“Half way is no way” pronounced Mayor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday, July 16, 2008 at San Francisco’s Department of the Environment in reference to his ambitious integrated systems approach to sustainability initiatives for the city. The Mayor held a press conference to announce and provide updates on about a dozen sustainable initiatives San Francisco has currently committed resources to. He also articulated specific challenges to implementing and “synergistically” connecting a number of those initiatives given the complexity of the current structures of governance processes.
As the second most¬†sustainable city in the nation, according to SustainLane, San Francisco maintains a healthy sense of competitiveness with top ranked Portland, says the Mayor. Cities were ranked based on 15 categories, such as green building, city innovation and air quality. San Francisco gained its ranking based on such sustainability initiatives as a comprehensive recycling program, large-scale composting, bike transportation, green buildings, and solar initiatives. Although the city by the Bay is setting the standards for municipal sustainability vision and implementation, some of the challenges to fully realizing the 10 year old Sustainability Plan are a shortage of affordable housing, less then adequate and efficient public transportation and congestion.¬†
In close collaboration with SF Department of the Environment, and managed by Wade Crowfoot, Director of Climate Protection Initiatives, the Mayor has been developing an interconnected system of energy management, pollution/greenhouse gas reduction, local food availability, social equity and diversity.
With the recent solar incentive legislation and residential wind task force permitting and zoning reform, San Francisco is aggressively exploring alternative energy sources. Off-shore wind test sites are being proposed for Ocean Beach, expanding the current test sites such as the Treasure Island wind project. Tidal generators are also on the city’s agenda for energy management. The challenges of working with a multitude of entities that do not have a pre-existing framework for collaboratively approving and implementing new initiatives, have been contributing to a less expedient process than the Mayor has envisioned. The Solar Incentive Task force and the newly convened Wind Task force have been part of the Mayor’s commitment to increasing the expediency and efficiency of sustainability implementation and attaining the goal of a carbon neutral city by 2020 for San Francisco.¬†
The newly convened Wind Task force has put forth two resolutions after the first meeting – expediting the permitting process by the Department of Building Inspection and Planning Department,¬†and collaboration of all city departments towards incorporating wind turbines into the design of existing¬†and new City facilities whenever and wherever possible. The Task force will continue to meet for the rest of the year to address remaining challenges to wind energy as a substantial contributor to San Francisco’s energy portfolio.
Mayor Newsom is also aggressively pursuing an electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure for San Francisco. In addition to courting a partnership with Palo-Alto based¬†Project Better Place,¬†the city has recently put out a Request for Information and Statement of Interest to bring potential partners into the fold. Currently, Project Better Place (PDF) is developing a feasibility study for the entire Bay Area, which plays well with the Mayor’s stated goal of partnering with other cities to create economies of scale that drive down prices and spur innovation.¬†
The city’s EV initiative also stands to benefit through the utilization of clean energy generated through San Francisco’s aggressive solar, wind, and wave energy programs. This synergy could greatly help San Francisco meet its¬†Climate Action Plan¬†goal to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 20% from 1990 levels, by 2012. Currently, transportation accounts for 51% of the city’s GHG’s.¬†
San Francisco’s forthcoming roll out of energy efficient LED street lighting is another example of inter-municipal collaboration.¬†¬†Anchorage, Alaska is currently spearheading the first¬†city-wide LED retrofit¬†in the country and¬†recently hosted mayoral representatives from throughout the US with the goal of generating combined orders for the new technology. Through this collective effort, the cities involved hope to drive down the price and stimulate LED technology development, including Dark-Sky certification, human and animal-friendly lighting spectra and features such as dimmable street lighting.
Widely and responsibly implemented, LED street lighting could eliminate¬†the consumption of approximately two million barrels of oil per day in the US alone – partly due to outdated and inefficient technology, as well as proven negative health effects of over-illumination. Researchers at the¬†National Cancer Institute¬†(NCI) and¬†National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences¬†have concluded a study that suggests that artificial light during the night can be a factor for breast cancer. Given increasing energy efficiency and human health considerations related to municipal street lighting,¬†cities are putting lighting retrofits on the agenda.
On the morning of Mayor Newsom’s press conference, Al Gore outlined his moon-shot plan to¬†generate 100% of America’s electricity supply from renewable sources by 2018. However, to effectively implement systemic change, it is important that policy planners consider a whole systems approach that optimizes social and environmental benefits, project efficiencies and capital outlays, and research and development synergies between government and the private sector. The full-spectrum of Mayor Newsom’s initiatives suggest that public servants willing to embrace this multi-faceted opportunity will have far-reaching impact in reframing the long-term possibilities for a sustainable future.
Lina Constantinovici is a sustainable management consultant, who’s worked with the W Hotel, Wal-mart, the EPA, and Greener World Media. She recently helped SF Environment develop a proposal for a San Francisco Waste Offset Fee, which will be included in the carbon tax legislation on the ballot this fall. Lina is currently pursuing her MBA at Presidio School of Management.
Justin Sternberg is a business development consultant based in San Francisco, CA. He has worked with organizations such as Environmental Entrepreneurs, Tellurian Biodiesel, SF Environment, New Voice of Business, and Natural Capitalism, Inc. Justin holds an MBA from the Presidio School of Management.