By Gene Williams
February 9 -- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Santa Monica is going green. Across Santa Monica, people are being urged to consume less, conserve more, and make environmentally smart choices in what they buy.
Recycled trash is turned into new products. Energy-wasting appliances make way for more efficient models. Natural cleaning solutions replace toxic chemicals. Solar panels are springing up on roof tops. And water-saving devices are becoming commonplace.
Dozens of Santa Monica businesses are certifiably green, and some are even winning awards for it.
Leading the effort to go green is the City of Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment (OSE). It’s mission – to help Santa Monica meet its short-term needs without short changing the needs of future generations.
That means not only reducing pollution, but also looking at how quality of life can be improved in a number of areas, including economic development, housing, community education and human dignity.
“Sustainable Santa Monica is one of the few programs in the nation that goes beyond natural resource protection,” says Shannon Parry, manager of the OSE’s Sustainable Santa Monica program.
Having an economically vibrant, diverse and sustainable city “is one of the key elements that is often overlooked” when people think about the future of the local environment, Parry says.
And sustainable business means a sustainable bottom line.
“Greening your business doesn’t have to cost you more money,” Parry says. Even doing little things can make a big difference. Like turning off the lights when you don’t need them and opting for office coffee mugs instead of paper cups.
When buying materials, businesses should make sure they can be used a number of times before being thrown away, OSE officials say. When something is thrown away it should be recycled. And materials that need to be continually replaced – such as paper – should be made from recycled content.
Environmentalists call this process “closing the loop.” And the City is there to help.
Restaurants that separate their food waste can have it picked up by the City and turned into compost. Last year this program kept one million tons of restaurant waste from going into land fills and helped reduce methane gas emissions – a serious greenhouse gas.
Electronic waste – such as old computers that are illegal to throw away with the regular garbage and recyclables – can be taken to the City Yard at 2500 Michigan Avenue. Businesses with more e-waste than they can handle can call California Recycles at 310-478-3001.
And through an ambitious program called Solar Santa Monica, the City is working to make itself as energy independent as possible in the next 10 years. The program works with solar electric installers to reduce installation costs and helps customers take advantage of rebates and tax credits.
But solar panels aren’t the only green electrical solution.
“A lot of it isn’t super expensive, super sexy things like solar cells,” Parry says. “A lot of it is behavior change.” And that can be as easy as changing a light bulb.
Utility companies including Southern California Edison offer rebates for companies that switch over from conventional incandescent lights to energy-saving compact fluorescents. Nonprofits including the Energy Coalition will often help retrofit small businesses free of charge.
Sustainable Santa Monica also has a free program to show businesses how to save water. That means doing things like installing faucet aerators, low-flush toilets and drip irrigation systems.
City officials admit that the initial cost of going green might be a bit more expensive, but conserving resources ends up saving money in the long run, they say.
So where can businesses go to learn more about all these eco-friendly options?
A good place to start is Sustainable Works – a nonprofit set up by the City of Santa Monica to help people find out just how good turning green can be.
“We give them the tools and resources they need to green their business operations,” says Susy Borlido, Director of Sustainable Work’s Business Greening Program.
The program, which is free to all Santa Monica businesses, starts with an environmental audit. Sustainable Works goes out to businesses to see how well they’re doing and show them what they can do better.
Sustainable Works then makes recommendations and “hand holds businesses for a year to help navigate them through the process of implementation,” Borlido says.
It’s a win-win situation, she says. Being green isn’t just socially responsible, it saves money. Even small steps often result in significant savings.
For example, one business that went through the program has seen a 40 percent reduction in its electricity bills by switching to energy-saving light bulbs and putting its office equipment on power saving mode during down time.
In addition, green businesses receive increased recognition and respect in the community. Businesses that successfully go through the Business Greening Program are good candidates for Santa Monica Green Business Certification.
Certified green businesses often get favorable press coverage and receive reduced-rate advertising in local newspapers, as well as prominent space on civic web sites.
And certified green businesses are usually more efficient, more productive, and have higher employee morale, environmental consultants say.
For businesses that go the extra green mile, there’s the Sustainable Quality Awards. The City and the Chamber of Commerce handed out a dozen of these awards last year.
The next round of Sustainable Quality Awards will be handed out at a luncheon March 25 at the Sheraton Delfina Hotel.
Keeping the heart of the city sustainable begins with the City’s cleaning crews who each day maintain two-and-a-half million square feet of public space Downtown.
“It’s both a science and a labor of love,” says Eddie Greenberg, Promenade maintenance supervisor, adding that sustainable cleaning is “faster, cheaper and better.”
Greenberg remembers when cleaning concrete meant breathing toxic acid fumes. Now his crews clean pavement with low-volume, high-pressure water that is recovered and filtered to be used again.
“With the sustainable program it’s much healthier for us,” Greeberg says. “The whole equation has changed. We only use bio-degradable, natural cleaning products. We use no toxic products whatsoever.”
The Big Blue Bus has also jumped on board. Buses are one of the first things that come to mind when you think big and dirty. But Santa Monica’s public transit is doing everything it can to counter that stereotype.
All of the City’s 200 buses run on alternative fuels including bio-diesel, and half of the buses run on clean-burning liquefied natural gas (LNG). Running one LNG bus is the equivalent of eliminating smog from 25 passenger vehicles, transit officials say.
But efficient green fuels are just the beginning. Nearly everything used to keep the Big Blue rolling ends up being recycled.
Even the Big Blue’s new outlet Downtown is a model of sustainability. Located just west of the Promenade on Broadway, the Transit Store & Customer Service Center serves as an example of how to reuse an existing resource.
Previously the site of a hair salon, the structure received a major makeover two years ago that makes it feel much larger and more comfortable than most public buildings, with seven employees in only 900 square feet of floor space
In keeping with its transportation theme, the floors are made of recycled rubber tires. Solar panels and natural daylight lower energy use. The counters are made from recycled paper and plastic. Low VOC paint is used throughout, and the particle board cabinets are formaldehyde-free.
Santa Monica is making progress. But despite the good news, the city still has a lot of environmental catching up to do.
Working off of goals set by its ambitious Sustainable City Plan, the OSE monitors progress and issues periodic report cards. The latest report in 2008 gives Santa Monica a mixed review, with an overall A for effort but somewhat lower marks for actual conditions, such as a C+ for Resource Conservation.
Currently 18 percent of Santa Monica’s electricity comes from renewable sources, the report says, including all of the electricity used to run the City’s municipal operations. But despite efforts to conserve, the actual amount of electricity and natural gas used in Santa Monica increased in 2008.
Likewise, recycling kept 68 percent of Santa Monica’s solid waste from going into land fills last year. But while that percentage is good, the overall amount of solid waste the city generates is also up.
The report gives Santa Monica similar marks for Environmental and Public Health. Receiving higher marks, the report gives Open Space an A- and Economic Development a B.
“The first thing businesses need to look at is how they can reduce waste and consumption,” Parry says.
Want to learn more about how
to make your business green?
Here’s where you should go:
The City of Santa Monica’s
Office of Sustainability
and the Environment
The Business Greening Program http://www.sustainableworks.org/
310.458.8716 ext. 2
Santa Monica Green
The Energy Coalition
949.701.4646The Santa Monica
Sustainable Quality Awards