Berkeley greenhouse gas emissions down 8% since 2000

This graphic by the city of Berkeley illustrates Climate Action Plan successes and outlines what still needs to happen moving forward.

This infographic by the city of Berkeley illustrates Climate Action Plan successes and outlines what still needs to happen moving forward.

The city of Berkeley has reduced community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 8% since 2000 despite a 10% increase in population, the city announced in an annual report mailed last week to residents and businesses throughout the city.

The mailing is the most comprehensive public report produced by the city to date on its progress toward Climate Action Plan goals established in 2006. The city has set a target of a 33% reduction in emissions by 2020, and an 80% reduction by 2050.

The latest annual report, centered around the theme of sustainability, is “a way to look at a broad swath of what city government work is,” said city spokesman Matthai Chakko, “how departments all come together, even if they seem to be working separately, toward a common goal.”

The mailing was an opportunity, said city climate action coordinator Timothy Burroughs, to demonstrate significant emissions reductions that few communities nationwide have been able to achieve.

“It really speaks to how strong of a value this is for Berkeley residents and businesses,” said Burroughs. “It really speaks to how seriously they’re taking energy efficiency. And our job in city government is to make it as easy as possible for residents and businesses to go green.”

Improvements across a range of measures

Reductions were achieved via a range of strategies, from a decrease in electricity use in homes (9%) and businesses (6%), to a 22% drop in home water usage and a 43% decline in the amount of solid waste sent to landfills.

More than half of the city’s emissions come from gas- and diesel-powered vehicles, and the city has taken steps, said city staff, to promote alternatives to their use via better access to cycling resources and public transportation; more electric vehicle and car-sharing opportunities; and land-use strategies to encourage greener buildings along transit corridors. The goBerkeley initiative currently underway is also slated to play a role by decreasing congestion and emissions caused by drivers circling for a parking spot, and encouraging the use of public transportation and shared vehicles.

Click the image above to see more Climate Action Plan result infographics. Source: City of Berkeley

Click the image above to see more Climate Action Plan result infographics. Source: City of Berkeley, 2011

Infrastructure improvements — such as those that will be funded via last year’s Measure M ballot initiative, LED upgrades completed or planned for the city’s 7,600 streetlights, and renovations of the city’s libraries — have also contributed to the 8% reduction, as well as more decreases to come down the line, according to the annual report.

Solar and other lighting upgrades, an increase in street tree plantings and a growing number of LEED-certified construction projects are also bolstering the trend. Neal DeSnoo, energy program officer for the city, said the city has created policies to increase these trends moving forward, by requiring, for example, new construction to be solar- and electric vehicle-ready.

Burroughs noted Wednesday that the economic downtown of 2008 is believed to have made a difference region-wide as far as an increasing awareness about turning off lights, using less water, and finding other ways to reduce energy usage to save money.

Keeping track is key

Tracking all of these measures is a key component for making headway toward Climate Action Plan goals, said Burroughs. And it’s not easy. The city uses PG&E data to track energy consumption; regional estimates from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to track vehicle emissions; data from other agencies to track solid waste that ends up at the landfill; and even data from the U.S. Census to see how far people drive to work. Tracking these and other numbers allows the city to spot trends, learn more about what’s driving changes, and come up with ways to build on progress as deadlines approach.

Marna Schwartz, outreach specialist on green issues for the city, said another tool helping community members change their habits and decrease energy consumption is technology. Cell phone apps and online programs that provide a snapshot of energy usage and trends can provide the information people need to trigger a behavior change, she said. Technological improvements in home appliances, green building practices and cleaner energy sources are also making a difference.

The city is also hoping to encourage more improvements from local businesses via the Energy Smart Awards contest, now in its second year. The goal is to help building owners, managers, staff and tenants better understand how to approach energy use, as well as save money on monthly utility bills. These steps toward efficiency would also contribute toward helping the city in its sustainability goals. (Learn more about the contest here.)

