What can hospital systems do to combat climate change? A lot, according to a new report from the Center for Houston's Future. Photo via TMC.org

A new report underscores an “urgent need” for health care systems in the Houston area to combat climate change and avoid an environmental “code blue.”

“By adopting collaborative strategies and leveraging technological innovations, health care providers can play a pivotal role in safeguarding the health of Houston’s residents against the backdrop of an evolving climate landscape,” says the report, published by the Center for Houston’s Future.

Among the report’s recommendations are:

  • Advocate for policies that promote decarbonization.
  • Create eco-friendly spaces at hospitals and in low-income communities, among other places.
  • Recruit “champions” among health leaders and physicians to help battle climate change.
  • Establish academic programs to educate health care professionals and students about climate health and decarbonization.
  • Bolster research surrounding climate change.
  • Benchmark, track, and publish statistics about greenhouse gas emissions “to foster accountability and reduce environmental impacts of the health care sector.” The report notes that the U.S. health care sector emits 8.5 percent of the country’s greenhouse gases.

“By embracing collaborative strategies, acting with urgency and implementing sustainable practices, our region’s health care providers can play a pivotal role in creating a healthier, more resilient Houston,” says Brett Perlman, outgoing president and CEO of the Center for Houston’s Future. “If we work together, given all the collective wisdom, resources and innovation concentrated in our medical community, we can tackle the challenges that are confronting us.”

The report highlights the threat of climate-driven disasters in the Houston area, such as extreme heat, floods, and hurricanes. These events are likely to aggravate health issues like heatstroke, respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, and insect-borne diseases, says the report.

St. Luke’s Health, a nonprofit health care system with 16 hospitals in the Houston area and East Texas, provided funding for the report.

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

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

checking in

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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Texas named most vulnerable state to climate change in new report

lone star disappointment

The Lone Star State performed most averagely in a new report that ranked all 50 states on environmental protection.

Texas ranked No. 22 on the report from SmileHub, a nonprofit tech platform using data to evaluate charities. The report analyzed 23 metrics — from energy efficiency score and industrial toxins per square mile of land area to climate change vulnerability — factoring in data from U.S. Census Bureau, Internal Revenue Service, Department of Agriculture, and more.

"The U.S. produces over 292 million tons of waste per year, or over 4.9 pounds per person per day, according to the latest data from the Environmental Protection Agency," reads the report. "Additionally, due to pollution, California, Oregon, Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina each have over 12,000 miles of river unsuitable for human contact. Pollution and waste are issues across the U.S., but some states work harder than others to limit their impact."

In addition to its middle-of-the-pack No. 22 overall ranking, Texas took first place in the "Vulnerability to Climate Change" category. Here's how else the state measured up:

  • No. 18 – Environmental Protection Charities per Capita
  • No. 36 – Share of State Land Designated for Parks and Wildlife
  • No. 28 – Energy Efficiency Score
  • No. 28 – Share of Population Using Green Transportation
  • No. 33 – Total Tonnage of Landfill Waste per Capita
  • No. 28 – Industrial Toxins per Square Mile of Land Area

It's not the first time the state performed poorly on recent environmental reports. In April, WalletHub evaluated evaluated the current health of states' environment and residents’ environmental-friendliness. Texas ranked No. 38, meaning it was the thirteenth least green state, only scoring 50.40 points out of 100.

Additionally, Houston has stood out for the wrong reasons. In May, Houston was ranked as the No. 15 most polluted city in the U.S. according to data compiled by the National Public Utilities Council. No other Texas city appears in the ranking. Three California cities — Bakersfield, Visalia, and Fresno — took the top three spots.

Houston company breaks ground on North Texas solar project

coming soon

A Houston-area company has broken ground on a new 310-megawatt solar project located in Bosque County, Texas.

League City-based INEOS Olefins & Polymers and Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources announced the groundbreaking on INEOS Hickerson Solar, which will reportedly save over 310,000 tons of CO2 every year.

“INEOS O&P USA is committed to leading the petrochemical community in adopting renewable energy solutions,” says CEO Mike Nagle in a news release. “This solar project is a crucial step in our global efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of INEOS businesses.”

The INEOS Hickerson Solar project will be constructed, owned and operated by a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, and the output will aim to cover the net purchased electricity load for all 14 of INEOS O&P USA’s manufacturing, fractionation and storage facilities. Commercial operation is expected by December 2025.

