Sustainable Waco is Already Here!
by Lucas Land
When you hear the word “sustainable”, what’s the first city you think of? Portland? Austin? Somewhere in California? Why not Waco?
While Austin installs a food forest and San Diego commits to move to 100% renewable energy by 2025, it feels like Waco is always playing catch up to other cities. We may not have a reputation for being “eco-friendly,” but I am constantly surprised by the things already happening in Waco promoting sustainability. Of course, there is still plenty of work to do, but there are ways for you to get connected and get involved.
Sustainability can be understood as the state in which a system is able to continue indefinitely without depleting the resources on which the system depends. It is obvious by this definition that the fossil fuels on which so much of our civilization depends never will be sustainable. Taking the path away from fossil fuels will be difficult. The biggest barrier obstructing our progress is the idea that we are separate, from each other and from the earth.
We, however, are not separate. We all depend on the Brazos (and Lake Waco) for our water. With a growing local food economy, we can see how the land around us provides food to eat. The device you are currently using to read this connects you to points across the globe. We are in this together, and we are not alone.
When I moved to Waco in 2009 to intern at World Hunger Relief, a local organization working on sustainable agriculture here and around the world, there was only a small farmer’s market at the Extraco Events Center. Because of the hard work of some Wacoans, we now have a year-round, weekly market on the river that has thousands of visitors every year, has encouraged and supported our local food economy, and currently features over 30 vendors.
The local Mars factory leads the business community with a strong commitment to sustainability. The plant that produces most of the world’s Skittles also produces much of its energy needs by harnessing methane gas from the landfill, wastewater plant, and waste from local companies, such as Cargill. The Mars plant also hosts an Earth Day event every year to raise awareness about sustainability.
Civically, Waco shows just as much promise. Just this month Mayor Duncan and the city council approved the creation of the Sustainable Resources Practices Advisory Board. The Friends of Peace/Climate group hosts monthly documentaries about climate change, propose changes such as the plastic bag ban, and also plans and implements actions to raise awareness. They have done this work for almost a decade.
For my part, I bike to work and my family makes do with one vehicle. I’ve also worked hard to promote sustainable and edible landscaping in urban yards. I started a small landscaping business called Edible Lawns and I’ve taught classes on raising backyard chickens for MCC Continuing Education.
I feel bad not saying more about Baylor’s Campus Kitchen, Bosque River Coalition, The Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research at Baylor, Central Texas Audubon Society, Critical Mass Waco, Deb Tolman, The Dwyer Group, Keep Waco Beautiful, Master Naturalists, Master Gardeners, Red Caboose Winery, Urban Gardening Coalition, and many more. These are just a few examples of what’s already happening in Waco.
What Needs to Happen?
It’s also true that we have a long way to go towards achieving a sustainable city. Plans to rebuild the energy plant at Tradinghouse Lake would be a huge step backwards. Plans for the new plant would continue to supply our energy needs from fossil fuels. Instead, we need to work to build energy alternatives to fossil fuels in our community. We need incentives for businesses and citizens to move towards renewable energy.
We need to reduce our dependence on cars for our daily transportation needs. It will take a lot more work before anyone considers Waco “bike-friendly.” Better public transportation will also contribute to decreasing our dependence on cars.
Our lives are still saturated with fossil fuels. They are in everything from medicines, to cosmetics, to fabrics, to toothpaste, to shoes and basketballs. Transitioning away from fossil fuels will require producing more of what we need close to home, finding new (and sometimes old) ways to produce the things we need, and sharing more of the things we don’t use all the time like tools and lawnmowers.
How to Get Involved
A few years ago I realized I knew many people across our city who were interested in sustainability, but many of them didn’t know each other. I started Sustainable Waco to network and connect with more of these people (online and in person). I want to invite you to be part of making Waco more sustainable.
You can meet people on the Sustainable Waco Facebook page, and find organizations and events in town on the Sustainable Waco website. Connect your gifts and passions to what’s already happening. If it’s not happening yet, ask for support and partners to get started and make it happen. Tell me what you’re up to and I’ll add it to the list.
Rather than feeling bad about not being Portland or Austin when it comes to sustainability, let’s recognize the gifts and resources in our own backyard. We can build on the work that many are already doing. If we work together, soon Waco will be among the cities that come to mind when people in Texas and around the country hear the word “sustainable”. What are you waiting for? Let’s go!
Lucas Land is an eco-theologian, urban farmer, activist, aspiring master naturalist, facilitator, musician, and writer. He is avoiding growing up by constantly learning and trying new things. He also works in Grants Management for Waco ISD. He lives with his wife, three children, flock of chickens, dog, and cat in the Sanger Heights Neighborhood in North Waco.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.