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Only in San Francisco: Green Initiatives and News

The green movement sweeping the world and giving impetus to such movements as “eco-tourism” is transforming San Francisco from grass roots to rooftop.


The green movement sweeping the world and giving impetus to such movements as “eco-tourism” is transforming San Francisco from grass roots to rooftop.

City Initiatives

On February 8, 2012 Mayor Edwin M. Lee, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), Department of the Environment and San Francisco taxi industry leaders announced that San Francisco’s taxis have exceeded the 2008 goal of reducing the average per-vehicle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. In 1990, the average San Francisco taxi emitted 59 tons of GHG emissions per year, and today the average taxi in the City emits 30 tons, a 49 percent reduction.

On July 14, 2010 San Francisco was named the number one city in the Bay Area for newly installed photovoltaic solar technology by the Northern California Solar Energy Association (NorCal Solar). There are currently nearly 2,000 individual solar installations throughout San Francisco, generating almost 9 megawatts of clean, renewable electricity, which is enough energy to power 9,000 residences.

On June 23, 2010 San Francisco’s board of supervisors approved a new law that would require cell phone retailers to post the specific absorption rate (SAR), which measures the maximum amount of radiation absorbed by a person using a headset, for each cell phone they sell.

On April 12, 2010 San Francisco homeowners will be able to receive loans from GreenFinanceSF that will allow them to pay for solar panels, energy-efficient appliances or low-flow toilets. In hopes of adding more renewable power sources to homes, GreenFinanceSF will cover the upfront costs of energy-efficient upgrades, allowing homeowners to repay the costs through installments on their property tax bills.

On Dec. 30, 2009 San Francisco based Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Co. unveiled plans to renovate a vacant building in the U.N. plaza which will ultimately house regional offices for the U.S. General Services Administration. The project includes upgrades and installations, such as modernizing the heating, ventilation, plumbing, electrical and lighting systems, designed to enhance the building’s energy-efficiency. The project is on course to end in late 2013 and is part of a bigger project with the Clinton Global Initiative aiming to transform the city’s Civic Center into a sustainable resource district that maximizes energy and water efficiency, reduces waste and increases the use of wastewater.

On June 10, 2009 San Francisco passed the “Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance” which requires every resident and business in the city to separate recyclables, compostables and landfilled trash into three separate, clearly marked bins.

On May 15, 2009 Mayor Gavin Newsom signed an ordinance that would install 25,000 solar panels atop half of the roof of the Sunset Reservoir, the city’s largest reservoir.

On August 4, 2008, Mayor Newsom signed San Francisco’s groundbreaking green building ordinance that imposes strict new green building requirements on newly constructed residential and commercial buildings, and renovations to existing buildings. The ordinance specifically requires newly constructed

On June 10, 2008 the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed legislation to implement a 10-year solar rebate program for local residents, businesses and non-profits. It is the first solar rebate of its kind and size offered by a city in the U.S. and will create the nation’s largest municipal solar program.

On July 1, 2007 city departments and agencies were banned from purchasing single serving bottles of water using city funds, unless an employee contract specifies usage. This prohibition applies to city contractors and city funded and/or sponsored events.

On June 1, 2007 local restaurants were banned from using Polystyrene foam (Styrofoam™) disposable food service ware. A list of providers of compostable products is posted at On

March 27, 2007 San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban plastic shopping bags; the legislation went into effect Nov. 20, 2007 for grocery stores and May 20, 2008 for drug stores. San Francisco currently has a 70 percent recycling rate. The city’s goal is 75 percent by 2010 and zero waste by 2020.

San Francisco’s urban compost program is the largest of its kind in the U.S. More than 350 tons of food scraps and yard trimmings are collected every day in the city. About 90 percent of the compost made from this material is destined for local vineyards.

