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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Sustainable Tucson: Putting Sustainability at the Heart of Our Community

Sep 30, 2022 07:30AM ● By Paula Schlusberg
A healthy planet is something everyone wants, but not all are sure how to achieve it. Although some would rely on government action in order to make it happen, many people want to contribute toward that goal with personal actions and behaviors. Fortunately, there are community resources.
Sustainable Tucson is a nonprofit volunteer organization founded in 2006. The mission of Sustainable Tucson is to work with others to build community capacity for a sustainable future in Tucson, in harmony with our Sonoran desert home and life on Earth.
The organization focuses on the entire range of issues required to achieve a sustainable community. Programming highlights the interconnections between those issues through education, action and advocacy. To achieve this, Sustainable Tucson presents monthly public meetings, topical workshops and multi-session training courses; organizes special events; supports working group actions in the community; and galvanizes public support for policies that support the organization’s mission.
The monthly meetings, all free to the public, offer informative presentations by experts from the Tucson community and beyond. Topics include, among others, water use, energy, transportation, housing, food, agriculture and local economy—all focused on building a healthy, resilient community in the face of climate challenges. Discussions with the presenters give attendees the
opportunity to learn what they can do to maintain a healthy planet. For example, to ensure clean air and clean water for Tucson (past meeting topics) or, as in the most recent meeting, to prepare for and respond to climate-driven emergencies and health risks, particularly ones related to excess heat. Meeting announcements are posted monthly online at
Beyond these meetings, Sustainable Tucson offers an excellent learning opportunity for anyone who wants to explore sustainability more in-depth. The Ambassadors of Sustainability training program meets for 12 weeks. Local experts and activists explore topics such as water, food resilience, shade, sustainable housing, green infrastructure and much more. Participants also receive training and practice in communicating about sustainability. A new season of the program will start in Spring 2023. The public is also welcome to participate in the Sustainable Leadership Training workshops, with a new series starting this month.
For any who are ready for active projects in the community, the Working Groups and Committees are the place to look. These groups, a relatively recent addition to Sustainable Tucson programming, all grew out of an issue that volunteers were passionate about, and there have already been some exciting successes. For example, Habitat Restoration, with a grant from the Leveler Foundation, has planted pollinator gardens adjoining two vegetable gardens affiliated with Community Gardens of Tucson, and has more gardens in the works. The Charitable and Faith-Based Sustainability Committee worked with the Kidane Mehret Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church to install raised-bed gardens and create food-growing opportunities at the church; the project had support from the African-American Legacy Fund of the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona. This committee hopes to expand sustainability features at other institutions.
The Zero Waste Working Group is perhaps the most active, with current projects working to encourage use of reusable take-out containers at local restaurants and in dining halls at the University of Arizona, as well as a program exploring ways to reduce food waste in Tucson. An exciting spin-off from this group is the Tucson Repair Cafe. Anyone can bring an item in need of repair, from electronics to clothing to household small appliances, and volunteer repairers will fix the item. All these projects help to keep things out of the landfill, a valuable step toward a more sustainable community. Volunteers are welcome to join one (or more) of the working groups and get involved with an ongoing project or initiate one of their own.
One more important way to support Tucson’s move toward a sustainable community is through advocacy. Sustainable Tucson has submitted feedback on two major City of Tucson initiatives, the Climate Action Plan and the transition of the Los Reales Landfill to a Sustainability Campus. Individuals can also be active in advocating, by signing up for the Environmental Advocates e-list (send email address to [email protected]) and then contacting elected officials in response to the action alerts.

Sign up for the Sustainable Tucson e-newsletter to get notices of programs
and ways you can become involved by sending your name and email address
to [email protected]. For more information about joining any of
the groups or initiatives above, visit

Paula Schlusberg is a Sustainable Tucson Board member. Connect at
[email protected].