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 California case study: Communities

 Doing Their Part to Fight Global Warming

Stopping global warming requires thinking in new ways about how we live, do business and interact with one other. While climate policy is finally at the forefront of national political discussions, its impact will have decidedly local and personal effects. Each of us is part of the solution and what we do at home and work affects us, our children, and communities around the world. Reversing the trend of rapid resource depletion and growing risks of a climate gone haywire requires engaging our families, neighbors, businesses and elected and appointed officials in ways that make our communities more sustainable.

Environmental Defense Fund is committed to “finding the ways that work” to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change. One of our projects, called Climate for Community, is demonstrating what small businesses and San Francisco Bay Area residents are doing to engage their communities in the fight against global warming.

Growing Sustainably
Rene Feliciano clocks in at 6:30 on Monday morning. By nine o’clock, she has helped pack a small fleet of trucks to supply a handful of California’s supermarkets and restaurants. One big rig heads up the Pacific Coast to Eureka; two more traverse the great Central Valley destined for Sacramento and Fresno; another heads south across the Santa Cruz Mountains. Their cargo: organic produce from one of San Francisco’s greenest wholesale distributors.
As facilities manager and leader of the company’s Green Team, it’s part of Feliciano’s job to make Veritable Vegetable as environmentally friendly as possible. That includes making sure the thousands of long- and short-haul trips the truckers make annually are as productive as possible, and greening the  company’s operations.
“When it started, I was supposed to take care of getting us to zero waste,” said Feliciano. “As we progressed, we ran out of things to divert and when we started to question everything, the program blossomed into all different areas of our business.”

Veritable Vegetable started addressing environmental challenges long before green had serious cachet.  And there’s been no shortage of things to do. Since the sustainability dimension to her position was created three years ago, Feliciano has been busy finding ways to change the business’ physical plant and office culture.
The wholesaler’s efforts began with a lighting retrofit to its main warehouse, switching out fluorescent tube lighting for energy-efficient high-bay lights and ballasts. Much of the warehouse space needs only intermittent lighting so adding motion sensors allowed the company to keep lights off for most of the day when rooms are unoccupied. A combination of skylights and lumen sensors allowed Veritable Vegetable to dim the interior lights around the loading dock and central floor on sunny days. The net result: electricity use plummeted even as the business grew.
Veritable Vegetable grew by an average of seven percent annually from 2001 to 2008, and  added 50 percent more warehouse space in 2007. But some benefits are hard to quantify and don’t show up on the balance sheet.  For example, employees are offered numerous food programs that reduce the distance from farm to table while simultaneously increasing job satisfaction. They have the option of buying into a worker food share cooperative, enrolling in a juice program and getting catered lunches four times a week.

“The company originally did this as a way to provide employees with at least one good organic meal a day,” said Feliciano, “but it’s a two-way street. It’s a nice perk that makes it hard to leave.”

