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New ways for wine lovers to savor every last drop

Wine lovers of the world, rejoice! Now there are ways to preserve what’s left in the bottle before oxygen has a chance to ruin it.

As a resident of the top wine-producing state, I’m always on the lookout for innovations in the industry. Recently I discovered three — all being used in California. One is a wine dispenser that works much like a beer tap, eliminating the need for all those glass bottles. The second is a table-top or wall-mounted cooler that dispenses wine from original bottles yet preserves the wine’s quality for up to — get this — 60 days, according to one happy user. The third is a hand-held tool that taps into a fresh bottle for a pour while leaving the cork intact. You have to see it to believe it, so here’s a short video.

This is sustainable innovation at its best: improved packaging and delivery systems that reduce waste while satisfying the needs of both customers and retailers.

Wines on tap are “less to manufacture, less to ship, less to store, and no waste,” reads the menu at C Restaurant + Bar at the Clement hotel in Monterey. The taps are connected to stainless steel barrels serviced by Free Flow Wines, based in Napa Valley. Each reusable barrel holds 5.16 gallons, or 26 bottles, which in this restaurant are all California wines. The system uses inert gas to keep oxygen from spoiling the wine in the barrels. Free Flow’s business model reduces the need for bottles, corks, labels and shipping cases. The company even built a water treatment plant and recycles the water it uses to clean the containers.

Wine taps at C Restaurant + Bar in Monterey, California, use technology from Free Flow Wines based in Napa Valley. The taps are connected to reusable stainless steel barrels shown beneath the bar.

Wine taps at C Restaurant + Bar in Monterey, California, use technology from Free Flow Wines based in Napa Valley. The taps are connected to reusable stainless steel barrels shown beneath the counter.

Another popular wine dispenser is Enomatic, which claims on its website to be the “world’s leading brand in wine serving and preservation systems.” The company was founded in 2002 by two Italian entrepreneurs, and the products are now available in 73 countries. Enomatic’s products range from a 2-bottle unit to large customized tasting systems such as the one featured at World Expo 2015 in Milan, Italy. For 10 Euro, visitors could get three tastes from 1,400 Italian wines that lined the walls of the Vinitaly-designed pavilion. The experience was unique, and I even got to keep the glass.

Wine tasters used a pre-paid card to get samples of the 1,400 Italian wines available at World Expo 2015 in Milan.

Wine tasters used a pre-paid card to get samples of the 1,400 Italian wines available at World Expo 2015.

A competitor of Enomatic is Napa Technology, which actually is based in Silicon Valley. Its website says Napa Technology is North America’s (not the world’s) “No. 1 brand of intelligent wine dispenser and preservation systems made in the U.S.A.” Napa’s WineStation, designed to preserve wine up to 60 days, can help restaurateurs eliminate over-pouring, theft and spoilage.

I had a chance to try it out at San Clemente Wine Company in Southern California. Owners Jeffrey and Stacey Lloyd purchased a four-bottle Napa WineStation to satisfy customers who wanted just a glass of high-end wine or a taste before making the commitment to buy a whole bottle. Jeffrey said he’s amazed at how well the system preserves the quality of wines. To prove his point, he pushed a button on the WineStation to dispense a precisely measured sample of 2012 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, generally $200 a bottle. I have to admit it was extraordinarily smooth for a wine that had been opened weeks before.

Jeffrey Lloyd of San Clemente Wine Company is pleased with the performance of Napa Technology's Wine Station, which prevents spoilage and keeps wine tasters happy.

Jeffrey Lloyd of San Clemente Wine Company is pleased with the performance of Napa Technology’s Wine Station, which prevents spoilage and keeps wine tasters happy.

Napa Technology’s blog is quite entertaining. One post gave 10 tips on how to look smart while drinking wine. My favorite was tip No. 4: “Learn the animal scents that indicate trouble. If it smells like a dog, your wine is corked (contaminated with a chemical known as TCA). If it smells like a horse, it probably has Brett (the nickname for a problematic yeast called Brettanomyces). If it smells like a bear, this is a clear indication that there is a bear nearby. Don’t panic, maintain eye contact and back away slowly in the direction from which you came. Then return the wine.”