Much of the larger-scale work in Berkeley thus far has been funded by $30 million in grants received by the city since 2009, from the agencies such as the Alameda County Transportation Commission and Metropolitan Transportation Commission ($12.7 million) for transit improvements; the U.S. Department of Energy (about $1 million) for energy upgrades in 250 Berkeley buildings; and the state Department of Forestry to update the city’s tree inventory ($137,500).

In addition to city government-led changes, staff also pointed to the work of the Berkeley Climate Action Coalition, an all-volunteer group led by the Ecology Center that takes on a variety of projects year-round — such as creating community gardens and increasing energy efficiency in multi-family housing — designed to help the city meet its Climate Action Plan goals. (Find out how to get involved here.)

“No silver bullet,” say city staff

To meet the 2020 and 2050 goals, city staff said a broad range of changes still need to take place. These include a push toward vehicles using cleaner fuels and, ideally, fewer vehicles on the road; more solar energy usage; and a larger segment of the population changing their practices at home and work to prioritize conservation.

“We don’t know all the answers,” said Chakko. “And all the solutions that have come to the fore now, some of them we wouldn’t have conceived of, perhaps. in 2006. It’s having that engaged process that makes people look for solutions they might not have thought of before.”

There is no “silver bullet,” added DeSnoo, to reach the goals set forward by the Climate Action Plan. But he said he expects all the current trends to accelerate as more people get on board and the available technologies improve. The 8% reduction, he continued, is an important step in the right direction, and Berkeley is a community that seems more than willing to rise to the challenge.

“The city cannot just impose the Climate Action Plan on people,” DeSnoo said. “It is a participatory process, and the reason we’ve accomplished this is because the community’s responded. We’re demonstrating that progress is possible, and that’s an opening. There’s positive feedback that what they’re doing is having an impact. And that’s got to snowball. That’s the hope.”

Learn much more about the city’s Climate Action Plan on the city website. Information about the city’s approach to sustainability is available here

Streamlined permitting aims to cut solar costs (08.07.13)
Berkeley to collect more plastics in curbside collections (07.10.13)
Details unveiled on proposed metered parking changes (07.03.13)
Berkeley school recycling gets back on track (06.17.13)
Parking changes slated for 3 Berkeley business zones (05.23.13)
Can Berkeley be most bike-friendly city in the country? (05.09.13)
Big changes needed to meet 2020 emissions goals (11.13.12)
Bayer unveils Berkeley’s largest solar installation (05.30.12)
Berkeley meets recycling goals, beats Piedmont (03.29.12)
Measuring a Berkeleyan carbon footprint (04.19.11)
More homes in Berkeley but energy use is down (12.16.11)
New powder-blue split recycle carts coming your way (10.12.10)
Berkeley’s climate progress seen (sort of) (02.17.10)

Berkeleyside’s Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas is two days of provocative thinking, inspiring speakers, workshops, and a big party — all in downtown Berkeley in October. Read all about it, be part of it. Register on the Uncharted website.

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  • Rob Wrenn

    There is a problem with the city’s numbers. The city’s population has grown, but not by 10%, since 2000. The Census failed to count about 4500 students in 2000, a fact that was well documented by City staff in reports issued during the redistricting process in 2002. Actual population growth since 2000 is probably more like 5-6%.

    Nonetheless, it’s great that the City has made some progress reducing emissions, but to have a major impact, a lot more needs to be done. For starters, more needs to be done to require or strongly encourage use of solar power in new developments. How many of the new apartment buildings that have been built in the last ten years have solar power? The City needs to do more to push minimum green building standards. Basic LEED certification is easy to achieve; what the city needs are more LEED gold and LEED platinum buildings. And why don’t all four of the newly renovated branch libraries have rooftop solar? If Obama can put solar back on the White House roof, then the City Council could move to generate energy for city buildings with solar. Several schools are doing this; why not city buildings?

    The city also needs to work collaboratively with transit agencies to improve transit service in Berkeley, which has deteriorated and been cut back, not expanded, in the last dozen years. The City Council made a serious mistake when it turned down bus rapid transit service on Telegraph and Shattuck. More people will leave their cars at home, or do without owning a car, if there is reliable, rapid, frequent transit service to get them where they are going. To really encourage morebicycle use, you need bike lanes that are physically separated from automobile traffic. Space generally needs to be reallocated from cars to transit, bicycles and pedestrians. Parklets are a great idea but a lot more needs to be done.