A sustainability ethos has long been part of the company’s creed. Veritable Vegetable was founded in 1974 with progressive ideals of social and environmental responsibility.  In a field dominated by large food producers and suppliers, Veritable Vegetable made a commitment to promoting smaller farms that offer fresh and healthy food and give back to their communities.
 That spirit lives on today in all aspects of the business. This winter, Veritable Vegetable added a 106-kilowatt solar array that will pay for itself in just four years, providing nearly cost-free electricity thereafter.
The company continues to invest in its employees as well. In 2006, Veritable Vegetable moved their locker room downstairs and added a bike rack to provide better commute options. It offers travel reimbursement for public transportation trips up to $115 a month so that workers don’t have to rely on a car to get to work.
Other changes are common practices for many San Francisco businesses. Sunset Scavenger, San Francisco’s municipal waste management company, has offered recycling and organic waste pick-up for many years. Yet Veritable Vegetable has gone above and beyond by diverting 99 percent of its waste from landfills through recycling, composting and clever reuse. For example, Feliciano devised a way to use Mylar wrap from food packaging as insulation for ductwork in the warehouse. The company also invested in a baler that compresses cardboard shipping boxes for recycling. Large items that can’t be readily sold, such as old furniture and computers, are taken to local nonprofits like the Scroungers’ Center for Reusable Art Parts (SCRAP) and Building Resources center.
Other green strategies are more specific to the food services industry. Between two warehouses, Veritable Vegetable has 350,000 cubic feet of cold storage space, all of which must be carefully controlled at different temperatures based on food type. The company has calibrated its thermostats to the temperature of the food instead of the ambient air temperature to avoid over-cooling. In addition, to minimize the loss of cold air when workers enter and exit the coolers, the company invested in heavy strip curtains that improve insulation and last longer than the cheaper, thinner curtains.
The improvements Veritable Vegetable has made result in fewer greenhouse gases polluting the air, whether it’s indirect emissions from power plants supplying electricity and organic waste decomposing in landfills, or direct emissions from vehicles. But that distant-seeming connection to global temperature is less important to the company than bringing the green message to people on a daily basis.
“Sustainability is actually a company directive that has spilled over into everybody’s life,” said Feliciano. “Because of the awareness and our mission statement, I think other people are catching on and thinking differently and purchasing differently. Now we have options when we spend our dollar.”
Stopping global warming requires thinking in new ways about how we live, do business and interact with one other. While climate policy is finally at the forefront of national political discussions, its impact will have decidedly local and personal effects. Each of us is part of the solution and what we do at home and work affects us, our children, and communities around the world. Reversing the trend of rapid resource depletion and growing risks of a climate gone haywire requires engaging our families, neighbors, businesses and elected and appointed officials in ways that make our communities more sustainable.
Environmental Defense Fund is committed to “finding the ways that work” to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change. One of our projects, called Climate for Community, is demonstrating what small businesses and San Francisco Bay Area residents are doing to engage their communities in the fight against global warming.


Taking the Lead

Jim Duffy looks relaxed as he walks the floor at Alonzo Printing Company. Wearing faded blue jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt and friendly smile, he nearly blends in with the other uniformed workers shuffling reams of paper from one whirring machine to the next. He stops to introduce our tour group to Renee Smith, a line worker who’s carrying a freshly inked stack of newsletters from the printer to the laser-guided paper cutter.
From his casual demeanor, no one would suspect that Duffy is founder and president of a commercial printing operation that’s become a leading success story for green businesses across the country. Alonzo Printing became the Bay Area’s first “green certified” color printing specialist in 1997 and won the Gold Award for Environmental Excellence from American Printer Magazine in 2008.
Duffy has taken a proactive, all-inclusive approach to assessing his operation’s sustainability, a practice that’s common in other parts of the world but in its infancy in the United States. “Everything in England has a carbon footprint label on it. Same thing in Japan,” he said. “This country is way behind in measuring these different steps.”
Last year, he took it upon himself to calculate and publish a complete review of the company’s carbon footprint in its monthly newsletter, including material shipping, employee commute miles, heat and power consumption for operations and delivery of final product to customers.

“I tried to put together a transparent way to measure our footprint,” Duffy said. “The value is starting to measure where you are so you can tell where you’re going. If I hadn’t measured water usage, for example, I wouldn’t have been able to report where we were 12 months later,” he explained. “We wouldn’t have a baseline to start with. Now, we can go all the way back to 2005.”