The Coravin is a hand-held tool that allows wine lovers to pour a glass and put the bottle back on the shelf to be enjoyed later. All photos Copyright Sustainable Options 2016

The Coravin is a hand-held tool that allows wine lovers to pour a glass and put the bottle back on the shelf to be enjoyed later. All photos copyright Sustainable Options 2016

Although the WineStation line includes residential models, a more affordable option is Coravin. This hand-held tool uses a long ultra-thin needle to pierce the cork. As the wine is poured through a spout, argon gas is pumped into the bottle to keep oxygen out. When the needle is extracted, the cork reseals, preserving the wine “for months or even years to come,” the website says. The device only works on natural cork, not plastic. I have a $10 vacuum pump that sucks out oxygen and serves as a bottle stopper, but it only extends the life of the wine for a few days. The Coravin models cost between $300 and $400, and argon gas cartridges are $7 to $10 apiece. Still, I’m putting it on my wish list.

So what to do if your wine does go bad? Start cooking! Use wine to flavor sauces or as a marinade to tenderize meat. Cheers!

11 Ways to Implement Sustainability

There are a number of ways to implement sustainability in a business, and each business should determine its own priorities. If you want your company to run leaner and greener, follow these 11 guidelines from San Diego’s Clean Tech Program Manager Jacques Chirazi.

  1. Integrate sustainability into your company’s vision, values and/or core mission statement. Chirazi said companies that have embraced this strategy include Procter & Gamble and Target, which states: “Since opening our first store in 1962, we’ve invested in the health and sustainability of our communities.”
  2. Set ambitious goals that are specific, credible, measurable and frequently reviewed. Both Intel and AMD have set aggressive short-term goals to reduce CO2 emissions by 2018, according to Chirazi.
  3. Treat sustainability projects with the same requirements for ROI as any other business investment. Chirazi said sustainability proposals need to make business sense, so they should be analyzed using payback periods and net present value.
  4. Let the CEO and senior executives be the key spokespeople demonstrating internal commitment to sustainability. Top-down assurance from chief execs at companies like Cisco accelerates the implementation process, he said.

    Jacques Chirazi, LEED GA and a certified biomimicry professional, gave a presentation on business sustainability strategies at the SDG&E Energy Innovation Center. Copyright Sustainable Options 2016

    Jacques Chirazi, LEED GA and a certified biomimicry professional, shared 11 ways to implement sustainable business strategies during a workshop at the SDG&E Energy Innovation Center in San Diego. Copyright Sustainable Options 2016

  5. Ensure employee engagement and build a green team that involves employees across all levels of the organization. Competitions and design contests are great ways to encourage creativity and innovation, he added.
  6. Drive operational efficiencies hand-in-hand with sustainable practices. Chirazi emphasized that businesses should evaluate the consumption of resources, including energy use, water use, recycling, food waste, shipping and transportation.
  7. Implement technologies and policies to reduce business travel and commuting. This will reduce costs as well as GHG emissions.
  8. Employ product life-cycle analysis to inform new designs which will cut energy use, emissions and waste at every stage of the product’s life. Using sustainability principles can create a paradigm shift that leads to product innovation, according to Chirazi.
  9. Communicate internally and externally to inform and educate employees, customers and external stakeholders. Chirazi suggests using newsletters, emails, websites, blogs and special events to publicize sustainability successes.
  10. Partner with the supply chain. Support suppliers who adopt sustainable business practices, especially a code of conduct and efforts to reduce their environmental footprint. This creates shared value, he added.
  11. Engage all stakeholders, including NGOs, industry trade organizations, regulatory agencies, suppliers and customers. After getting input from stakeholders, advance sustainability practices by using resources like those offered by the U.S. EPA.

Chirazi said sustainability can also improve branding, attract top employees and increase productivity due to a happier and healthier workplace.

What Will It Take to Restore the L.A. River?

