October 19th, 2010

Dear Houston: Mean Go Green

Houston, is it your job to single-handedly ruin the environment? I mean, not only are you the Mecca of the oil industry, but you hardly support recycling. I’m driving a hybrid and doing my part, but where is everyone’s social conscience?




Let’s reign in those accusations for just a moment, shall we Mr. Gore? Being the mecca of the oil industry is not a product of local flavor, but a direct representation of where we are as a nation, and on a broader scale, where we are as a planet. As long as we’re dependent on black gold, I have more to lose than gain from kowtowing to the political grandstand du jour. If I don’t provide a safe harbor for the big money (and the resulting employment opportunities) from Big Oil, another city will.

You can stand on a soapbox and scream till you’re green in the face that everyone should drive a Prius, but if you think it’s just America’s driveaholics causing our outrageous oil consumption, you’re just another political droid. A 42 gallon barrel of oil produces approximately 19 gallons of gasoline, so until you have a plan to sustainably and cost-effectively replace key components in solvents, ink, upholstery, bicycle tires, motorcycle helmets, jet fuel, umbrellas, dentures, enamel, anesthetics, food preservatives, petroleum jelly, basketballs, antiseptics, anti-freeze, caulking, jobs, floor wax, oil filters, soap, pantyhose and the hundreds of other products derived in some way from crude, getting rid of your clunker just means that you’ve been promoted from the boiler room to the captain’s chair on the Titanic. Congratulations. And keep telling your shipmates, the thousands employed by O&G companies in Houston that you’re on a higher plane of understanding now, and you’ll be mutinied long before you have the pleasure of watching Leo let go.

Now then, that being said, I am all for heightened sustainability and responsibility approached in a realistic manner. So kudos to those driving vehicles that operate on unicorn dreams and also realize that crude consumption doesn’t stop there. But because the money in Big Oil is way too entrenched on a global scale to wait on a trickle-down of backhanded responsibility, Houstonians will need to pursue grass-roots self-accountability and force that attitude up the chain. Good recycling programs are a great start.

Houston Skyline

About that….look….I was going through a rough patch. Until recently, I admit it- I was one of the worst. There was a bad breakup, I wasn’t really taking care of myself and I fell off the wagon. No one wanted to spend money on the service, I didn’t know where to take my glass and who the hell can fit all their recycling into a green bin the size of a shoebox anyway?! But I’m getting better.

I’ve cut ribbons on multiple, regional recycling centers that should remove the excuses for people who dump their trash illegally. Earlier this year, I kicked off a big boy recycling initiative that includes incentives for pounds of recycling. It only services a small portion of the population, but it’s a start and my Director of Sustainability, Laura Spanjian, is dead set on bringing it to a neighborhood near you. I had to swallow some pride and give San Fran a call, but Laura’s a west coast big gun that’s worth having in the holster. Continued cooperation with non-profits such as We CAN Recycle is providing a place to get rid of my glass containers and Annise is doing her part by helping me out with the Green Office Challenge (That may not exactly be recycling in the most literal sense, but it’s another step in the right direction).

So, Ruston, before you get on that high horse, keep in mind that those who shout the loudest are often the ones that listen the least. Take a chill pill, bro-heathen and engage in a little introspection. The programs are out there now, but it’s up to you to use them and spread that proactive attitude. It’s not easy being green, but as long as we all realize that it’s a journey, not a destination, I’ll keep getting better.

My name is Houston, and I approve this message.

Greening up,


— Tea Jones


Gone Green — Tuesday, October 19, 2010 10:24 am

I take the bus every single day, to and from work! The busses run, the question is: are you willing to give up the comfort and individuality of your car to take them?

Donnie — Tuesday, October 19, 2010 2:18 pm

How about getting some more/better mass transit? Heck, just make sidewalks standard! Even Detroit has sidewalks everywhere.

Stephan — Thursday, October 21, 2010 7:40 am


It sounds like you need to have a discussion with the city planners and the mayor. Buses technically are mass transit, and they actually do a pretty good job of getting people around the city. The plus with buses is that in a city with a lot of roads, they can take people exactly where they need to go.

The city planners have decided that buses + light rail is the best way forward. I happen to think that the light rail in its current configuration will not be a long term solution. On the other hand, Portland’s light rail works very well because it essentially acts like a car along the roads, though it has right-of-way.

Any new infrastructure is expensive, and me, I wish they would have spent more money to plan the whole thing out more before laying track.

Tea Jones — Thursday, October 21, 2010 9:49 am

I hate to play the pessimist in this situation, but I think Houston may have screwed the pooch on solid, light rail infrastructure. To Stephan’s point, better infrastructure in Houston would cost beaucoup dinero. Plus, the problem with Houston, and most of Texas in general, is urban sprawl and lack of a ‘Downtown Culture’ (although it seems to be improving slowly). While light rails have lead to some ride subsidization, it’s still not taking the percentage of vehicles off the streets that was originally anticipated. Gov. Goodhair ran into such issues while pimping the TTC.

My proposition? So glad you asked. Hold the line on light rail, but turn other perceived negatives into positives. Greenify service vehicles and streamline fleet management inside the loop (ala D.C.). And if Houston has anything like Zipcar, it’s not bastioned enough. While I agree with Houston that the public in general will always take the best financial/convenience option as far as vehicles go, sprawl may kill efficient light rail use. So we have to attack the problem from inside (the loop) out. Change the culture of Houston services, set a good example as a municipality and make it easier for citizens to follow suit. Thoughts?

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