This holistic approach also makes it easier to understand the energy that goes into every sheet of paper produced, making a real connection between the trees and trucks and the printed paper.
The more Duffy learns about the carbon intensity of his product, however, the more complicated the picture becomes. Case in point: based on his calculations, it appears that virgin paper manufactured with clean energy in British Columbia and shipped via barge and railcar creates fewer total emissions than a 100% recycled fiber sheet produced in Arizona and trucked over land.
In part, Alonzo’s survival depends on producers and consumers assigning the proper value to a given commodity in a resource-constrained world. That’s why Duffy started to use Environmental Defense Fund’s Paper Calculator to help quantify the environmental impact of their paper choices.
Alonzo has done what it can to conserve virgin forest and draw on sustainably harvested woods for its paper products. In 2007, 92 percent of the paper Alonzo used contained recycled material—44 percent post-consumer waste—and the company is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, meaning it tracks where paper comes from and where it’s shipped.
It’s not just paper that has Duffy seeing the forest for the trees. He realizes occupational safety is another key ingredient for a successful business.
One of the many hazards for commercial print shop workers is exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which evaporate from printing press inks and cleaners and can be both powerful greenhouse gases and cancer causing when inhaled. To remedy the problem, Alonzo switched to non-toxic cleaners and VOC-free soy-based inks that eliminate hazardous chemicals from the work environment and a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Duffy indentified another significant source of emissions during the footprinting process: employee commute miles. Alonzo’s printing warehouse is tucked away in an industrial corridor along Hayward’s shorefront, several miles from major transit centers. As a result, many employees drive to work alone. To solve this problem and reduce the number of employee trips, Alonzo is pursuing a transit shuttle with other businesses in its industrial park that will connect their facilities to major rail and bus lines, thus enabling better utilization of public transportation and reducing emissions from commuting employees’ cars.   
Ultimately, all of this goodwill feeds back into Alonzo’s bottom line. That’s an essential factor, says Duffy, especially during troubled economic times when business owners are looking to cut costs any way possible. Some green investments make sense, while others do not.
Periods of belt-tightening can actually provide the incentive to go green. Take Alonzo’s new process-free plate developer, for instance. Though a substantial capital investment, the new technology drastically reduces water use, saving more than $1,000 a year on water bills. Alonzo saves money, California conserves its scarce water resources, and there’s an indirect emissions reduction benefit since transporting, treating and heating water accounts for 20 percent of statewide electricity use.
Duffy found that he was able to save even more money than predicted when he installed a variable speed, 50-hp compressor. It uses 120,000 kilowatts less per year than the old fixed speed drive—the equivalent of $12,000 to $17,000 in energy savings each year. The system will pay for itself in less than two years.
 ”I’m reducing my carbon footprint, and I’m going to see savings much greater than expected,” he said.

Tapping into creative solutions

Mark Klaiman and Virginia Donohue’s partnership is a quaint love story. Two government bureaucrats meet, fall in love, turn their mutual concern for pets and the environment into a successful business and live happily ever after.
The two have been pioneers of sustainable pet care for 12 years, developing a thriving business that does right by the planet. Their company, Pet Camp, is a full-service overnight kennel and daycare facility for dogs and cats.  It received certification as a Bay Area green business in 2004.
As former employees of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Klaiman and Donohue were always concerned about the environment, but those concerns initially took a back seat to creating a business that could survive financially.
“If you’re out of business, it doesn’t matter how green you once were,” said Klaiman. First, you have to master the basics and provide a service people want. No one would come to Pet Camp if we weren’t good at what we do,” he said.
In fact, it wasn’t until rolling electricity outages swept across California in the early ’00s and the idea of drilling for more oil in Alaska floated to the top of the national agenda that Pet Camp took stock of the business’s impact on the environment.
“We decided there had to be a better way,” said Klaiman, which spawned a new approach to thinking about green innovations. Practically speaking, new investment ideas still had to pencil out before they would be implemented, but a new emphasis was placed on sustainability.
This more comprehensive rubric for evaluating investment decisions led Pet Camp to install two Big Ass Fans® (high-volume low-speed fans) that outperformed its existing system of 12 conventional box fans along every dimension. The gigantic low-wattage air foils provide better, quieter air recirculation in the odoriferous kennel and use just a fraction of the energy to operate. This means that even though they had a higher upfront cost, they will reduce utility bills and  power plant emissions.
Klaiman considers the ability to think long term as one of the many trade-offs that benefit small businesses. “The downside is that we don’t have access to other people’s money,” he said. “The upside is we can define our own rate of return. I don’t have a bunch of shareholders to answer to next week, and that gives us a lot of flexibility.”
So he didn’t balk when he learned that installing solar panels on his roof would take six years to pay off. With an expected lifetime of 25 years, the solar panels would still provide 19 years of free electricity and indeed now yield savings of $11,000 a year.
Other amenities have a somewhat less apparent profit motive but reinforce the environmental theme nonetheless. Pet Camp’s latest addition, dubbed Cat Safari, is a landscaped garden jungle inside a greenhouse where cats can play. The glass enclosure traps heat from the sun, which passively heats the rest of the building and workspace to defray heating costs.
More creative still is Pet Camp’s participation in East Bay Municipal Utility District’s organic waste-to-fuel program. Doggie doo from the kennel is mixed with other organic waste to generate methane gas as the waste decomposes. The methane can then be captured and used to generate electricity that powers the water treatment facility.
Because of its ability to make decisions flexibly, small businesses may be the perfect incubator for innovative solutions like this, says Klaiman. “Small businesses are a good model for thinking creatively,” he said. “We understand that you have to keep evolving and changing. The trick is being open and listening and paying attention.”