The L.A. River is not a meandering 51-mile stretch of glistening water that attracts wildlife and the residents who live along its banks. No, it’s a concrete barricade constructed after a devastating flood in 1938 killed more than 100 people, destroyed over 5,000 homes and flooded 100,000 acres. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came to the rescue. It took 20 years, but the corps built a flood control channel that directs water from the San Gabriel Mountains to the mouth of the river in Long Beach and finally into the Pacific Ocean.

“Take back the river” was the buzz at this year’s VerdeXchange in Los Angeles. Mayor Eric Garcetti was the biggest cheerleader, speaking to the crowd about his boyhood memories of going to the river with his dad. “My dream is to have a park within walking distance of every Angelino,” he said during a keynote address at the conference.

A plan to restore an 11-mile stretch of the river north of downtown through Elysian Park was unanimously approved last year by a committee of the Army Corps of Engineers, but Garcetti admitted there’s a long way to go. “This is the largest environmental restoration in the U.S.,” he said, adding that all 88 cities in L.A. County are affected. “This is a regional approach,” Garcetti said. “There is room for multiple visions.”

The L.A. River

Following the mayor’s speech, a panel called “A River Runs Through It: Reimagining L.A.’s Waterway” featured Tensho Takemori, a partner at Gehry Partners; Joe Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy; and L.A. Deputy Mayor Barbara Romero, who was added after renowned architect Frank Gehry didn’t show.

So far Gehry Partners has undertaken 3-D mapping of the river and is continuing research on major issues such as flood control, water recharge, public health, the environment, bicycle and pedestrian paths, water sports, neighborhood connectivity, land development and more. Takemori said about 70 percent of the channel has a concrete bottom. “We drove it so we could geo-map the river and the structures bordering it,” he said.

Joe Edmiston said many of the poorest Angelinos live next to the river. They have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of a Great Blue Heron every day, he said, something even the wealthiest homeowners in L.A. don’t see. But he warned that Mother Nature is a powerful force along the river. He said during last summer’s rains “I saw the water lapping onto the bike path.”

The bottom line is money, Takemori said. “This is a big public works project,” he noted. “The first thing is to make a case for investing in it.”

VerdeXchange 2016 partnered with the Los Angeles Urban Land Institute’s FutureBuild program to bring private sector and public agency speakers before 700 conference attendees to discuss sustainability issues.

California Energy Year-end Recap

Lawmakers in Sacramento have been busy this year. New laws to improve energy efficiency in California are on the books, and deadlines for reaching state targets are ambitious.

One of the more intriguing pieces of legislation is California Assembly Bill 802 which was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in October. It combines energy benchmarking with public disclosures of building energy use data. This law replaces Assembly Bill 1103, which required disclosure of energy use in commercial and multi-family buildings (larger than 10,000 square feet) when they were sold or leased, called time-of-transaction disclosure.

Building owners may be happy with a loophole that basically relieves them from disclosing energy consumption data in 2016, since AB 1103 expires Dec. 31, 2015 and AB 802 doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2017. During 2016, the new law directs the California Energy Commission (CEC) staff to “engage in a public process to develop regulations and establish the reporting infrastructure for the new program.” The plan is to require utilities to provide to nonresidential building owners, upon request, recent 12-month energy usage data for the benefit of prospective buyers or lessees. The law includes provisions for utilities to offer rebates, incentives, technical assistance and support to owners that improve their buildings’ energy efficiencies.

Image courtesy the State of California website 2015

Image courtesy State of California website 2015

Also in October Gov. Brown signed the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015 requiring the state’s utilities to get 50 percent of electricity from renewable sources by the year 2030. California Senate Bill 350 previously set a target of 33 percent renewables by 2020. The new law expands the state’s long-term energy efficiency goals by mandating a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in buildings where Californians live and work, also by 2030. The legislation is intended to improve air quality and boost clean power such as solar, wind, thermal and hydro. The law even addresses energy storage, electric vehicle charging stations and a regional electricity grid.

Another law that focuses on increasing energy performance in existing buildings is California Assembly Bill 758. It requires the state’s Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission to collaborate with stakeholders to develop a comprehensive energy-efficiency plan that benefits building owners as well as energy users. Beginning in 2015, AB 758 launched a 10-year program to upgrade and improve the energy performance of existing buildings throughout the state.