  • Tizzielish

    I live in an apartment building that opened, brand new, in downtown Berkeley in 2006. My building’s roof is about half solar panels and half rooftop food gardening — a nice balance, I think. And the rainwater is captured by the building next door, which was built at the same time (the other building is an office/conference center): the office building captures the ‘gray water’ from both buildings and uses that water to flush toilets in the office tower.

    I believe all of the heating for my 97 unit apartment building comes from the solar panels.

    New managers just took over and they are really anal about reducing water, as if a few hundred humans aren’t supposed to use water. They send us condescending memos and made us sign pledges to reduce our usage. Geesh, I don’t shower here — I shower at my gym, and live alone. How much water do I use here? The new cluck managers at Oxford Plaza took away the water hose from the vegetable gardeners, prompting key gardeners to quit. How can you container garden on a rooftop, which is rough growing conditions — it is VERY windy and harsh up there — without water? Penny wise, moron foolish.

    Still, when I am over in David Brower and happen to use the toilet, I enjoy knowing the rainwater from my building was captured to flush.

    I very much appreciate your comment, Rob Wrenn, and I hope it is not overlooked: the original story used the city’s juked statistics. As you point out, the city population has NOT gone up 10% so the bragging about reduced greenhouse emissions are dishonest. I hope the journalist who wrote the story does better fact checking and rewrites the true story. Berkeley has done well but not great.

    Every building could have solar panels. And they don’t have to be all on rooftops. They can be projected off the sides and endlessly clever new ways are developed.

    Does anyone know if the view-destroying apartment high rise going up where the Shattuck Hotel is now is going to be even remotely green?

  • guest

    How about a Berkeley bike share program, so that those that can’t get their act together to maintain a bike, or have no where to put it, can go shopping without a car or bus? Dorms seems like a great place to do a bike share.

  • guest

    Stop making Berkeley parents drive their kids to schools miles from their homes every day (instead of the schools a few blocks away) and our CO2 emissions will drop another 10%.

  • Woolsey

    “To really encourage more bicycle use, you need bike lanes that are physically separated from automobile traffic”

    Agreed – that would get me out of my car. You see it done in other countries, why not here.

  • Rob Selover

    Odd- I haven’t detected any change in the Volume of Hot Air here in Berkeley…

  • sue

    Your long post did not really need to address your current management issues. It would have been a lot shorter and more appropriate that you take up those issues directly with them.

  • margie

    Tizzie’s post is full of interesting information. I agree that it could stand some editing for repetition, but her management issues are ones I’ve heard also from tenants in other RCD buildings, so it’s useful to have them aired in public.

  • djoelt1

    I would be satisfied with glass smooth pavement on bike boulevards and more favorable signaling to cyclists – that would be enough!

  • guest

    The recently launched bike share in SF is a huge flop. I do not think we should repeat that same mistake here unless they can figure out how to make it work first.

  • guest

    I’m pretty sure that the bulk of residential water goes to home owner who garden or water their lawns. Renters have few opportunities to waste water. I think a landlord who makes the tenant sign a water usage pledge is over the line.

  • Parent

    The school we got into was all the way across town and there is a school a half a mile away that is not even in our district! We could have walked to that school! As it stands, biking to the further school is not possible even on bike to school day!

  • EBGuy

    Home-to-school bus transportation is provided within their attendance zones to all elementary school children who live beyond the one-and-a-half-mile walking distance.

    It’s a choice to drive your child across town (I do recognize, though, for some it’s not because of ‘issues’ on the bus commute).

  • anon
  • guest

    There are no buses for 11, 12 and 13 year-old kids in middle schools. This kids don’t arrive at schools across town on a magic carpet. Most parents don’t want their 12 year-old to spend up to 2 hours a day doing an unaccompanied transfer between 2 AC transit buses and walking a half-mile each way on and around Telegraph Avenue to get to and from middle school when they live 5 blocks away from another middle school. We have too many mentally ill, drug and alcohol abusers, and criminals on our streets for kids to reliably navigate across the whole city on their own. BUSD makes thousands of parents drive all over Berkeley every school day, twice a day. Our air, traffic, and the planet suffer because kids can’t attend their neighborhood schools by right.