All collection and transfer trucks (385 in fleet) operated by San Francisco refuse and recycling companies run on alternative fuel (either bio-diesel or liquefied natural gas) reducing greenhouse emissions 5,400 tons annually. In addition, San Francisco’s entire diesel fleet, including buses, now runs on bio-diesel.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has pledged to convert 100 percent of San Francisco’s taxi fleet to hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles by 2011.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has pledged to reduce its fleet greenhouse emissions to 30 percent below 1999 levels by 2012 and become 100 percent emission free by 2020; 86 hybrid electric buses have been purchased. San Francisco has the third largest hybrid bus fleet in the U.S.

In November 2006 San Francisco became the first city in the U.S. to certify greenhouse emissions (GHG), earning the distinction of Climate Action Leader™ with the California Climate Action Registry. San Francisco was the first U.S. venue for UN World Environment Day, June 1-5, 2005. During this environmental summit, Mayor Gavin Newsom signed Urban Environmental Accords that launched San Francisco’s Livable City initiative to make the city a world leader in city greening by 2010.

More than 16,000 trees have been planted since 2004 when Mayor Gavin Newsom pledged that 25,000 trees would be planted at an average of 5,000 per year.


California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced in December 2008 that the Ferry Building of San Francisco had won the 2008 Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA) for its green initiatives. GEELA is the state of California’s highest and most prestigious environmental honor. The award program recognizes individuals, organizations and businesses that have demonstrated exceptional leadership for voluntary achievements in conserving California’s resources, protecting and enhancing the environment and building public-private partnerships. In September 2008 ranked San Francisco the #2 most sustainable city in the U.S. The SustainLane rankings focus on healthy regional economic development, vibrant communities and quality of life measurements.

A special report posted on in May 2008 ranked San Francisco as America’s “best city for the outdoors” based on research from Trust for Public Land, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. The ranking also included data such as spending per resident, park land as a percentage of city land, number of recreation facilities, precipitation, sunshine, temperature extremes and air quality.

San Francisco bested Seattle as the fittest of America’s most populous cities according to a new program and report released May 29, 2008 by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). The ACSM American Fitness Index™ ranked San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area number 1 based on figures related to healthy lifestyles and physical activities. The Bay Area scored above average on personal health indicators such as the percentage of residents who exercise regularly.

San Francisco is the second greenest U.S. city according to Popular Science. The March 2008 issue names “America’s 50 Greenest Cities,” ranked on renewable energy, transportation and air quality, green buildings and public spaces, and recycling. Moscone Center was singled out for its solar panel installation. In March 2008 San Francisco was named among the Top 10 Best U.S. Walking Cities by the American Podiatric Medical Association in its third annual survey which measures 200 cities on three walking conducive categories: healthy lifestyles, modes of transportation to and from work and involvement in fitness and sport activities. San Francisco ranked second below Arlington, VA.

Named one of the top 10 “green cities” in the U.S. by The Green Guide, San Francisco was cited as a city that puts transit first; dedicates more than 17 percent of its 49 square miles to parks and open space; protects its water source Hetch Hetchy, and leads in the area of green, or resource efficient building. In July 2005 San Francisco was ranked among the top five cleanest cities in the U.S. in Reader’s Digest’s first ranking of America’s Cleanest Cities in its July issue. San Francisco was cited for its “environmentally conscious” residents, a proactive Department of the Environment and a public transit system that leads the way with clean air vehicles. San Francisco scored a perfect 50 for its drinking water and also ranked high for its air quality.