Keep in mind that deadlines are on the horizon for California’s Long-term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan. The plan includes requiring newly constructed buildings to be zero net energy, meaning they produce as much energy as the buildings and their occupants use. The state has mandated that all new residential construction be zero net energy by 2020, and all new commercial construction be zero net energy by 2030.

Happy New Year!

Top 5 Food Trends at World Expo

Billed as the biggest event ever organized around food and nutrition, World Expo 2015 was a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds. “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” was the theme of a six-month celebration of food that just wrapped up in Milan. Eating Italian cuisine and drinking Italian wine — how could I go wrong?

Well, the Belgian fries and beer were a close second, yet there were too many options to be sampled over the three days I attended. The Expo, sometimes called the World’s Fair, is generally held every five years, but often smaller expositions take place in between. The purpose is to educate, entertain, showcase global innovation, promote cultural exchange and dialog, and inspire people on a virtual journey around the world.

A demonstration garden at World Expo in Milan showcased drip irrigation as a means of conserving water. All photos copyright Sustainable Options 2015.

A demonstration garden at World Expo in Milan showcased drip irrigation as a means of conserving water. All photos copyright Sustainable Options 2015.

Here’s my take on five lessons learned from World Expo about food sustainability:

1. Hunger. Many of the 140+ participating countries recognize that reducing food waste is key to feeding the hungry. We’ve heard it all before: Stop over-buying, plan healthy meals, donate excess food, grow your own crops, compost food scraps, etc.

2. Water. The energy-water nexus is a hot topic, especially in drought regions. Several pavilions displayed working systems of drip irrigation, hydroponics and aquaponics. Aquaponics combines plant and fish production in a closed-loop water system that uses nutrients from both fish and plants to feed each other.

3. Protein. Get ready to start eating bugs. The United Nations estimates that “insect-eating is practiced regularly by at least 2 billion people worldwide.” The U.N. is pushing entomophagy as a sustainable food source because insects contain high-quality protein, require less food and water to grow, and emit fewer greenhouse gasses than animal products. Some U.S. entrepreneurs are already selling cricket protein bars and cookies made of cricket flour.

Entomophagy was the subject of an exhibit at the Belgian pavilion. Photos copyright Sustainable Options 2015.

Entomophagy — eating insects — was the subject of an exhibit at the Belgian pavilion.

4. Agro-technology. High yields and pest-resistant crops are being studied in laboratories around the world. The Israel Pavilion promoted its “super wheat” crop as well as methods that increase yields in low-water and harsh environments.

5. Urban agriculture. Exhibits of vertical farming, green roofs and crops grown in small spaces were plentiful throughout the 272-acre Expo site. The city of Milan is a global leader, with many work spaces and housing units now incorporating green plants and trees into building designs. One example is architect Stefano Boeri’s Bosco Verticale, or Vertical Forest.

Vegetables, herbs and other plants adorned the walls of the American Food 2.0 pavilion.

Vegetables, herbs and other plants adorned the walls of the American Food 2.0 pavilion.

The U.S. Pavilion offered interactive exhibits centered around food security and healthy eating. Resources are available on the U.S. Department of Agriculture website ChooseMyPlate.gov. The top floor of the pavilion was a popular open-air hangout featuring upbeat music, sweeping views of the Expo and a party atmosphere. A team of charming, multi-lingual college students was on hand to answer questions or break into a flash dance whenever the mood was right.

The next World Expo, “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future,” will be held in Dubai in 2020. Sub-themes are sustainability, opportunity and mobility.

Architectural standouts at World Expo 2015

Milan, Italy was the stage for World Expo 2015, and the stars were the pavilions designed by leading architects from around the globe. Pictured are some architectural standouts, noted for both green building techniques and innovative design. Click on any photo to begin the slideshow.

All photos copyright Sustainable Options 2015.

Find your happy place at VMware

The corporate headquarters of VMware in Palo Alto, California, is roughly the same size as Disneyland. It, too, seems like the happiest place on earth.

Smiling workers breeze through sunny hallways and outdoor catwalks overlooking the tree-filled campus. Drought-tolerant plants and native grasses dot the landscape, although there are some lawn areas used for company-wide celebrations like Earth Day, the Halloween Bash and ice cream socials.