  • Sandy_Brown

    Wow, that was long, Tizzle. And interesting.
    What is stopping the tenants from buying their own hose? Or you can use milk or soda bottles, fill them up and water that way. It takes longer, though.
    What would happen if a tenant chose not to sign the thing about water usage? Were the tenants threatened in any way if they didn’t sign the water usage thing?
    I’m pretty sure that a tenant has a right not to have an unreasonable amount of inspections. You might check with the rent board on that. It might even be state law.
    Since finding out that no City of Berkeley buildings or departments have metered water, I’m less careful about water usage.
    I have little to no hope that we are going to stop the destructive habits that are contributing to global warming, poisoning of the environment, etc. so I don’t worry so much about my water use, recycling or whatever. Might as well have what fun is available before we humans destroy everything. Hell, we could all be dead or dying from cancer soon, what with the radiation from Japan.
    As far as emissions in Berkeley, perhaps the police might partake in the reduction, and turn off their car engines now and then.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Everyone knows you can’t recycle dirty pizza boxes, don’t they?”

    You can’t recycle them as paper, but I think you can compost them in the green bin along with your other food scraps.

  • Bill N

    You can compost them in the green bins.

  • Bill N

    Actually I found this pretty interesting and I wonder if the city or someone who actually knows about this stuff has EVER given the managers some instruction on how to actually go about helping folks save water, or elec. or gas? By the way, PG&E doesn’t do the water EBMUD does and the meters are connected in any way. AND that was really stupid for them to basically destroy the roof garden. AND the Gaia — no solar panels — yup that’s right none on the roof and such a funny name too. I wonder what their usage is?

  • TN

    In most of Berkeley, because there is a full street grid, I find that there is little need for separated bicycle lanes. I can get everywhere I need riding on streets parallel to main more heavily trafficked streets. Keep in mind that Berkeley intentionally discouraged through traffic on these side streets. And pushed traffic onto a few main streets. But bicycles are allowed through the barricades, diverters, etc. I don’t need to ride on major streets to get almost anywhere in Berkeley.

    For instance, I don’t like to ride on San Pablo Avenue, but I can get to a half block of any address on San Pablo on my bicycle and if it doesn’t feel safe I can walk the half block. I’d probably end up walking that distance to find a safe looking place to park my bike anyways.

    I don’t think that separated bike lanes will make much difference at all. Bicyclists will still need to cross streets at intersections. That’s where most accidents happen.

    As to the issues of public transportation, BRT isn’t the be all and end all of public transportation improvements. Berkeley is very lacking in East/West cross town public transport. Living in West Berkeley, I find this to be a more important problem. The fact that the 72 Rapid bus runs close to my house is irrelevant to any trips I need to take towards downtown Berkeley. I can get to Albany, Emeryville, El Cerrito or Oakland city hall by bus faster than I can get to Berkeley city hall.

    Berkeley does not run its own transit system. And AC Transit runs its system according to its own needs and logic. I don’t think that Berkeley can plan for public transit improvements without running its own system.

  • guest

    If you do not like the management, why not move?

  • Rob Wrenn

    Re: BRT – some cities like Eugene, Oregon have introduced BRT in phases. Had BRT been approved for Berkeley, a logical next step would have been to extend service down University; many supporters of BRT thought BRT should have gone all the way to San Pablo to begin with. The important thing is to introduce more rapid, reliable and frequent service on as many corridors as possible; improved service on Telegraph and Shattuck would have been a good start, but I would never suggest that that would solve all our transit problems. You’re right that we don’t have our own system and that’s a problem, but the City could try to factor AC’s needs into planning for our streets. Transit-oriented development is a great idea. Right now, we are getting lots of development, but without improvements to transit to support that development.