In June 2005 Runner’s World named San Francisco the #1 running city in the U.S. From a list of 50 cities based on population and performance in a 2004 nationwide survey of jogging participation conducted by the market research firm Claritas, editors then tabulated the number of running clubs and races in the largest U.S. cities. Other factors considered included how much park area is available in each city for runners, average precipitation levels and temps compared to the competition, crime rates, demographic studies tracking the popularity of running in each of the 25 finalists and a poll of 1,300 runners. Reduce, reuse and recycle honors include the Environment Department’s Golden Dumpster award for local restaurants and the Building Owners and Managers Association Commercial Recycler of the Year (CORY) award.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification There are currently more than 60 building projects in San Francisco registered with the U.S. Green Building Council for certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Program (LEED). The city’s Orchard Garden Hotel was the first hotel in the city to receive LEED (Silver) certification; the hotel was only the third in the U.S. and the fourth in the world to earn this designation as of June 26, 2007. On June 5, 2007 Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa was awarded LEED (Gold) certification, the first hotel in the world to receive this environmental award.

AT&T Park is the first major league ballpark to recive LEED certification. The ballpark has received MLB’s Green Glove Awards for two consecutive years for their focus on green initivaties as well as being the MLB leader in recycling. More than 67 percent of the ballpark’s trash has been recycled. The ballpark also features numerous sustainable concession stands.

Green Meetings San Francisco has the oldest Slow Food chapter in the U.S.. Slow Food Nation will meet in San Francisco, Aug. 29-Sept. 1, 2008, transforming San Francisco’s Civic Center and Fort Mason as citizens and visitors, farmers and food artisans, political leaders, environmental advocates and health-care experts, educators and artists, and parents and children gather to experience the largest celebration of food San Francisco has ever witnessed. The first-ever event of its kind in America, Slow Food Nation will present an extraordinary range of activities for all ages, including a farmers market showcasing hundreds of California growers and artisan producers, tastings and feasts, chef’s demonstrations, an urban farm, a music festival, a major conference on food values, social justice and the environment, and workshops, forums, films and interactive exhibits. San Francisco was the host city of the Ecocity World Summit, April 22-26, 2008. EASE (Environmental Accountability for a Sustainable Earth) held its annual conference at Fort Mason, Nov. 16-18, 2007. The conference and exhibition focused on energy sustainability. The San Francisco Mart hosted a green trade show, Sept. 19-20, 2007. Live Green, Live Well was the first trade and home show solely dedicated to green furnishings and design. Carbonmarkets™ hosted by Green Power Conferences took place Sept. 11-12, 2007 at the Hilton San Francisco.

Green Business Programs

On Mar. 22, 2010 Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that 57 percent of San Francisco taxicabs are now hybrid or compressed natural gas vehicles. In 2008 Newsom pledged that 90 percent of the city’s taxis will be energy-efficient by 2012.

More than 84 businesses in all market segments (services, restaurant, hotels, retail) have joined the Green Business Program, a voluntary program which encourages businesses to take proactive actions that are not only good for their bottom line but also the environment. For more information on this program, visit As part of PG&E’s commitment to helping San Francisco become the nation’s greenest city, they formed the San Francisco Energy Watch partnership focused on providing residents and businesses with ways to reduce their energy use. PG&E is also helping the city’s residents and businesses become solar energy producers, and now has more than 20,000 solar customers throughout its service territory - more than any utility in the U.S. PG&E delivers among the cleanest energy in the nation, and provides innovative programs such as ClimateSmart, a first-of-its-kind voluntary climate protection program; conservation education, and leading energy efficiency programs. PG&E provides electricity and natural gas to approximately 40 percent of Californians and one in 20 Americans. For more information about PG&E’s environmental leadership, visit:

Convention Facilities San Francisco has one of the largest City-owned solar installations in the country, a 75-kilowatt solar array atop Moscone Center, the city’s principal convention facility. The solar component consists of a solar electrical system capable of producing enough power for 550 homes annually. This is accompanied by an extensive lighting system retrofit and related energy efficiency measures designed to reduce energy usage without diminishing interior lighting levels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy awarded Moscone Center the 2004 Green Power Leadership Award for distinguishing itself for using on-site renewable energy applications. The Moscone Center has long set the standard for U.S. convention centers in diverting material from the waste stream. In the last five years an average of 1.6 million pounds has been diverted annually from the waste stream. Of this total 80 percent represents materials recycled and 20 percent represents materials donated to local area non-profits for reuse.

