Expats moving to San Francisco should prepare to make the environment a priority
By, David Assmann, Deputy Director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment
This afternoon I received an email from the concierge manager at Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, an upscale shopping mall that caters to both tourists and residents. It was not an invitation to a sale – it was an invitation to join a rally at the mall to support a state wide ban on the use of plastic bags by retail stores. The only sales pitch was to buy a reusable bag, if you didn’t bring your own.
In the San Francisco Bay Area in 2010, “going green” is no longer a fringe activity practiced by environmentalists. It’s embraced by the entire community, and expats looking to live and work in the city and surrounds should prepare to make the environment a priority.
Your neighbours now notice if you don’t compost food, not if you do. Businesses compete with each other to have the most attractive signage for recycling and composting. Throughout San Francisco, it’s now commonplace to see three bins everywhere – green for food scraps and yard waste, blue for recyclables, and black for what still has to go to landfill.
And it’s not just about recycling. For many San Francisco Bay area residents, concern about the environment factors into everyday decisions about transportation, leisure activities, shopping and eating.
Such a devoted mentality can be intimidating for those moving to the city by the sea, especially if you come from a location that had little concern or infrastructure for the greener side of life. But as an expat moving to San Francisco, awareness is certainly the first adjustment you can make to begin your environmentally conscious stay in the Bay Area.
Consider transportation. Buying the latest gas guzzling SUV may not make a lot of sense in an era of oil spills, skyrocketing gasoline prices and declining supplies. It certainly goes against the grain in a city where thousands of bicyclists take to the downtown streets in a Critical Mass ride to promote bicycling once a month; almost 100,000 households are “car-free”; two growing car sharing companies compete for customers; half the taxis use alternative fuels; and the best selling car is the hybrid Toyota Prius.
Oranges being composted for San FranciscoLocal, organic food is emphasized on restaurant menus and available at supermarkets, not just at natural food chains such as Whole Foods, but also at more traditional chains such as Safeway. If you dine out, your restaurant is required to compost any food scraps (recycling and composting are mandatory for all residents and businesses in San Francisco), and isn’t allowed to use styrofoam containers for take out food. Local farmer’s markets, such as the organic farmer’s market at the Ferry Building in downtown San Francisco, are multiplying.
When you go to a museum, or a hospital, you may be in a green building, designed to minimize the use of resources. For example, the award winning California Academy of Sciences is the largest, and most visited, LEED Platinum building (the highest green building standard) in the world, and the recently re-opened Laguna Honda Hospital is the first green certified hospital in the state.
Solar and wind energy have been installed at thousands of homes and businesses in the Bay Area, incandescent light bulbs are about to be banned (and LED lighting will soon displace compact fluorescent lights as the best environmental choice) and purchases are often determined based on Energy Star labeling.
Climate change is a given, and may well be the topic of conversation at parties (the local Chamber of Commerce pulled out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because the national body was opposing efforts to fight climate change). Many local businesses, small and large, are members of the Business Council on Climate Change, and hundreds of businesses throughout the Bay Area are certified Green Businesses.
So what steps can an environmentally conscious expat take after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area? Here are a few suggestions:
Use the web – environmental information for your new City is bound to be available from either government or non profit websites
Minimize your transportation footprint. Is walking, bicycling, public transit or telecommuting an option?
Look at ways to keep your energy use low http://www.pge.com/myhome/saveenergymoney/savingstips/
Drink tap, not bottled water
Bring your own bag when shopping
Find healthier, greener products at the Good Guide
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