The surf’s up for this episode of Teaching Change! In this two-parter, the hosts talk chasing waves and sustainability with Chris Castro, the Director of Sustainability for the City of Orlando. Chris’ love of nature started at an early age in Miami, FL where he worked on his stepfather’s palm tree farm. His extracurricular activities included snorkeling, scuba diving, and surfing–which was a major reason why he chose to attend the University of Central Florida (UCF) as an undergraduate. Orlando’s location gave Chris easy access to Florida’s exciting beaches and waterways.
Chris may have come for the surfing but he quickly found himself at home among Orlando’s emerging innovation and technology scene. Within these budding platforms, Chris saw the potential for initiatives involving sustainability. Chris’ path to his current advocacy and life’s work is a testament to the power of higher education and the personal development it affords. When asked about his interest in sustainability, Chris recalls the course in Environmental Sociology he took as a student at UCF. He credits this class with opening his eyes on how humans impact the world and each other with actions such as energy consumption and waste. These revelations sparked his interest in sustainability activism and in solutions to issues that plague the environment. That’s when Chris went mobile.
He rallied his peers together and formed IDEAS for Us, which began in 2008 as a UCF interdisciplinary organization of students working on policy and solutions to make college campuses more sustainable. Now IDEAS for Us has chapters all over the world, including one at Valencia College. The focus of IDEAS for Us revolves around energy, water, food, waste, and ecology. Two initiatives spearheaded by IDEAS for Us include Kill-A-Watt and Green Your Game. For Kill-A-Watt, students living in dorms compete to conserve energy and save money to win scholarships. Green Your Game promotes recycling, reducing, and reusing efforts at UCF’s tailgating events.
The conversation then turns to Chris’ work as an urban farmer and the importance of creating a sustainable agricultural system. Chris shares that food currently travels an average of 1500-1800 miles before it reaches a person’s plate. To address this issue, Chris co-created the Fleet Farming program that converts lawns and underused land into farms. Fleet Farming is made possible through Swarm Rides which consist of volunteers on bikes collecting the city-grown produce. The produce is then sold at farmers markets and to local vendors.
Chris wears many hats in addition to his day job. This episode just scratches the surface. Be sure to check back next week to hear the conclusion of Chris Castro’s interview.
Chris Castro’s Biography
An award-winning sustainability professional, eco-entrepreneur, urban farmer, and community organizer working to accelerate the transition to a smart, resilient, and sustainable future.
Chris is currently the Director of Sustainability, Senior Advisor to Mayor Dyer, and Co-chair of Smart Cities for the City of Orlando, developing partnerships, policies, and programs to support the sustainability, clean energy, & climate-related goals of Mayor Buddy Dyer’s Green Works Orlando initiative.
In 2008, Chris co-founded IDEAS For Us, a global 501c3 non-profit & UN-accredited NGO, working to incubate global environmental solutions and fund local action that advances the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In 2013, he helped co-create Fleet Farming, a renowned urban farming program that is refining local food by building distributed organic agricultural systems through neighborhoods and communities.
Chris has held sustainability & energy-related positions with University of Central Florida, Orange County Government, and the US Department of Energy. In 2012, Chris also co-founded a clean energy consulting firm, Citizen Energy, that provides custom energy efficiency & renewable energy solutions for commercial buildings in the Washington DC Metro area.
In addition, Chris is a public speaker and has been recognized for his effort as an emerging environmental leader; including the ‘Guru of Green’ by the Orlando Business Journal, the 2017 Grist 50 Award, Top 30 Under 30 sustainability professionals by GreenBiz, formal recognition from President Bill Clinton, and a ‘Champions of Change’ awardee from the U.S. White House & Obama Administration. Chris has spoken at more than 100 conferences and events, including the United Nations HQ & the UN Rio+20 Summit, NASA Kennedy Space Center Innovation Expo, TEDx Orlando, Better Buildings Summit, and more.
Teaching Change Shout-outs
For more information on topics discussed during the show, see the list below.
**Credit: The theme music for Teaching Change is provided by bensound.com.**