrations to continue building on this success.”

One of the highlights from the report is the city's reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The greenhouse gas emissions inventory for 2020 showed a notable 10 percent reduction from the baseline established in 2014.

The city's dedication to sustainability and transparency has also been recognized by external organizations. The Carbon Disclosure Project, or CDP, awarded Houston an A rating in 2022 for its efforts, including public disclosure of climate-related information, a community-wide emissions inventory, and the implementation of a climate risk and vulnerability assessment.

Furthermore, Houston has achieved the Gold designation as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, for cities by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). This recognition highlights the city's commitment to green building practices and environmental responsibility.

In terms of green infrastructure, Houston has continued to prioritize tree planting efforts. Per the report, 214,134 trees were planted in 2022, contributing to a total of over 1.4 million trees since 2019. The goal is to plant 4.6 million trees by 2030, effectively reducing urban heat island effects, improving air and water quality, and providing numerous ecological benefits.

In addition, Houston has taken proactive measures to protect its natural habitats and enhance climate resilience. The City Council approved the Nature Preserve Ordinance in 2022, safeguarding 7,423 acres of natural habitat in city parks. These nature preserves will serve as vital spaces for native wildlife, mitigate flooding, and support carbon sequestration.

Houston's commitment to sustainable transportation is also evident. The city has expanded its bike infrastructure, adding 20 miles of high-comfort bike lanes in 2022. This brings the total bikeway miles to 406 out of a goal of 500 miles, promoting alternative and eco-friendly modes of transportation.

The city's efforts extend to municipal operations as well. Houston adopted a Municipal Building Decarbonization and Benchmarking policy in 2022, setting the stage for a more sustainable approach to building management. Additionally, the Houston Airport System has taken significant steps towards achieving carbon neutrality by engaging in the Airport Carbon Accreditation program.

Houston's commitment to renewable energy has also yielded positive results. The city has witnessed an increase in local solar generation, with annual solar generation reaching 148,030 MWh in 2021. Efforts to promote solar investments, including a group-buying campaign with Solar United Neighbors, have contributed to this upward trend.

The city's commitment to electrification is evident in its municipal fleet. Houston has expanded its electric vehicle fleet, operating 333 hybrid electric vehicles and 88 battery electric vehicles. An additional 107 battery electric vehicles and 41 hybrid electric vehicles are expected to be added within the next year. Charging infrastructure is also expanding, with 57 installed chargers and plans for an additional 144.

Mayor Turner's leadership in climate action has extended beyond the city's borders. The mayor led a delegation to Mexico City to launch the Resilient Cities Network initiative, Women in Resilience, highlighting Houston's role in international climate leadership. The city aksi hosted Queen Maxima of the Netherlands and signed a letter of intent with the city of Rotterdam to collaborate on community and energy resilience.

The full report tracking the initiatives' progress is available online.

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This article was generated in part by artificial intelligence.

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A View From HETI

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want. Photo courtesy of Boxes

With the help of a new conversational artificial intelligence platform, a Houston startup is ready to let brands get up close and personal with consumers while minimizing waste.

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want.

The Boxes device, about the size of a 40-inch television screen, dispenses products to consumers in a modern and sustainable spin on the old-fashioned large vending machine.

CEO Fernando Machin Gojdycz learned that business from his entrepreneur father, Carlos Daniel Machin, while growing up in Uruguay.

“That’s where my passion comes from — him,” Gojdycz says of his father. In 2016, Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay with some engineer friends

Funded by a $2,000 grant from the University of Uruguay, the company's mission was “to democratize and economize affordable and sustainable shopping,” in part by eliminating wasteful single-use plastic packaging.

“I worked for one year from my bedroom,” he tells InnovationMap.

Fernando Machin Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay before relocating the company to Greentown Houston. Photo courtesy of Boxes

The device, attached to a wall, offers free samples, or purchased products, in areas of high foot traffic, with a touch-screen interface. Powered by watsonx Assistant, the device asks survey questions of the customer, who can answer or not, on their mobile devices, via a QR code.

In return for completing a survey, customers can get a digital coupon, potentially generating future sales. The software and AI tech tracks sales and consumer preferences, giving valuable real-time market insight.

“This is very powerful,” he says.

Boxes partnered in Uruguay with major consumer brands like Kimberly-Clark, SC Johnson and Unilever, and during COVID, pivoted and offered PPE products. Then, with plans of an expansion into the United States, Boxes in 2021 landed its first U.S. backer, with $120,000 in funding from startup accelerator Techstars.

This led to a partnership with the Minnesota Twins, where Boxes devices at Target Field dispensed brand merchandise like keychains and bottles of field dirt.

Gojdycz says while a company in the Northeast is developing a product similar in size, Boxes is not “targeting traditional spaces.” Its software and integration with AI allows Boxes to seamlessly change the device screen and interface, remotely, as well.

Boxes aims to provide the devices in smaller spaces, like restrooms, where they have a device at the company's headquarters at climate tech incubator Greentown Labs. Boxes also recently added a device at Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters in Spring, as part of HPE’s diversity startup program.

Boxes hopes to launch another sustainable innovation later this year, in universities and supermarkets. The company is also developing a device that would offer refillable detergent and personal cleaning products like shampoo and conditioner with a reusable container.

Since plastic packaging accounts for 40 percent of retail price, consumers would pay far less, making a huge difference, particularly for lower-income families, he says.

“We are working to make things happen, because we have tried to pitch this idea,” he says.

Some supermarket retailers worry they may lose money or market share, and that shoppers may forget to bring the refill bottles with them to the store, for example.

“It’s about..the U.S. customer,” he says, “….but we think that sooner or later, it will come.”

Boxes has gotten funding from the accelerator startup branch of Houston-based software company Softeq, as well as Mission Driven Finance, Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund, and Right Side Capital, among others.

“Our primary challenges are scaling effectively with a small, yet compact team and maintaining control over our financial runway,” Gojdycz says.

The company has seven employees, including two on its management team.

Gojdycz says they are actively hiring, particularly in software and hardware engineering, but also in business development.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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