Women in Green: Austin’s Chief Sustainability Officer Lucia Athens

We speak with landscape architect Lucia Athens, the chief sustainability officer for the City of Austin, Texas about SXSW Eco.

I first met Lucia Athens when I interviewed her while working on Women in Green: Voices of Sustainable Design with Lance Hosey. She has been a leader in the green movement for many years and is currently a member of the Advisory Board of the SXSW Eco (of which I am also a member). Athens is chief sustainability officer for the City of Austin, Texas, which is the host city for SXSW and its offshoot, SXSW Eco (October 4 through 6).


She’s a licensed landscape architect as well as author of the book, Building an Emerald City: A Guide to Creating Green Building Policies, published in 2010 by Island Press. She began her career in green building in the early 1990s, working on the development team for the City of Austin’s Green Builder program, the first such program in the United States.

These days she is expanding the greening of the community in a number of ways. As she tells it, “I’m excited about how the mainstream and the green stream are connecting. I see tremendous possibility in the overlap between these various sectors, and SXSW’s growth is a manifestation of this. We have been working with the music community on greening opportunities, and the fact that the music and SXSW communities are so interested in sustainability is really promising.”

As far as Athens is concerned, it’s all about engaging people. “We can find new ways to leverage the attention of people and talk to them in a fun, entertaining way about patterns of behavior. They can learn a lot about these issues in a fun way at a variety of events, from the SXSW Eco conference to even less likely venues, such as a race track or football game.”

What’s the coolest thing that the city of Austin is up to these days? “We were selected as one of ten cities by the Ecodistricts Institute, and we’re working with a developer on a pretty exciting project—the Seaholm District. We have been learning a great deal from the other communities and the developer is really enthusiastic about engaging the community. Also, on Earth Day we released a sustainability action plan that details 180 projects and 40 citizen call-to-action statements. I will be talking about this effort at Greenbuild [in November in San Francisco] and at SXSW Eco. We’re really proud of this work and we think other communities will find it inspiring and immediately adaptable.”

Kira Gould is Director of Communications with William McDonough + Partners and co-author of Women in Green: Voices of Sustainable Design (Ecotone Publishing 2007).

See more on Women in Sustainable Design at SXSW ECO at Dwell, added 10/10/2012.

Categories: Cities