Group aims to boost recycling, bike-riding in Austin

Published 11:10 am Thursday, August 14, 2008

From carpools and energy audits to renewable remodeling and grant funding, all can take part in efforts to make Austin a “greener” community, according to members of the Austin Coalition for Sustainability, who hosted a community event Wednesday at City Hall that included local leaders from government, utilities and business.

“We just need to start,” ACES president Susan Hurm said, adding, “because we can make a big difference if we work together.”

Hurm presented the organization’s ideas to more than a dozen Austin residents during one of two meetings to promote carbon reduction and environmental conservation. ACES efforts are designed to promote and advance Austin’s commitment as a “Cool City,” as passed by the Austin City Council Sept. 17.

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The initiative made Austin one of 850 municipalities nationwide seeking to reduce its carbon footprint, an effort complemented by a statewide resolution, known as the “Global Mitigation Act,” to decrease greenhouse emissions by 15 percent by 2015, 30 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050.

“Those are lofty goals, but many cities are already working and reaching toward that,” Hurm said. “And we need to join them.”

Strategies include local promotions and partnerships geared at helping individuals recycle, reduce car travel, make their homes or businesses more efficient and celebrate and learn about environmentalism.

Hurm and fellow ACES member Bob Wangsness heavily endorsed bicycling efforts, such as increasing the number of bike racks around town, establishing a better road system for bikes and business-type initiatives encouraging biking to work and free rentals.

“What’s exciting to me is really … the amount of communities who received grants setting up a bike-friendly community,” Wangsness said. “It made me feel good that Austin is not alone.”

Hurm said they were working with Austin Mower County Area Transit to buoy up its ridership, including a role in a citywide month-long promotion known as “Be Cool … Carpool, Bus or Bike this Summer,” from Aug. 20 to Sept. 20.

“The idea is to get people out of their cars and to bike, carpool or bus,” Hurm said, adding that the effort may include an AMCAT drawing for bus passes, bikes and helmets.

Hurm and members also promoted energy audits, available through Austin Utilities for $40; “Project Green Fleet,” which helps school buses reduce engine emissions by 50 percent; and a recycling challenge aimed at increasing the percentage of recycling material to 60 percent.

It’s currently 45-50 percent, Hurm said.

“Fifty percent at this day and age is almost an embarrassment, to be honest with you,” Hormel Foods representative Rich Johnson said. “We need to break down barriers and show people this is the best thing to do.”

He and attendees offered several ideas to speed local response to the initiatives and encourage participation.

They included a sliding fee scale or rebates for energy audits and better follow up, recycling incentives and bike safety classes.

“This is everybody’s world, and we need to work together,” ACES vice president Ruth Klamm said.

On Sept. 14-20, ACES will commemorate Austin’s advent as a “Cool City” though a series of appearances and events. Hurm said details are still being organized.

The organization will also take part in RE-fest, an event partially funded by the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center Sept. 20 at Riverland Community College.

The day will include workshops and activities educating individuals about renewable energy and action steps.

More information is available online at The organization, which meets the fourth Thursday of each month, is seeking more members and donations, Hurm said.