    Re: Separated bike lanes – I wonder if there have been studies of the impact of such lanes on ridership in cities where they have been put into place. You’re right that bicyclists still have to stop at intersections and we have relatively short blocks meaning lots of intersections. But some accidents between cars and bicycles occur as a result of sharing roadway between intersections as when someone opens a car door without noticing that a bicyclist is approaching or people pulling out or parking spaces without taking note of bicyclists. Separating cars from bicycles would deal with those problems

  • EBGuy

    You can actually have a discussion about “local” elementary schools versus the zone system because there are so many elementary schools spread throughout Berkeley. That is not the case with middle schools. There are TWO middle schools (plus one magnet middle school that draws from the entire city) in all of Berkeley. Guess what, someone has to draw a line to essentially divide Berkeley in half. You’re on one side of the line or the other. You just don’t like how the line was drawn. Guess what, if you drew the line differently, someone else would be walking the “extra mile”.

    PS – I’m not totally thick. I do understand that there is some social engineering in a diagonal line versus a pure east to west line. At the same time, there is a case to be made that the current BUSD line is pretty close to being “optimally fair”. I’m certainly willing to to listen and learn if you have a fairer algorithm for the Two School Problem. Anyone? Here’s some pointers to get you started:

  • EBGuy

    My apologies. The above sentence should read: I do recognize, though, for some it’s because of ‘issues’ on the bus commute [that they drive their kids to school]. I know of folks who drive their (ELEMENTARY school) children because of bullying issues on the bus.

  • SickOfIt

    BUSD prefers social engineering to tight-knit communities.

  • anon

    For some definitions of “fair”.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I remember reading a study that found that, in cities with separate bike lanes, many people who had not ridden bikes before began bicycling by riding in the separate bike lanes. After they were riding in the bike lanes for a while, they were confidant enough to ride on ordinary streets. As a result, there were more bicyclists on the ordinary streets than in the bike lanes – but many of them would not have started biking in the first place if it had not been for the bike lanes.

    In other words, separate bike lanes are very useful to promote a mode shift, to convince people who have not biked in the past to begin biking. Separate bike lanes do not seem all that useful to experienced bikers, who are willing to ride on the streets.

    But if we want to deal with global warming, our goal must be to promote a mode shift – which is why we need separate bike lanes (or safer bike boulevards).

    Incidentally, TN writes:
    “Bicyclists will still need to cross streets at intersections. That’s where most accidents happen.”
    According to the city’s bike plan, phase two of the bike boulevard project is to improve the crossings – but since the plan was passed, 15 or 20 years have gone by without that happening. In many cases, a four-way stop is all that is needed.

  • guest

    You cannot really just move to get a better apartment. Typically there is a huge bump up in rent when you move.

  • guest

    A few well placed 4 way stops would really improve cycling. California & Dwight, Cedar and 10th, Virginia & MLK, Benvenue & Ashby, California & Ashby, King & Alcatraz, Dwight &Acton.

  • The_Sharkey

    Dwight is a sacrifice street. The city uses bollards to push large amounts of traffic onto Dwight, and probably won’t add stop signs unless someone dies at one of those intersections.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Actually, they did add a stop sign at Dwight and Ninth a number of years ago, which makes it much easier to cross Dwight when you are riding on the Ninth St. bike boulevard. There used to be a long delay waiting for a gap in the traffic on Dwight. Now you can just stop, and then go immediately when the traffic on Dwight stops.

    We can use a similar four-way stop where the California bike boulevard crosses Dwight, where the Virginia bike boulevard crosses Oxford, and many similar locations.

    I doubt if staff would allow four-way stops on Ashby or MLK, because there would be too much disruption of through traffic and reduction of capacity. Where bike boulevards cross Ashby or where Virginia crosses MLK, I think we need the same sort of treatment that they have where the Channing bike boulevard crosses MLK – a bike activated light with a bike-only crossing. We could also use that at Channing and San Pablo.

    Of course, those traffic lights are expensive, but the city got a grant to put in the one at Channing and MLK and could probably get grants for more of the same.

    Dwight below MLK does not seem like it is at capacity, and I don’t think the traffic engineers would object to a couple of more stop signs there. Dwight above MLK is another issue.