Each Science Night Live event features an expert presenter to speak to our guests about a timely and engaging topic related to the sciences. At SNL on June 2, Chris Castro will discuss the City of Orlando’s current and future efforts to be a leader in urban sustainability.
Chris is the Director of Sustainability for the City of Orlando. We asked him to tell us more about what he plans to discuss at Science Night Live and to give us some insight into his field.
OSC: How is Orlando working to be a leader in urban sustainability?
Chris: Over the last 10 years, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, through the Green Works Orlando initiative, has made it a priority to make Orlando a more environmentally friendly, socially inclusive, and economically vibrant City. Sustainability in urban cities is about enhancing the quality of life of PEOPLE, protecting natural resources and the PLANET, and ensuring long-term PROSPERITY for all.
Urban sustainability is important because as our population grows, now surpassing 7.5 billion around the World, most of us are moving to cities and urban settings. Today over 50% of the global population lives in cities, and as a result, present ever-growing challenges on how we can sustain our ability to thrive.
There are many examples of how to do this, including enabling alternative forms of transportation like bike share, Sunrail, and Lymmo; encouraging newly planned walkable and livable communities; increasing parks and green space; protecting wildlife habitat; investing in the urban forest and our trees; growing more local and organic food within the city; conserving energy and water resources in our homes and businesses; enabling a green energy economy that leads us to be powered by 100% clean, renewable energy sources; and so much more.
Sustainability is about meeting the needs of today, without compromising the needs of future generations to meet their own needs. It’s about finding a balance between meeting our needs and harmony with the natural world. As we look towards the incredible growth that Orlando is witnessing, now the 4th fastest growing city in the nation, it’s imperative that if we’re going to attract the creative class, talent, and be the best place to live, work, learn, and play – that we cannot just looking at the single “economic” bottom-line, but we’re taking into account social inclusion and environmental stewardship.
OSC: Why are you personally passionate about the field of sustainability?
Chris: I am passionate about sustainability because I think it’s the greatest opportunity of the 21st century. Growing up in Miami, I was raised to respect nature, enjoy it’s beauty, and honor its intelligence. I grew up diving and surfing, growing trees on my dad’s palm tree farm, and enjoying the great outdoors on family vacations…and over time, I realized that protecting the magic of nature and finding a balance with humans was my purpose in life.
Truthfully, I’m passionate about solving problems, and the most pressing challenges facing humanity revolve around our ability to find a balance between our growth as a civilization and the sustainability of the natural world that we depend on every day to survive and to thrive. Sustainable development touches all aspects of our lives, from alleviating poverty, to enabling education for all, to expanding clean energy and water resources, protecting biodiversity, circular and robust economies, to eradicating inequalities between gender, race, age, and religion and much more. This is all about creating a more sustainable future, with the understanding the environment is at the foundation of it all.
OSC: Do you have any suggestions for ways to be “green” at home that people might not usually think of?
Chris: There are many many ways that someone can minimize our impacts at home, but it starts with our willingness to do so. The hearts and minds as to why this is important.
For some, saving energy means saving money, so retrofitting your house lighting to LED, installing programmable thermostats, and buying energy-efficient appliances will help them achieve that. Who knows, they might even want to go solar at their homes!
Others can ramp up their recycling habits, and in addition to paper, plastics, aluminum, cardboard…you should include diverting your food scraps from the landfill by composting in your backyard. The City of Orlando offers FREE backyard composters!
Plant a Florida native tree through the City’s “One Person One Tree” program, which helps add value to your property, create habitat for birds, and improve our air quality (among many other benefits of trees!)
Water conservation, especially in Florida, is key! Most of our water use goes to irrigating our lawns, which can be minimized by using Florida native grasses and plants that eliminate the need for additional watering. If you’re fertilizing, this is also a major contributor to water pollution and should be eliminated as much as possible.
These are just a few short tips to begin making a positive impact, but there’s a lot more where that came from.
OSC: What is something that gives you hope for an optimistic future in regard to the environment?
Chris: Despite some of the “doom and gloom” we hear about regarding climate change, global warming and sea level rise, there are some amazing innovations and solutions being implemented all around the world.
The United Nations has focused their entire platform on the sustainable development goals (SDGs), 17 global goals working to eliminate poverty, reduce inequalities, and protect us against the threats to the environment.
Major cities, states, and even fortune 500 corporations are moving to 100% renewable energy, seeing the importance of emission free electricity to ensure better air and water.
Technology for solar panels, battery storage, and electric vehicles (just to name a few!) are improving every day and lowering in cost dramatically.
Local governments, like Orlando, are beginning to realize the importance of being better stewards of the environment and finding ways to prioritize sustainability as a way to make healthier, cleaner, more prosperous cities.
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