The project is expected to produce 730,000 megawatt-hours of clean energy annually, which is the equivalent to the annual electricity use of over 68,000 homes. INEOS hopes this will significantly contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 310,000 tons per year.

This follows the recently signed renewable power purchase agreement with NextEra Energy Resources, which is the world's largest generator of renewable energy from wind and sun.

6 sustainability-minded Houston stores giving discounts for old clothes

CLOTHES THE LOOP

Shopping is fun, but it comes with the unseen price tag of more than 92 million tons of global textile waste generated each year. With the apparel industry's global emissions predicted to increase by 50 percent in just six years, many see this as a full-blown climate crisis that is already affecting people across the globe.

To combat this problem, several retailers have committed to bolstering their sustainability efforts. From recycling linens, towels, pillows, and robes to upcycling denim, companies are finding ways for every textile to be saved from the landfill and either re-worn, repurposed, or recycled.

Stores trying to make a difference include Patagonia, North Face, J.Jill, Carter's, and DSW Shoes. To make summer vacation and back-to-school shopping more environmentally friendly, we've rounded up six Houston retailers where customers can trade in used clothing and textiles for exclusive discounts.

Gap

Gap has partnered with ThredUp, an online resale company, to recycle gently used clothing for their Gap for Good initiative. Customers can activate a kit and get a label here, fill the bag, and drop it off at any FedEx or post office location. If ThredUp selects any items for resale, customers can choose to receive either cash or store credit. Those who opt for store credit and use it at any Gap Inc.-brand stores will receive an additional 15% off their purchase. For clothes not chosen for resale, ThredUp offers recycling services, or the items can be mailed back to the customer for a fee.

H&M

According to H&M's website, its worldwide garment recycling program, launched in 2013, is "the biggest of its kind in the world." Customers can get 15 percent off their purchase by bringing unwanted clothes or textiles — from any brand and in any condition — to one of its stores. Turn them in at the cashier's kiosk and receive a coupon for their next purchase. The clothing and textiles will be sorted into three categories: re-wear, reuse, or recycling.

Levi's

Levi's aims to keep its coveted jeans in circulation and out of landfills with its trade-in program. The brand accepts denim and trucker jackets that are still in good condition; they repair any minor damage, sanitize the items, and resell them through their secondhand shop. Customers will receive a gift card ranging from $5 to $30, depending on the value of the item traded in. Customers must make an appointment to take advantage of this program, and only certain types of denim are accepted. A complete list of requirements is available here.

Lululemon

Have a drawer full of old Lululemon workout gear? Trade it in for a gift card towards a future purchase. The garment does not need to have its care tag, size tag, or price tag for this initiative; the workout brand accepts clean and gently worn (items with no damage, pilling, rips, or discoloration) women's and men's Lululemon clothing and bags for their Like New program. Except for outlet stores, every Lululemon outpost can accept items for the Like New program. Check what they're taking before going to the store, because items cycle in and out depending on seasonality and inventory. The value of the gift card customers will receive is determined by the value of the items traded in, but generally ranges in price from $5 to $25 and can be redeemed in-store or online.

Madewell

Madewell is on a mission to become fully sustainable, defined as using only fibers sustainably sourced and free of virgin plastics, by 2025. It has partnered with Cotton's Blue Jeans Go Green program to repurpose denim and keep it out of landfills by turning old jeans into housing insulation.

To participate in Madewell's recycling program, bring any brand or style of jeans in any condition to any Madewell store. If shipping is more convenient, activate a Clean Out Kit here or print out a free shipping label and mail in women's previously used clothing, handbags, shoes, and accessories from any brand. In exchange, customers will get a coupon for $20 off purchasing one new pair of Madewell jeans.

Parachute

Parachute, the beloved home essentials brand, is celebrating its 10th anniversary by launching a recycling program. In partnership with SuperCircle, they accept used towels, sheets, and robes. Although there are several recycling programs for clothing, shoes, and accessories, Parachute is pioneering this type of program in the home textile sector.

To participate in the program, customers can take their sheets, towels, pillows, and robes in any condition from any brand to Parachute's Rice Village store. They'll sort and recycle donated items for a second life – from new textiles to new projects, including furniture batting, insulation, and padding – sending nothing to landfill. In return, customers will receive a discount on their next Parachute purchase.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.