Maintaining strong connections to the local business community is often the best way to find tried and true solutions. Most small businesses can’t afford to hire their own energy efficiency experts, so they must rely on each other to learn about new technologies.
“Being able to reach out to others is key so that you can bounce an idea off them,” said Klaiman. “What makes sense for my business may not make sense for other businesses.”

There’s also power in becoming part of a community and being able to take collective action. One business has only limited resources, but a whole community of small businesses can have substantial impact when major change is needed.

“If a bunch of small businesses change their behavior, the aggregate is much better than one large business changing behavior,” he said. That notion of pooling the combined efforts of a community is one that’s directly applicable to facing the challenges of global warming.

Power to the people
San Francisco Community Power (SF Power) has been in the business of community engagement for nearly a decade, since it first collaborated with other environmental groups and low-income families to shut down a dirty power plant located in their backyard. Today, the non-profit provides a range of services to help low-income households and small businesses conserve water, lower their energy bills and reduce their carbon footprint.

Over the past couple of years, Veritable Vegetable, Alonzo Printing and Pet Camp have participated in a demand-response program created and managed by SF Power.  Under the program, when the state calls an energy alert day—typically during the hottest summer days when temperatures soar and millions of buildings use more air-conditioning—participants are asked to reduce electricity use for several hours by switching off appliances, turning up the thermostat, dimming lights, keeping refrigeration units closed and deferring production.  Those that comply receive cash for helping the state avoid outages.

Shortly after launching the program, SF Power noticed that the participating businesses not only successfully reduced their energy use during peak hours, but also lowered their demand in the “shoulder” periods both before and after the official energy alert hours. This demand shift saved the companies money and presented an opportunity to create more environmental benefits.

“We found that small businesses are open, even eager, to adopting more sustainable practices,” said SF Power’s Executive Director Steven Moss.  “It’s just that nobody has taken the time to offer them specific things they can do in a language they can understand.”
SF Power began to investigate other areas in which businesses might be able to save money and reduce energy and water use, thereby producing environmental benefits. For each kilowatt saved, less diesel or natural gas is needed to produce energy.  But there are also substantial climate benefits from reducing water use, switching transportation modes and utilizing more eco-friendly products.

Last year, SF Power joined with Environmental Defense Fund to pilot a comprehensive project to identify and address all of the various activities that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in a community. While the actions taken by a single household or business may have limited effect on global warming, an entire network of families and firms presents enormous opportunities for aggregated, community-wide reductions that have real significance. As a result, Climate for Community was born.