VMware Campus Concierge Jeff Goodall shares his company's enthusiasm for all things sustainable. Photos copyright Sustainable Options 2015

VMware Campus Concierge Jeff Goodall shares his company’s enthusiasm for all things sustainable. Photos copyright Sustainable Options 2015

The 4,300 employees enjoy other perks:  fitness center with spin and Zumba classes, ping pong tables, indoor bicycle storage — even a mobile dental office and hair salon. Free snacks and discounted meals can be consumed in the green-certified cafeteria, break rooms, outdoor seating areas and coffee bar.

“Do you have any job openings?” was the question that came to mind as my colleagues conversed with our guide, Jeff Goodall, campus concierge and program manager. The tour was included in my training program on the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). The class covered the latest G4 sustainability reporting guidelines and was administered by ISOS Group and generously hosted by VMware.

VMware’s success began with virtualization software. Founded in 1998, the company is now a global tech leader offering cloud management software and other services including security and networking. The company prides itself on sustainability, and all of its HQ buildings are — or soon will be — LEED Gold, Goodall said. “If an employee opens a window, a sensor sends a signal to shut off the air conditioning in that office,” he added.

Goodall proudly explained that all of the wood used in the campus buildings was recycled. That includes 20,000 square feet of flooring in Promontory Building D — wood salvaged from a building in Wisconsin that once belonged to Thomas Edison.

A re-purposed wine barrel takes the place of cardboard boxes delivered by the fresh fruit supplier. Copyright Sustainable Options 2015

A re-purposed wine barrel takes the place of cardboard boxes delivered by the fruit supplier.

And recycling doesn’t end with the building construction. Employees recycle all over campus: 93 percent of the waste generated is compostable. They can even bring batteries and e-waste from home to be recycled.

The 105-acre campus is powered by 4 megawatts of solar. In fact, the city of Palo Alto runs on 100 percent renewable energy. VMware is doing its share to conserve water as well. By switching to 86 percent native landscaping, the campus has cut irrigation by 50 percent.

Crushed glass sparkles in the floor at Turtle Cafe.

Crushed glass sparkles in the floor at Turtle Cafe.

Our tour took us through Turtle Cafe, where green and gold-colored pillars made from reclaimed ocean glass complement colorful floor tiles composed of crushed bottle pieces. The cafe is named after the nearby pond that became the home of a stray rescued by Goodall one day on his lunch hour. Over the years the turtle family has grown to 14, and on October 23, some lucky employees will get to take home the endeared company mascots until next spring when they’ll be returned — with appropriate fanfare — to VMware’s turtle pond.

Squeezing oil from hard-to-recycle plastics

For a company that makes plastics, Dow Chemical has a lot to gain by developing a closed-loop strategy for the ubiquitous petroleum-based material. Dow recently released the results of a three-month pilot project that converted plastics back to oil.

Partnering with Republic Services and the Flexible Packaging Association, Dow launched the “Energy Bag” project last summer in Citrus Heights, California, northeast of Sacramento. All 27,000 households were given purple plastic bags to collect difficult-to-recycle plastics such bottle tops, potato chip bags, plastic spoons, juice pouches, foam cups, candy wrappers, plastic wrap and other flimsy food packaging. Residents were instructed to fill the purple bags and toss them in their recycling bin for separation later at the local materials recovery facility (MRF).

bottle caps“When we were approached by Republic Services, it was a no-brainer for us,” said Mayor Melvin Turner. “It’s something that Citrus Heights gets involved in, in terms of recycling.”

The results? About 30 percent of residents participated, turning in 7,979 purple bags in six curbside pickups over the course of three months. An estimated 6,000 pounds of waste was diverted from landfill. That netted 512 gallons of synthetic crude oil, or about 12 barrels.

The oil was extracted from the plastics by a process call pyrolysis. There are several methods of pyrolysis, but they generally involve shredding the plastics into tiny pieces and heating them up without using oxygen (so no fire). The process creates a vapor, which is then condensed into synthetic crude. Also produced is a synthetic gas (which, too, can be converted to energy). What’s left over is a non-hazardous char made up of impurities like fiber and glass from the incoming plastic feedstock. This residual waste (5 to 20 percent) can end up — where else? — back in the landfill.

