Wednesday, May 9, 2012

San Jose Sets the Emerald Standard for Green Cities

Cities across the U.S. and around the world have proclaimed themselves as an emerging hub for the clean tech industry. But while some mayors may have visions of biodiesel-fueled buses and green collar jobs dancing in their heads, San Jose is leading the charge with its Green Vision plan.

Led by forward-thinking Mayor Chuck Reed, the Capital of the Silicon Valley adopted the Green Vision, an aggressive 15-year initiative for “economic growth, environmental sustainability and an enhanced quality of life for its community” in Oct. 2007. With good leadership, organized planning and focused execution, the Green Vision has been in full swing for almost five years and is making marked improvements.

The plan revolves around 10 goals for the city:
1. Create 25,000 Clean Tech Jobs as the World Center of Clean Innovation
2. Reduce Per Capita Energy Use by 50%
3. Receive 100% of Electrical Power from Clean, Renewable Sources
4. Build or Retrofit 50 Million Square Feet of Green Buildings
5. Divert 100% of Waste from Landfill and Convert Waste to Energy
6. Recycle or Beneficially Reuse 100% of our Wastewater
7. Adopt a General Plan with Measurable Standards for Sustainable Development
8. Ensure that 100% of Public Fleet Vehicles Run on Alternative Fuels
9. Plant 10,000 New Trees and Replace 100% of Streetlights with Smart, Zero Emission Lighting
10. Create 100 Miles of Trails Connecting with 400 Miles of On-Street Bikeways

Courtesy: San Jose Green Vision
Presently, the city reports it has made the most progress on the Zero Waste goal, diverting 71% of trash currently headed to landfills. The progress has been a result of efforts in both upstreaming (working with manufacturers on reducing the amount of packaging in products) and downstreaming (post-consumer waste). The Recycle Plus program gives San Jose one of the highest recycling rates in the nation as it diverts 293,000 tons each year from landfills. The city estimates it sends 569,000 tons to landfills annually.

In terms of waste conversion, the San Jose Green Vision 2011 Annual Report outlines the city’s plans for 2012 to partner with Zero Waste Energy Development and begin construction of an anaerobic digestion facility at the former Nine Par Landfill. Next to the waste water facility, the plant will use organics pulled from commercial wet waste. Additionally, San Jose will partner with Harvest Power to conduct a feasibility study of an ambitious gasification pilot plant which seeks to generate methane from thermal gasification suitable for use with CNG vehicles.   

Both of these actions are in line with the city’s announcement in 2009 of a $20-million deal with Green Waste Recovery, Zanker Road Resource Management and Harvest Power. The goal is a facility that will process 150,000 tons of waste to create 900,000 galls of biogas.
San Jose City Hall. Courtesy: SED Network. 

San Jose has also taken advantage of the clean energy credits and done a large amount of work with solar energy in an effort to satisfy its second goal. While we’d love to see a thermal waste-to-energy project in the city, the arduous permitting process may make that difficult. The city has sent a message throughout the industry that it is always open to being a demo site for any technology interested and willing to come to the Silicon Valley.

While we applaud San Jose’s immense progress in its initiative, the real success is in the format they used in approaching the problem. The 10th largest city in America is using a multi-prong technological approach, educating the community and creating jobs. Organized planning, focused execution and a desire to educate and involve the community is the winning formula that has other cities green with envy.

Official Website: San Jose Green Vision

In San Jose, Going Green Isn't Just About the Environment by Mayor Chuck Reed

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