The Climate for Community concept is simple. Provide a community of households and small businesses access to information about energy-saving technologies, efficient transportation options, greener consumer purchases, and helping them find ways to adopt the activities that best fit their needs. Businesses such as Veritable Vegetable, Alonzo Printing, and Pet Camp had already demonstrated the tremendous potential for achieving substantial reductions while improving their bottom lines.  If others did the same, small actions would add up to big impacts.
“Markets respond to consumers.  Politicians respond to voters,” said Moss. “Climate change will be solved by all of us working together.  Aggregating small emissions sources into tradable packages can create access to economic and environmental assets that will otherwise remain outside the policy equation,” said Moss.

SF Power has taken the Climate for Community concept to low-income families as well.  To date, SF Power has visited more than 100 low-income households in San Francisco.  Participants are provided with a climate change audit and given a reusable canvas shopping bag filled with environmentally friendly goodies, including a compact fluorescent light bulb, power strip, low-flow sink faucet, reusable stainless steel water bottle, eco-friendly hand sanitizer and household cleaner, light switch motion sensor and Kill-a-Watt meter to measure how much electricity a given appliance uses.

When the kit is delivered, a trained auditor makes a note of how old major appliances are, asks questions about driving habits and provides a fact sheet offering tips and identifying available government and utility rebates for greener living.
This grassroots effort is bringing climate change know-how to communities that are typically hard–to-reach. By knocking on doors, the SF Power audit team is educating community members and beginning a conversation about how to take local action on climate change.

The role of households and businesses in poorer neighborhoods has often been neglected, yet they are critical players in finding sustainable solutions to global warming.

Ultimately, communities of all types must be engaged in dynamic, economic and environmentally sustainable approaches that improve their lives and the planet’s health.
“Low income families and small businesses are last in line for the latest light bulb, refrigerator, or car, but they’ll be first in line to feel the consequences of climate change and associated policies:  higher energy prices, heat waves, rising shorelines,” said Moss. “The only way we’re going to solve this problem is by approaching it one neighborhood at a time and giving residents and businesses the knowledge and tools to make a positive difference.”
National advocacy, local action
With a new administration in the White House and federal economic stimulus dollars on the way, an innovative tone has been set for tackling many of our most pressing problems. At the same time, federal climate legislation is moving to the forefront of conversations inside and outside the environmental community. 
Climate for Community and similar programs offer a path to move beyond the debate and into the realm of action where real people take real actions to reduce their environmental impact and improve their economic conditions. What’s more, it provides an opportunity for those disadvantaged communities that suffer from the worst pollution to take part in and benefit from greenhouse gas reduction programs.
As Veritable Vegetable, Alonzo Printing, and Pet Camp have demonstrated, taking action can be profitable and a boon to the planet’s health. Reducing waste, saving electricity, using fewer toxic chemicals and driving less is better for business and the environment.
There are a variety of policy approaches that can be used to inspire community-scale actions, especially in our most vulnerable communities. The Climate for Community program is demonstrating how even the little guys – small businesses and households – can be inspired to act and be rewarded for doing so.

Since isolated actions aren’t enough, we need communities banding together to demand change in their neighborhoods, constructing a stage where everyone can play a part. It’s not just about “green businesses”, it’s about greening all businesses.  Your local grocer, high school or apartment complex can help solve the climate problem too. All that’s lacking is the knowledge and the tools to transform crisis into opportunity.
Any sound climate policy must empower everyday people to fight global warming.  Investing in our communities can be one of the greatest forms of climate protection where we think globally and act locally.



James Fine
Climate & Air Program
Sacramento, CA
James “Jamie” Fine is an economist and policy scientist working on state-based initiatives to address global warming.
His areas of research and advocacy include design and implementation of cap-and-trade and other market-based policy, modeling the economic, air quality, and health risks of policy decisions, and facilitating the meaningful involvement of public stakeholders in environmental planning.


For more information, visit the following websites:
Climate for Community –
Environmental Defense Fund –
San Francisco Community Power –
Veritable Vegetable –
Alonzo Printing –
Pet Camp –
Paper Calculator –
Big Ass Fans –
Kill-a-Watt -





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