While there are approximately 100 waste-to-energy plants in the U.S., there are few pyrolysis facilities, mostly on the East Coast. That’s because environmental regulations restrict air pollution, odor and noise. The pyrolysis plant closest to Citrus Heights was in Beaverton, Oregon, so the purple Energy Bags were shipped there, adding to the project’s carbon footprint.

Energy Bag Pilot


Click here to watch a recap of the Energy Bag project.

Plastics-to-fuel (PTF) proponents — like Dow and the American Chemistry Council — argue that PTF generates far less greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels. And new technologies have improved the ability of pyrolysis plants to be in compliance with federal and local emission standards.

“The Energy Bag pilot really, for all of us, is a way to change the way we think about waste,” said Greg Jozwiak, North American commercial vice president at Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics.

The Dow report calls the pilot a success because it “clearly demonstrated the viability of an alternative municipal waste management program to divert NRPs [non-recycled plastics] from the landfill and convert them into a valuable resource.”

However, the project should thoroughly examine all the metrics — how much fuel was gained in relation to how much energy and materials were used, the time and effort of the participants, the cost to Republic Services and Dow, and the efficiency of the pyrolysis technology itself. Brett Schreiner, customer service supervisor at Republic, said some participants questioned the value of collecting this type of plastic. “Is this better than just recycling it?” he asked. “Are we just spending more fuel to make a little bit of fuel?”

Dow’s Jozwiak explained, “The energy that’s in these types of plastics is actually greater and more efficient than wood and paper and some other things that are being recycled and used for fuel.”

Every kind of trash is burned in waste-to-energy plants throughout the world, especially in Europe, Japan and China. But groups like the U.S.-based Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) oppose any form of burning to reduce waste. Note that many Citrus Heights residents said they liked the concept of waste-to-energy, but the primary driver for participants was “landfill diversion” and “protecting the environment for future generations.”

Dow and its partners will need to determine if plastics-to-fuel pyrolysis in the U.S. is a no-brainer after all.


A Tale of Four Cities: Sustainability Stories

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

This classic Dickens novel is a time-worn tale about the aristocrats and the peasants, the haves versus the have-nots. Today economic disparity is still apparent, especially to some low-income families in the city of Compton who struggle to pay their water bills while wealthy residents of Cowan Heights water their lush lawns and gardens.

Water conservation – and sustainability in general – is a perplexing issue in Southern California. The governor has called for everyone to pull together to achieve the latest state mandates on water reduction and carbon emissions. But some folks are up in arms. In San Juan Capistrano, two residents sued the city, claiming tiered pricing (higher rates to big water consumers) is illegal. The district court of appeal sided with the residents, finding no financial justification for the tiered rates that the city implemented five years ago.

Sustainability was the hot topic at the 14th annual Municipal Green Building Conference & Expo entitled “Rebuilding, Reinventing, and Reimagining Southern California Cities.” About 800 people attended the event April 23 at the Southern California Gas Company’s Energy Resource Center in Downey.

Conference attendees heard the stories of four cities in Los Angeles County that are working to make waves in various aspects of sustainability.

Long Beach

The Long Beach City Council adopted “Becoming a Sustainable City” in 2010. The plan has seven focus areas:  water, waste, urban nature, transportation, green economy/lifestyle, energy, and buildings/neighborhoods.

Long Beach Sustainability Coordinator Larry Rich said the city’s building code requires LEED certification for new residential or mixed use buildings over 50,000 square feet with more than 50 units. Taking it up a notch, the city requires LEED Silver for new commercial properties over 7,500 square feet. “Long Beach was an early adopter of construction and demolition debris recycling,” Rich said, “and low-impact development.”

Critters like these can sometimes be found in  backyards in Long Beach, which supports residents who want to raise chickens, goats and bees. Photo copyright Sustainable Options 2015

Critters like these can be found in some backyards in Long Beach. The city supports its residents who want to raise goats, chickens and bees.             Photo copyright Sustainable Options 2015

Urban agriculture is popular in Long Beach, with some residents having backyard chickens, goats and bees. The city is considering applying for the designation of “Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone,” which would allow the development of urban farms on certain privately owned properties that are now vacant.

