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Sustainably inspirational cities

San Francisco
Sustainably inspirational cities
Michele Bartolini
July 31 2017

Sustainably inspirational cities 

With more than 80 per cent of North Americans now living in urban areas, the actions of city governments, residents and businesses are critical to making inroads in sustainability. We’ve found four examples of inspirational initiatives which are changing cities for the better that mirror the values that drive our sustainable manufacturing practices – from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to conserving water and using life cycle assessment to understand the environmental impact of our products.

Recycling: San Francisco knows it’s good for the environment and for the economy

As a manufacturer of post-consumer content paper, we utilize a lot of recycled material at Rolland and so we pay close attention to trends and leaders on this subject. In San Francisco, 80 per cent of municipal solid waste (MSW) is recycled or composted. That’s the highest rate of any city in North America with a population above 100,000. 

In contrast, the United States recycles and composts 35 per cent of MSW. This amounted to 89 million tons in 2014, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of the annual emissions from more than 38 million cars. 

San Francisco aims to be a zero waste city by 2020. Simply putting waste into the correct bins would result in a 90% recycling and composting rate – a reminder that every little action performed every day makes a difference.

The city’s mayor, Edwin M. Lee, has pointed out that recycling alone creates 10 times more jobs than landfilling refuse, making it good for the economy. The zero waste program is funded solely by revenue from refuse rates paid by customers, underlining San Francisco’s practical approach. 

Climate change: Vancouver is committed to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050

Vancouver was the first major city in North America to adopt a 100 per cent renewable energy strategy, in 2015, when over 30 per cent of energy used in the city was already renewable. Mayor Gregor Robertson said eliminating reliance on fossil fuels would make Vancouver a cleaner, healthier and more resilient city. 

Vancouver Landfill is one source of renewable energy. Over 70 per cent of methane – biogas – created by decomposing waste is captured and used for heating and power generation, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

In a survey of green practices by municipalities, conducted by Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by Siemens, Vancouver had the lowest CO2 emissions per capita among 27 North American cities. But the city isn’t doesn’t want to stop there. By 2020, Vancouver has set a goal of reducing community-based GHG emissions by 33 per cent from their 2007 levels.  

Simple everyday actions by individuals will help the city meet that goal. Environmentally-friendly walking, biking and public transit account for half of all trips in Vancouver, and much of the city’s transit service is powered by renewable electricity.  

Water conservation: San Antonio has nearly halved water consumption since the 1980s

Water usage is something very important to us. And we’re impressed by the efforts and attitude of San Antonio where the average high temperature in summer is 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius): “San Antonio's cheapest source of water is conservation — water we don't use.”

The San Antonio Water System (SAWS) provides water to the 1.8 million people in and around the southwest Texas city, and operates the largest direct recycled water system in the United States. SAWS’ many recent investments include the aptly named H2Oaks Center, where brackish water is desalinated, producing enough clean water to supply 53,000 households.

San Antonio’s well-developed urban water conservation program includes outreach through free consultations, drought restrictions, incentives and rebates. One example is WaterSaver coupons, which pay residents for replacing thirsty lawns with patios or plants that require little water.

Conservation-oriented technology and behavior have combined to decrease total water consumption from 225 gallons per capita per day (PCPD) in 1982 to 117 PCPD in 2016 – nearly 50 per cent.  San Antonio wants to further improve, much like San Francisco with recycling and Vancouver with GHG emissions. 

The plan is to decrease total water consumption to 88 PCPD. This is a level similar to that in a densely-populated city like San Francisco, which covers 47 square miles, while SAWS serves 967 square miles.  Talk about aiming high.

Investing in sustainability: Infrastructure, leadership and manufacturing in Detroit

Detroit’s recent major investments in sustainable infrastructure include the QLine streetcar and the installation of LED streetlights throughout the city. The Detroit 2030 District, launched in June, is worth watching: this public-private community aims to reduce energy use, water consumption, and transportation GHG emissions.

Detroit is also investing in leadership, establishing an Office of Sustainability to guide the drive to improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of city residents and businesses.

Ford is one of many businesses based in the Detroit area to invest in sustainability-related initiatives. It launched Ford Smart Mobility LLC in 2016 to address mobility megatrends rooted mainly in cities, including explosive urban population growth and congestion, air quality and public health, and climate change and resource constraints. The company is asking itself, “how will people get around in a convenient way, with the least environmental impact?”  

The automobile industry has come a long way. Vehicles in North America generally include up to 25 per cent post-consumer recycled materials by weight. In addition to recycled aluminum and steel, Ford uses post-consumer waste (e.g. plastic, nylon, tires) in a long list of parts. Renewables (e.g. soybeans, cotton, even flax) are components in seats, fuel lines and gaskets. 

Much like Rolland used a life cycle assessment to measure the environmental impacts of our papermaking process, Ford uses LCA to understand the environmental impacts of its vehicles, from resource extraction to end of life. The LCA looks at materials, manufacturing, energy and emissions which enables decisions that balance environmental and cost considerations.