Nonfiction in response to Sustainable Cities and Communities
By Grace Muresan
I live in the city of Sunnyvale. We moved to this city in 2017 when my father changed jobs, and I grew to appreciate this place for its actions in making its residents’ way of life sustainable. There are several ways that they are working to save the environment. The first way is that they have created a Climate Action Plan 1.0, which is the city's agenda for reducing community greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Legislated by Assembly Bill 32, the CAP 1.0’s goal is to help the state achieve its target of lowering greenhouse gas emissions to its 1990 level by 2020. The CAP 1.0 actions mention four main topics and what percentage of the City of Sunnyvale’s carbon footprint they contribute to:
Energy use (49%)
Transportation services (44%)
Waste strategic plan (5%)
Water management (<2%)
In my opinion, the city has done a good job of informing and involving the public about its plan to promote environmental sustainability and a healthy community. All four of the main topics listed above are mentioned and promoted on their website. They also host a Sustainability Speaker Series, which brings renowned experts in sustainability research and policy development to share their ideas and innovations with our community. (https://sunnyvale.ca.gov/people/sustainability/)
Coinciding with energy use, the City of Sunnyvale wants to increase the delivery of renewable energy made locally to the community, encourage renewable energy use in residential and commercial areas. So far, in order to help reach their goal, they have joined with the county of Santa Clara and other cities to create a community energy choice program (Silicon Valley Clean Energy) that provides clean energy to residents and businesses. Furthermore, they allow residents to borrow Home Energy Saving Kits that provide tips on how to make your home more energy efficient.
To help reduce the carbon footprint of transportation, the City of Sunnyvale wants to make biking, walking, and public transportation simple everyday options for commuting. Other actions could include building mainstream urban centers with access to public transportation, promoting more efficient cars and carpools, and improving the flow of traffic to minimize vehicle idling. They provide maps of public transportation options and bike routes throughout Santa Clara County. They also strongly encourage people to find a friend who has a similar commute and ride to work or to school together.
Due to the knowledge that decomposing waste in a landfill creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas, Sunnyvale is trying to keep 75% of its waste out of the landfill by 2020. What they want to do is to promote reusable items instead of single-use products and divert waste from landfills by composting, food cycling, or recycling. In order to promote reusable items, the city banned single-use plastic bags and Styrofoam food containers, and plans to ban the distribution and sale of single-use plastic water bottles at City permitted events. As to promoting recycling and composting, the City of Sunnyvale offers community classes throughout the county as well as technical resources. On their website they have links to a page with composting instructions and tips.
Water treatment also contributes to the city’s emissions, because its processes require energy as well. Reducing water consumption and recycling water can help us cut back our energy usage in this area and keep water sources from running low during droughts. What the city wants to do is to reduce indoor and outdoor potable water use in residences, businesses, and industry. So far, through partnerships, the City provides rebates for low-flow fixtures, drought-tolerant landscaping, and lawn replacement. The Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) offers free classes in drought-tolerant landscaping, and several classes are held in Sunnyvale.
On top of all of this, the City of Sunnyvale is developing an updated climate action plan: CAP 2.0, which will set new goals and leave an open highway for future progress.
California and the rest of the nation needs to step up its game in protecting the planet. According to ‘The Story of Stuff’ project (2009), before the 1950s, people in America were dedicated to sustainability. Being thrifty and careful with their money was something to be proud of, and ads about recycling and reusing were everywhere.
However, we turned to consumerism, or the protection or promotion of the interests of consumers. The government, once asking people to conserve resources, began telling us that it was good to keep buying new things. We became a country based off of buying and using, and it became a spiritual habit to get stuck in the cycle of working, watching TV to relax, seeing ads telling us that we need more, using money to buy new stuff and then restarting the cycle. However, the cycle of production goes in a straight line:
People need to know that a linear process that quickly takes clean, fresh, natural resources and turns them into waste while trashing the planet and people cannot go on indefinitely in a planet that is finite.
That is why people need to adopt sustainable living practices. Awareness is key to keeping our planet safe from ourselves.
What’s in your agenda?
City of Sunnyvale Recycling Program, http://www.recyclestuff.org/Guides/CityGuideSunnyvale.pdf
City of Sunnyvale website, https://sunnyvale.ca.gov/people/sustainability/
Santa Clara County Composting Program, http://cesantaclara.ucanr.edu/Home_Composting_Education/
Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, http://www.vta.org/Getting-Around/Maps/Bikeways-Map
Silicon Valley Clean Energy, https://www.svcleanenergy.org/
The Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, http://bawsca.org/conserve/programs/classes
The Story of Stuff (2009). https://youtu.be/9GorqroigqM
Turner, G.M. (2008). “A Comparison of The Limits to Growth with 30 Years of Reality”. Global Environmental Change 18: 397-411. Online version, retrieved on October 15, 2018 from https://web.archive.org/web/20101128151523/http://www.csiro.au/files/files/plje.pdf
Interview with Ms. Jackie Davison, Environmental Outreach Coordinator at City of Sunnyvale, https://www.linkedin.com/in/jackie-davison-a5012910/