January 17, 2022
Candice Johnson

Overview of Harris County's Sustainability Practices

In 2021, the Analyst’s Office released a memo with a comprehensive catalogue of existing Harris County sustainability practices and policies. This memo provides policymakers with an understanding of existing sustainability practices and policies to serve as a starting point for the development of short- and long-term sustainability goals and actionable policies.

For this memo, sustainability is defined as the creation of long-term conditions under which humans and nature can coexist. The Analyst’s Office utilized the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Sustainability Report and Implementation Plan (SRIP) as a framework for defining sustainability and identifying seven sustainability categories.

Of the 64 departments that responded to the survey request, 52 reported at least one sustainability practice or policy, and 12 departments stated that they do not have any sustainability practices or policies in place. Departments with sustainability policies and practices in place are identified and summarized below.

Waste Management and Diversion

43 out of 64 departments (67%) reported policies or practices related to waste management and diversion. Most departments report recycling paper and/or cardboard as part of the County’s current recycling program. Some departments practice reducing overall waste by either digitizing processes previously reliant on paper or re-purposing and reusing furniture, cardboard, and other materials.

Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Reductions

17 out of 64 departments (27%) report reducing greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging employees to use alternate forms of transportation. Example practices and policies implemented by County departments include: promoting the METRO RideSponsor Program with employees, allowing employees flexible work schedules such as working remotely, or assigning certain personnel vehicles so that they may report directly to work assignments.

Transportation and Fleet Management

12 out of 64 departments (19%) reported practices or policies related to transportation and fleet efficiency. Example practices and policies implemented by County departments include: swapping out older vehicles for more fuel-efficient models to practice fleet right-sizing (a practice to build and maintain sustainable, fuel-efficient fleets that meet current operational needs and eliminate highly specialized, rarely used, or unsuitable vehicles for current applications), revising vehicle allocation practices to ensure vehicles are used only when necessary, and utilizing electric and/or hybrid vehicles in their fleet.

Sustainable Buildings

Nine out of 64 departments (14%) reported maintaining efficient and environmentally responsible facilities, validated by thorough third-party certifications. Example practices and policies implemented by County departments include: replacing interior and exterior incandescent light bulbs with energy efficient LED lighting, and replacing existing plumbing fixture with water efficient restroom fixtures.

Sustainable Acquisition and Procurement

Nine out of 64 departments (14%) reported purchasing products with specific environmental or energy attributes, and/or utilizing cost-effective approaches to improve facility efficiency and upgrading systems. Example practices and policies implemented by County departments include: purchasing environmentally green products and furnishing facilities with donated or previously owned furnishings.

Water Efficiency

Six out of 64 departments (9%) reported policies or practices to aid with managing and reducing water wastage. Example practices and policies implemented by County departments include: utilizing resilient native plants in landscaping that require less water; reusing water waste or stormwater runoff for irrigation; and investing in water-saving projects and efforts (such as low volume toilets and touchless faucets). Some of these departments manage rainfall and reduce stormwater runoff and pollution at facilities by installing drain guards, detention ponds, or bioswales (which are stormwater runoff conveyance systems that absorb low flows or carry runoff from heavy rains to stormwater inlets).

Renewable Energy

Five out of 64 departments (8%) identified renewable energy as a sustainable practice performed by their department. Departments reported generating renewable energy on-site via solar panels.