City and Corporate Sustainability Burn Bright in Houston, America’s Energy Hub
April 25, 2012
In the popular dialogue around sustainability, people pay more attention to the things they can touch, like the canvas bags that are now common at grocery stores, than to multi-billion dollar organizational or citywide initiatives.
Once a green initiative transcends the personal level, perhaps it becomes too nebulous to be tangible. We can all understand recycling plastic water bottles, but when the talk turns to replacing some of our coal-generated electricity with clean solar photovoltaic power, the attention span diminishes. The truth of the matter, however, is that for energy efficiency and environmental stewardship to really work, it takes the combined effort of municipalities, businesses and individuals to each do their part.
Recently, this phenomenon has become highly visible in a rather unlikely location: Houston, the hub of the global energy industry. We most often associate Houston with oil and gas exploration and production, and rightfully so. More than 200 companies in the industry, including major corporations like ConocoPhillips, Transocean, Schlumberger, BP, Kinder Morgan, Marathon, Shell Oil and Halliburton, call Houston home.
Less well-known is the fact that Houston’s deep roots in the energy industry extend to energy conservation and stewardship. Houston has consistently been ranked among the top ten U.S. cities for Energy Star-certified buildings, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Houston is also frequently ranked among the top ten cities for buildings with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, in recognition of sustainable architecture and building practices that also promote environmental stewardship and energy conservation.
More recently, Houston held its first-ever Green Office Challenge, a contest that challenged roughly 300 participating businesses to make the city a “greener place to live and work,” to paraphrase Mayor Annise Parker. The challenge tasks participating companies with reducing energy and water use, as well as producing less waste by implementing energy efficiency and environmental stewardship measures through various means depending on owned (focuses on structural improvements as well as sustainability programs) or rented property (places greater emphasis on sustainability programs and energy use improvements).