To address mobility, Rich said Long Beach is researching a “Car to Go” phone app, which is a hybrid of car-sharing and an Uber-like service that would identify the availability of cars throughout the city that can be rented for round trips or one way.

West Hollywood

Work is progressing on the West Hollywood Design District Streetscape Project to revitalize the commercial district formerly known as The Avenues. The plan is to improve the economic vitality of the district by enhancing the pedestrian experience and adding a bicycle infrastructure, landscaping and public gathering spaces.

Bike sharing and electric vehicle (EV) charging stations have been in place for several years, but the city needs to up its game, according to West Hollywood Associate Planner Chris Corrao. “Our 2007 green building ordinance is completely out of date. We need a holistic look at sustainability,” he said. “Our biggest challenge is existing buildings. We want to focus on healthier buildings.”

Corrao added, “Right now the community is pushing us. So we need to increase education and outreach.”

Los Angeles 

On April 8 of this year, the city of LA released its first sustainability plan. The “pLAn” addresses the environment, economy and equity with short-term goals (2017) and long-term targets for 2025 and 2035. Mayor Eric Garcetti is rallying stakeholders by asking residents, community groups, businesses, universities and others to adopt the plan online.

“It’s consciously not a green plan, it’s a sustainability plan,” said Ted Bardacke, Deputy Director of the Mayor’s Sustainability Office. “We looked at what other cities around the world were doing,” he added. “Especially influential was Sydney’s [Australia] plan. About four or five years ago they were just coming out of their 12-year drought.” The pLAn encompasses water conservation, renewable energy, waste reduction, transportation, air quality, green jobs and other initiatives.

The city of Los Angeles is measuring these and other key sustainability indicators. Image retrieved May 8, 2015 from https://data.lacity.org/A%20Livable%20and%20Sustainable%20City

The city of Los Angeles is measuring these and other key sustainability indicators. Image retrieved May 8, 2015 from the pLAn website.

When asked about ocean desalination plants as a possible answer to California’s drought, Badacke was blunt. He said, “Before I see a desal plant in LA, I don’t want to see a front lawn with grass.”

Bardacke said tackling sustainability in such a large city is daunting. “We’ve worked to have a chief sustainability officer in each of the city’s 22 departments. We started to build a network within city government rather than a department in city government.”

One of those department officials is Osama Younan, chief of the city’s Green Building Division. LA’s Green Building Code has the same LEED requirements as Long Beach. Younan said his staff also helps businesses and residents with programs like “Solar Ready,” “EV Ready” and “Cool Roofs.”

The city’s aggressive sustainability plan is not an easy sell, Bardacke admitted. “We are relying on our chief sustainability officers. We don’t want this to be the mayor’s plan,” he said, “we want it to be the city’s plan. We will face resistance. We have to keep pushing and pushing and pushing.”

Santa Monica

Santa Monica’s long-standing and far-ranging green city plan is known throughout Southern California as a model of sustainability. First adopted more than 20 years ago, the plan identified four goal areas: resource conservation, transportation, pollution prevention and public health protection, and community and economic development. The plan has since added four more goal areas: open space and land use, housing, community education and civic participation, and human dignity.

The city’s Sustainable City Report Card measures the entire community’s progress toward meeting the goals. In recent years the grades have come in at A’s and B’s for community education, land use, and human dignity, but there have been many C’s and D’s for housing and transportation, especially traffic congestion.

Last month Santa Monica released a year’s worth of key findings from its “Wellbeing Index” which was designed to assess the community’s overall well being. The city developed the index using a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ 2013 Mayors Challenge. The findings show strong civic engagement, walkability, increased bike use and a high level of personal wellbeing for senior residents. Traffic/mobility was cited as the biggest problem along with concern about affordability for future generations.

