Q   U   A   R   T   E   R   L   Y

 Volume 1, Number 3

November 1997 

 Index of

 Supes Say Yes To Sustainability Plan
 Sustainability In The Media
 Sustainability In Politics
    Commuter Choice Act
    Central Freeway
 A Perspective On Sustainability: Closing the Loop
 Volunteer Opportunities

Supes Say Yes To Sustainability Plan

San Francisco took another step in recognizing the importance of environmental sustainability when the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in July endorsing the Sustainability Plan for the City. Considered a success by the coalition of drafters, the endorsement puts San Francisco in the company of Albany New York, Portland Oregon, and a handful of other cities across the nation which are beginning to grapple with environmental sustainability as a development issue.

The Sustainability Plan is the result of a community process spearheaded by the San Francisco Commission on the Environment, formerly an advisory committee to the Board of Supervisors. Charged with developing a plan to address San Francisco's long-term environmental sustainability, the commission formed a broad coalition of representatives from city government, environmental advocacy organizations, community groups and businesses. Calling itself Sustainable San Francisco, this coalition of more than 400 volunteers released in October 1996 the draft of the plan which was considered by the Board of Supervisors.

The plan covers environmental topics such as air quality, energy, transportation, and solid waste, and other broad-ranging topics such as economic development and environmental justice.

For each of the 15 topics, the plan sets out broad social goals, long- and short-term objectives. Specific implementation actions accompany the objectives in each section.

Media coverage of the Board's endorsement appeared to ridicule the plan by focusing on two minor issues: ousting feral cats and regulating deodorant use. However, there are hundreds of sensible actions suggested in the plan which draw on the knowledge and experience of current programs in city agencies and non-profits.

Implementation of the recommended actions is taking place on many levels. The newly formed Department of the Environment is implementing an integrated pest management program mandated by legislation passed by the Board of Supervisors.

The Solid Waste Management program sponsors a Shop Smart campaign. In conjunction with local grocery stores, this program is educating consumers about recycled packaging and bulk purchases.

The Bureau of Energy Conservation is at work on low-income energy efficiency retrofits, and has started integrating sustainable design concepts into their operations.

Non-profit organizations are also working on projects recommended in the plan. The Parks, Open Spaces and Streetscapes section recommends a five-year objective of planting 4,000 trees per year. Friends of the Urban Forest currently plants 2,500 - 3,000 trees per year, helping to meet that objective.

Employees at Ti Couz restaurant are trained in the use and value of organic food products, showing that businesses are also getting involved. The restaurant has also been involved in community outreach programs which teach school children about organic foods.

At the individual level, each of us can help San Francisco reach the plan objectives. Small changes add up. Grab canvas bags when shopping instead of using paper or plastic; wear a sweater around the house instead of using the heater; buy recycled goods; walk, ride a bike, take the bus instead of using the car; incorporate into our lives all of those little things we know how to do to reduce our impact on the earth.

Sustainable San Francisco is following the progress made to achieve the objectives in the plan. We'll keep you posted on which organizations are already working on plan actions and how we are doing in terms of reaching our five-year objectives.

For now check out the plan yourself at our web site: http://www.igc.apc.org/sustainable/index.html [Editorís note: final version of the plan is now at http://www.sustainable-sf.org/]

What You Can Do

  • Set up a Sustainable San Francisco presentation at your neighborhood organization or workplace.
  • Let us know what issues your organization is working on as they relate to the Sustainability Plan.
  • Contact the Mayor and members of the Board of Supervisors to let them know you support the vision of the sustainability plan.


Sustainability In The Media

A new local web site called Reinhabiting Home is hosting online discussions about the implementation of the Sustainability Plan. The goal is a searchable "knowledge base" of the accumulated wisdom of San Franciscans who are striving to live-in-place in a responsible way. How does our city work? How does it change? What's worth doing? To participate, point your web browser to http://www.lumiere.net/home. If you only have access to email, send the message "subscribe sf YOURADDRESS" to majordomo@lumiere.net.

WETA-TV, a public broadcasting station in Washington, D.C., produced a three-part television series called Planet Neighborhood that aired early in September on PBS. The series focused on the environment and sustainable development practices at home, our workplaces, and in our communities. The next showing has not been scheduled, but keep your eyes open-it's worth seeing.


Sustainability In Politics

Commuter Choice Act
The Transportation section of the Sustainability Plan recommends implementing "parking cash-outs". This would allow commuters the choice to receive cash instead of free parking. Studies show that parking cash-outs reduce single occupancy commutes by 14-20 percent. A bill now before Congress, the Commuter Choice Act (HR-878), will help us move closer to implementing this action.

Currently, if you drive to work, you can get up to $170 per month of free parking, tax-free. But if you take public transit, you get only $65 per month, tax-free. You get nothing if you commute to work with your feet or your bike. The Commuter Choice Act would allow employers to offer the same tax-free monthly benefit to all employees, whether they drive, carpool, walk, bike or use public transit.

