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Being Green (And Energy Efficient)

Posted on Mon, Mar 05, 2012

It isn’t easy being green - or is it?

To quote one of the most revered and beloved figures in the 20thKermit Century, “It isn’t easy being green”.  Kermit the Frog had a slightly different perspective on that phrase, but in terms of energy efficiency, it used to be true.  Times, they are a-changing, and in some places the change is taking root at warp speed.

I recently spent twelve days in arguably the “greenest” city in the United States: San Francisco, California.  S.F. is a city that truly leads by example.  The city of San Francisco prides itself on not only  partaking in, but leading the green revolution.  It’s a passion that is  motivated by a community (in conjunction with local government,  residential and the business sectors) that both supports and demands  environmental and eco-friendly policy changes.  Why are San  Franciscans so committed?  Maybe it’s part of the cultural legacy left  from the “Flower Power” generation?  Or perhaps the techie whiz kids  from Google and Facebook and the likes carry over their idealism, energy and know-how to demand a better world?  Maybe it’s the appreciation for the natural gifts that surround the Bay; Redwood Forest, Yosemite, Napa and Sonoma, Russian River Valley, Bodega Bay, the Pacific Ocean and the long held preservation of some of these resources? Whatever the reasons, S.F. is at the forefront for change.  
Golden Gate Bridge

As I spent countless hours walking from Pacific Heights to the Financial District, North Beach and Chinatown, the Presidio and Chrissy Field, and everywhere in between, I tried to be present and really take in the numerous green, energy efficiency initiatives surrounding me.  And I saw the initiatives everywhere.  As I stopped in one of the many local coffee shops to get my Blue Bottle or Four Barrel latte fix (If you’re a coffee lover and you don’t know about either of these Bay Area based coffee companies, you’ll want to Google both of these brands!) in a recyclable coffee cup.
Now that may not sound like a big deal, but consider the fact that all restaurants in the city of San Francisco must use recyclable or compostable to-go containers for all take out.  It’s the law.  Markets such as Trader Joe’s are also using compostable/biodegradable bags. Plastic bags have had a limited ban in S.F. since 2007, and the S.F. Board of Supervisors recently approved legislation which will expand the plastic bag ban well beyond large supermarkets and pharmacies to all retailers citywide.  The goal is to reduce the use of single use bags, thus reducing the environmental impact on the Bay and the Pacific, as well as limiting landfill accumulation.

In addition, due to popular demand and the social conscience of many restaurant owners, compostable and biodegradable to-go containers, utensils, and cups are readily available.  And speaking of composting, along with the weekly residential garbage and recycling pick-up service, there is also a weekly compost pick-up.  The city then sells the compost to nearby Sonoma and Napa farmers, and once a year S.F. residents can receive a free bag of fertilizer.  It’s a win-win for everyone!!  From the local S.F. government, to the residential and business communities, S.F. serves as one example of how everyone can do their part in living a “greener” life.

Great!  So San Francisco is a very green city.  What does this have to do with energy efficiency?  And what energy efficiency initiatives does S.F. employ that other U.S. cities don’t?  Recycling may not have the largest impact on energy efficiency, but it’s certainly very complementary.  By recycling existing products, the need to generate new materials is reduced.  By reducing the demand for new products, the associated energy output is also reduced.  As for composting, if every household composted food scraps instead of throwing them into garbage bins (in plastic bags, to boot!) or using the garbage disposal, it would greatly decrease the amount of energy and water required.  It would also save space in our landfills, while benefitting local farmers.  

As for major energy efficiency initiatives, S.F. is currently undergoing a massive $4 billion dollar Transbay Transit Center Project which will transform downtown S.F. as well as the Bay Area’s regional transportation system by creating a “Grand Central Station” of the West.  Some of the environmental and energy efficiency benefits will include:  1) Being a LEED certified building incorporating sustainable design and green building features, 2) featuring a green roof to utilize natural light to conserve water and energy and 3) reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 36,000 each year from the Cal-Train extension alone.  In addition to adding over 125,000 jobs to the local economy and serving over 45 million people a year, the project is geared toward reducing the volume of cars in the city by providing more public transportation access and options for all nearby commuters, no matter from what part of the Bay Area or beyond their commuting.

Like so many cities, walking is often the best way to navigate a city. This couldn’t be more true than in S.F.  The vistas are often more rewarding and appreciated, the exercise can help offset eating the local delicacies, and parking frustration can be avoided.  But what is unique to this city by the bay?  The hills of course, and there are plenty of them!!  Needless to say, I’ve never been so happy to see the bus.  (a.k.a. the MUNI)  I’ve also learned that the bus shelters are something unique with a positive environmental impact.  In addition to providing accurate bus schedule information, the muni bus shelters are made from recyclable materials (steel for the frame and glass for the siding) and a red wave-like photovoltaic paneled roof that uses the sun’s rays to power the intercoms, LED lighting, and even wifi routers. Any extra solar generated electricity gets pumped back into the city grid.  
Green movement
My blog could go on and on, but I think you get a sense for the innovation, technology, environmental policies and general will of the people that exist in San Francisco and other like-minded communities across the United States and the globe.  What’s going on in your community?  We’d love to hear what cutting-edge innovations and solutions are happening in your neighborhood.  Best practices are served well by sharing.  After all, we’re living in an increasingly interconnected world, with increasingly limited resources.  What better purpose is there than to collaborate to help preserve and protect this great planet called Earth?
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