The impetus to measure well being was the Gross National Happiness (GNH) indicator created by the tiny Asian country of Bhutan, which rejected GDP as a measurement of progress. Instead of economics, GNH is based upon sustainable development, preserving cultural values, conserving natural resources, and good governance. Other countries have embraced this concept, including Thailand, South Korea, Dubai, Canada and the United Kingdom. In the U.S., the city of Seattle has a happiness index, and a 2009 Gallup Poll collected happiness data nationwide. The U.S. scored 66 out of 100.

Sustainability priorities across the nation vary greatly from city to city, according to Dean Kubani, Director of Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment. He advised attendees to “look at where sustainability issues are in your city.” He added, “In Pasadena, sustainability efforts started on a public health issue. In Chattanooga [Tennessee] it was sustainable economic development.”

Like most California cities, Santa Monica is searching for answers to the state’s water shortage. “We looked at Anaheim’s sewage scalping plant,” Kubani said. “Right next to city hall they are sewage mining, like in Sydney.” Anaheim has dubbed its facility the more polite name of “Water Sustainability Campus,” where sewage is turned into disinfected water. Every day about 50,000 gallons of the treated water are used for toilet flushing in City Hall and for landscape irrigation around the buildings and nearby parks.

For more information visit these city websites:  Santa Monica, Los Angeles, Long Beach and West Hollywood.

Turf grass is target of California water cuts

Golf courses, cemeteries, lawns, campuses and grassy street medians are the targets of California Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order mandating 25 percent water cuts statewide. Brown told a news conference, “The idea of your nice little green grass getting lots of water every day — that’s gonna be a thing of the past.”

The order directs state and local water agencies to levy fines or cease-and-desist orders for violations. The 25 percent reduction in potable water usage is based on 2013 levels and is in effect until February 2016. Brown asked for a 20 percent voluntary cut last year, but most parts of the state failed to achieve even half that.

Illustration shows impacts of the drought using measurements taken in March of each year.  Source: National Drought Mitigation Center, 2015.

Illustration shows impacts of the drought using measurements taken in March of each year. Source:  National Drought Mitigation Center, 2015.

The restrictions come on top of new rules issued last month banning all of the state’s restaurants, bars and hotels from serving water to customers unless they ask for it. The rules also require all hotels to implement linen and towel re-use programs. Additionally, landscape watering by businesses, cities and residences is restricted to two days a week unless water providers have already imposed limits. And no watering is allowed within 48 hours of rainfall.

Brown warned that the executive order is extensive. It calls for state funds to be used for turf grass replacement, public education to prevent wildfires, and a new Water Energy Technology (WET) program that includes “renewable energy-powered desalination, integrated on-site reuse systems, water-use monitoring software, on-farm precision technologies” and other innovations.

For the turf removal program, the state Department of Water Resources will partner with local agencies to collectively replace 50 million square feet of lawns with drought tolerant landscapes and also provide funding for under-served communities. The executive order allocates $1.2 million from the State Responsibility Area Fire Prevention Fund to educate the public on the proper treatment of dead and dying trees to prevent wildfires.

The drought, now in its fourth year, is the result of reduced snowpack and below-average rainfall. This has reduced water levels in reservoirs, underground water supplies and lakes throughout the Western states.

This photo of Lake Mead near Hoover Dam, taken in October 2014, shows the white "bathtub ring" indicating how far the water level has dropped over the many years of drought in the West. Photo copyright Sustainable Options 2015.

This photo of Lake Mead near Hoover Dam, taken in October 2014, shows the white “bathtub ring” indicating how far the water level has dropped over the many years of drought in the West. Photo copyright Sustainable Options 2015.

I visited Hoover Dam last October — 50 years after Congress designated Lake Mead as the first National Recreation Area and part of the National Park system. Lake Mead is the country’s largest man-made reservoir. It was created by the completion of Hoover Dam in 1935. According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, at full capacity Lake Mead has a water level of 1,229 feet, but it hasn’t been that high since the 1980s. The level has dropped below 1,100 feet only three times:  during the current drought, during the drought of 1955-57, and in 1964-65 when Lake Powell was created, slowing the upstream water flow. Lake Mead has 550 miles of shoreline, and few sights are as shocking as the exposed stained banks of this majestic lake.