Industry News Many local tour companies in San Francisco are using more environmentally friendly fuel sources for their boats, vans and limos. Among those leading the way are Adventure Cat Sailing Charters, Alcatraz CruisesBauer’s Intelligent Transportation, Hornblower Cruises & Events, Incredible Adventures, Red and White Fleet, SuperShuttle, and Mr. Toads Tour LLC. Two tour companies use Segway personal transporters: Segway of San Francisco and San Francisco & Sausalito Electric Tour Company. Walking tours are plentiful and there are more than 82 miles of signed bike routes. The world’s leading natural and organic foods supermarket, Whole Foods Market offers value shopping tips, tours and top sellers to help shoppers find real deals throughout the stores. The D.I.Y. crew should check out the resources at Cole Hardware which offers helpful links to local recycling programs and hosts a Community Exchange for donors to post items and schools and non-profit organizations to make requests. San Francisco hotels implement these (and other) eco-friendly practices: towel and linen reuse program; 100 percent non-smoking policy; recycling program for guests; use of compact fluorescent lights instead of incandescent bulbs; the use of nontoxic cleaning products by housekeeping staff. In addition, many of the hotels compost food waste and have installed devices that power down heating and cooling when guestrooms are not occupied. The Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf is among the first Hyatt properties to install permanent charging stations for the Tesla Roadster; the zero-emission, 100 percent electric sports car is being developed and manufactured by Bay Area-based Tesla Motors. San Francisco’s Hotel Non-Profit Collaborative is a model in the nation for hotels donating unwanted goods to area non-profit organizations. AT&T Park is the first major league baseball stadium to use solar panels. The Diamond Vision scoreboard will use 78 percent less energy than the ballpark’s original scoreboard. Ten farmers market operate in the city including the renowned Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, operated by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA). “Make art, not landfill” is the motto of the Artist In Residence Program created in 1990 by San Francisco waste haulers. Seventy Bay Area artists have completed residencies. Check out exhibitions by these artists at Solar energy will provide at least five percent of the new California Academy of Sciences’ energy needs when it opens in Golden Gate Park on Sept. 27, 2008. The new design, which features a living roof, recycled materials, reclaimed water and natural lighting and ventilation, integrates the Academy more sensitively into the park and makes nature a part of the building’s structure. Home to an aquarium, planetarium and natural history museum, the Academy expects to be the largest public LEED Platinum building in the world, making the building itself a powerful exhibit on sustainability. Its living roof, planted with native California species, will provide habitat for birds, butterflies and insects, including several threatened species. Underneath that roof, innovative exhibits and programs informed by ongoing scientific research will showcase the great diversity of life on Earth, and inspire visitors to make smart choices in their own lives. For more information, visit

Some Tips for planners: Serve tap water at your events. San Francisco has some of the purest water in the world. Think “green” when ordering promotional giveaway items and direct your vendors to use products made from post-consumer waste. Support San Francisco’s waste reduction goals by holding a zero waste event. For more information, phone 415-355-3700. San Francisco welcomes “volun-tourism.” Team building can include habitat restorations or beach clean-ups. For more information contact the Convention Services Department of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, [email protected] or visit Encourage delegates to walk to and from meeting sessions. San Francisco’s hills can present a challenging work-out, but the views are ample compensation and as that famous quip goes, “when you get tired of walking around San Francisco you can always lean against it.” Alternatively, encourage delegates to purchase one-, three- or seven-day Muni passes which are good for all Muni buses, light rail vehicles, historic streetcars and cable cars. Passes are for sale at the Visitor Information Center, 900 Market St., or Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) offers a quick, inexpensive link to downtown San Francisco from both San Francisco and Oakland airports. For more information, visit For more information visit the Web site of San Francisco’s Environment Department (SF Environment) at