Let your congressional representative know you support the Commuter Choice Act.

Central Freeway
Proposition H is an initiative on the November ballot which calls for doubling the width of the existing elevated Central Freeway. This proposal is the most costly and the least safe of the options considered in a public process prior to the placement of this initiative on the ballot. Additionally, Proposition H would lift the ban established by the SF Board of Supervisors in 1992 on construction of any new above-ground ramps to the Central Freeway north of Fell Street. This would open the door to the possible reconstruction of freeway ramps over Hayes, Grove, Fulton, McAllister and Golden Gate.

Commuters were frustrated with the closure of the Central Freeway, but this ballot measure is not the answer. There are safer, less expensive options under consideration which would mitigate traffic congestion while preserving the integrity of San Francisco's neighborhoods. Contact the Committee for Sensible Transportation Solutions at 263-3996 to learn more about the ballot initiative, and to get involved with the campaign to defeat the measure.


A Perspective On Sustainability: Closing the Loop
Geof Syphers, Marya Glass, and John Kennedy

Everyone talks about sustainability. Environmentalists are promoting sustainable energy, politicians and economists are talking about sustainable growth, and architects are designing sustainable buildings. But is everyone talking about the same thing?

One popular definition, by the 1987 Brundtland Commission (and the one used in the Sustainability Plan), states that sustainability is, "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." This usage identifies a key theme of intergenerational equity. The sense that our children should inherit a world no worse than our own is certainly one of the most important moral aspects of sustainability.

The question is, How do we work toward a sustainable society? The concept of intergenerational equity doesn't provide clear direction on this issue-especially with day-to-day life. Without resources like forests, topsoil, and clean water, any generation will suffer. In fact, physical sustainability is a prerequisite to social sustainability. We cannot pass on a world full of opportunities to our children if we've consumed the drinking water and redwood trees which made those opportunities available to us.

It is important to look at our use of the basic resources upon which all generations depend. Resource or physical sustainability requires us to do one of two things: use and recycle a resource forever with no loss of material (very difficult!), or use resources in such a way that they completely regenerate in natural ecosystems.

The way we currently consume resources is indeed sobering. However, by examining our consumption habits we can also find innovative solutions. Take the nutrient cycle of a forest, for instance. To date, humans have been moving nutrients contained in trees out of forests and into cities and landfills. This one-way movement of material is not sustainable, and planting new trees does not replace all the lost nutrients. After their useful life, wood and wood products must be returned to the forest ecosystem for decomposition and regeneration. Only then is the resource loop truly closed.

Fertilizing a forest may sound like a daunting task, but when you think about how trees are removed from a forest, pieces of a solution emerge. Logging trucks haul trees out of forests and return empty. Couldn't these trucks return full of compostable wood products? While this is far from a complete solution, resource sustainability helps us see the problem with one-way delivery systems.

Beyond uncovering some interesting solutions, resource sustainability has the enormous advantage of being scientifically provable since it is nothing more than a restatement of the basic law of physics that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. This is useful in science, as well as policy.

Remember the carbon tax? The authors of this tax proposed to charge a fee for carbon emissions on the basis that this would cut cases of respiratory illness and help forestall global warming. Even though many agreed on the method, no one could agree on the numbers. How much is the delay of global warming worth? If you think it's difficult to come up with a dollar amount by yourself, imagine trying to build a consensus in Washington.

The difficulties of finding the indirect costs of pollution and overconsumption can be largely avoided by basing taxes on the cost of closing resource loops. For instance, the sustainable cost of using mercury in fluorescent lamps can be calculated by finding the cost of recovering all of the mercury from used lamps. This involves several steps including transporting used lamps back to the manufacturer, capturing the remaining mercury gas, dissolving the mercury and phosphor from the inside of the lamp and extracting usable mercury from the solution. When these costs are included, mercury-free lamps-which are currently more expensive-become a cheaper alternative.

As "sustainability" becomes entrenched in our everyday language, it's important to ask what is sustainable? Recycled paper? Green buildings? Products or items can never be sustainable by themselves. They must be a part of completely closed resource loops.

Understanding physical sustainability helps us make choices about which paths to take. Generally speaking, the paths will not be perfectly sustainable. But some will be better than others.

Marya Glass practices environmental communications in San Francisco, Geof Syphers is an SSF Board Member and an energy engineer in San Francisco, and John Kennedy is a mechanical engineer in Sonoma, California. Send comments on this article to mggs@earthlink.net


Volunteer Opportunities

Administrative support from your home. We need you to make local phone calls for our various activities.

Newsletter mailings-come sit around a kitchen table and help get the newsletter in the mail.
Plan implementation advocate. Call the office for more information.
Join our newsletter committee. We need people to write stories.

Call us at 415-285-6106

Sustainable San Francisco
P.O. Box 460236
San Francisco, CA 94146
voice: (415) 285-6106
Fax: 415/648-2558

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