The scene at the Earth Day HTX Festival on the grounds of Hermann Square outside of City Hall is much like walking around the city’s largest science fair.
A variety of booths from various city departments line and circle the fountain around the City Hall Plaza. Display booths, a small stage where a school choir performs and later a green fashion show will feature the very best in sustainable earth friendly fashion are just some of the highlights of the day’s event.
The City of Houston hosted Earth Day HTX, a three-day celebration billed as the largest Earth Day in the city’s history. Earth Day HTX kicked off on April 17 featuring two days of speaker symposiums addressing topics on flood mitigation, preparedness and policy, the disproportionality of climate change impact on people with disabilities and more.
Administrative & Regulatory Affairs Deputy PIO Billy Rudolph said Mayor Sylvester Turner came to Director Tina Paez’s office in December 2022 and stated he wanted to put on “the biggest Earth Day citywide display” and earmarked $150,000 for its creation. He added the committee successful created the display under budget.
“We had our first meeting back in the second week of January 2023 and had more than 100 committee members,” he said. “All 23 city departments played a hand in this year’s festival.”
Rudolph said the committee was divided into two groups (speaker series group and festival committee) and met every week for three months. They put together different ideas for the name of the festival. “He loved Earth Day HTX, so as to not have it confused with any other Earth Day event and that seemed to work,” he said. “My team came with the style of the logo.”
The event was so successful, the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs said it was declared to be a significant event, Rudolph said. “It’s not just a one-time event; it’s officially a citywide occasion every year,” he said.
Rudolph said it takes the cooperation of every city department to successfully push and create city wide initiatives like Earth Day HTX Festival.
“You have to have a complete buy in for something like this to be successful,” he explained. “The mayor has always been adamant about protecting the city’s environment, so it was easy for all of us to jump on board and move toward the goal.”
“We’ve had some fantastic panel discussions and speakers from around the county during our two-day speaker series,” Turner told an audience on the plaza. “We are also celebrating the many successes of our city departments through projects and initiatives that promote a cleaner, greener Houston.”
“All our initiatives are stronger through collaboration in all sectors of the socioeconomic scale. Today’s festivities showcase these resilience initiatives and more with hands on demonstrations and presentations highlighting almost every city department and beyond.”
During his two terms, Turner said the city has made major environmental impacts, mostly attributed to the city’s climate action and the city’s Resilient Houston Plan. The mayor mentioned a list of notable milestones that have been achieved through the Resilient Houston Plan, including:
- Planted more than 1.2 million trees, part of a targeted goal of 4.6 million trees planted in Houston before 2030,
- Signed the building decimalization policy in 2021 that will preserve more than 700 acres of natural habitat. The EPA ranked Houston no.1in the nation for green power usage among all local governments.
- Purchased more renewable energy than any U.S. city.
“My focus was building a resilient program for contemporary Houston that will sustain for many generations to come,” Turner said. “Also, it was to build a plan that was flexible enough to incorporate the earth’s ever-changing climate.”
“We wanted to build a system that included community leaders, community voices, the energy sector, the business community … just bringing everyone to the table to initiate and promote a sustainable action plan that are easily incorporated into education institutions for our younger generations to protect their future on this planet,” Turner said.
Representation for the younger generation is critical, according to Mayor’s Office of Education and Youth Engagement Director Olivera Jankovska. She has been a strong advocate of youth having a seat at the table to discuss environmental issues.
“If we’re going to be deciding the future of these people, they need to be at the table, telling us their feelings, thoughts, opinions and ideas. Thirty-seven percent of the city’s population is between the ages of 0-24. None of these people are generally participating in the conversation in terms of governmental policies, decision making or resolutions that the city is doing,” she said.
Jankovska also said there are a lot of opportunities to get involved as a citizen, with an opportunity for every single person to act.
“That action might take education, and there are plenty of resources you can take to help. If you just want to pass the message along that the Earth is important, that environmental justice is important, sustainability is important, but if you don’t know how, just reach out to us and we will provide those resources to you and your community. Everyone can educate,” Jankovska said.
At-Large Pos. 2 City Councilman David Robinson said Houston’s commitment to green energy is leading the nation, adding 100% of the energy bought as a city is renewable.
“I think that says volumes for the energy capital of the world, and as the energy transition capital of the world. We’re home to so many Fortune 500 companies, oil and gas, and energy companies and this is where we must lead and show that it’s not just a new fad or the thing that is catching on this year,” Robinson said.
“This is the way of life for the planet and for the future of humanity. Houston I such a bio-diverse place. People forget that, and I love being a part of it. I love Mayor Turner’s commitment on that on behalf of all Houstonians.”
View photos by John Cox of the Earth Day HTX events.