Successful Sustainability: HII Investigates Four City’s “Green” Initiatives

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Sustainable Initiatives In Other Cities and Countries

All around the world, governments are working toward a sustainable future. They are recognizing the necessity of solving environmental issues in order to benefit and help their people. In this blog, the Human Impacts Institute features sustainable initiatives from cities and countries that are taking real strides toward a environmentally-conscious world. By adopting the sustainable laws of these governments, New York City can truly become a sustainable city.

Mandatory Recycling and Composting in San Francisco

In 2009, San Francisco passed the Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance, which requires everyone in San Francisco to sort their refuse into recyclables, compostables, and trash. Acceptable recycling materials include metal, paper, glass, and plastic, such as bottles, buckets, cups, plates, laundry detergent bottles, toys, and utensils.

While New York City also mandates recycling, the list of acceptable recycling plastics is limited to plastic bottles and jugs and the city does not mandate composting. By building on existing recycling laws to create a recycling program similar to San Francisco’s, NYC would be taking another step toward being carbon-neutral.

Adding to the list of acceptable recyclable materials and mandating composting would decrease the amount of waste diverted to landfills and incinerators. In the United States, landfills are the largest sources of anthropogenic methane emissions. Incinerators also “emit more carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour than coal-fired, natural-gas-fired, or oil-fired plants”. Recycling resources would reduce greenhouse gas emissions linked to resource extraction, transportation, processing, and manufacturing.

NYC would also benefit from the installation of Big Belly Solar compactors, which uses solar power to compact waste. This allows the receptacle to hold five times as much waste as the typical city trash can. The Big Belly only has to be emptied 5 times a week, saving the city staff time and fuel costs and cutting back the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. The Big Belly is currently being used in several cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Large Businesses Required to Have GHG Emissions Reduction Plans in Tokyo

In 2005, Tokyo introduced the Tokyo CO2 Emission Reduction Program under the Tokyo MetropolitanEnvironment Security Ordinance. The initiative requires large greenhouse gas-emitting business establishments to submit and announce a five-year greenhouse gas reduction plan, which is then evaluated and rated.

In 2007, in an effort to further reduce CO2 emissions from business establishments, an initiative in the Tokyo Climate Change Strategy introduced a cap and trade system that allows large businesses to “purchase reductions achieved by smaller business establishments through energy conservation measures”, enabling “smaller business establishments’ energy conservation measures to be promoted and supported.”

According to PlaNYC, 26% of NYC’s greenhouse emissions come from commercial buildings. A NYC law similar to Tokyo’s initiative would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the commercial sector. It would make unsustainable businesses take responsibility for their detrimental greenhouse gas contributions and encourage small businesses to be green.

A Strong Biking Infrastructure and Initiatives in Amsterdam

With its extensive biking infrastructure and strong biking initiatives and programs, there is no questioning why CNN identified Amsterdam as one of the world’s most bike-friendly cities. According to Amsterdam’s city administration, cycling accounted for 38% of all vehicle trips in 2008. Included in Amsterdam’s city center infrastructure are bike bridges and bike short cuts. Comparatively, it’s harder to navigate the city center with cars. In 2007, the city of Amsterdam had a total of 450km of bike paths and lanes and is planning to build more bike bridges and tunnels. From 2007 to 2010, the city spent about €40 million, or about $57 million, on bicycling initiatives.

Amsterdam emphasizes the importance of bike education and public relations campaigns, which are designed to encourage biking among social groups that tend to cycle less often. Young people in Amsterdam go through bicycle training in school and are taught traffic rules and behavior.

In order to make bicycling safer, Amsterdam’s traffic laws places the responsibility for an accident on the car driver rather than the cyclist. Official bike registration and strict police checks for bike ownership have been put in place by the city in order to reduce bike thefts.

The city is also working toward integrating bike and transport planning. It has built large bicycle parking facilities at its train stations and will continue expanding the facilities.

By building a biking infrastructure like Amsterdam’s, New York City can reduce the city’s emissions of greenhouse gas and reliance on non-renewable energy resources. Compared to cars, bicycles also take up less space and are more affordable. New York City needs to make the infrastructure favorable to and safe for bicyclists by passing and enforcing strong pro-cycling laws that make it easier and safer for bicyclists to travel. The city needs to create educational programs to teach kids how to bike and how to do it safely. Space should be created and reserved for bike parking and strong anti-bike theft laws should be put in place.

Mandatory Environmental Education in Taiwan

On May 18, 2010, the Taiwanese government passed the Environmental Education Act, which mandates that all companies, non-profit organizations, and schools offer a minimum of four hours of environmental education each year. The government has been establishing an environmental education fund, finding environmental educators, and working with environmental organizations to help develop the public education initiative.

The environmental lessons are expected to include “lectures, discussions, experiments, drills, online education, interviews, outdoor studies, educational film viewings and physical, hands-on implementation”.Non-compliance will result in fines over NT$5000, or about $170, and above or suspension and termination of the business.

If environmental education were mandatory in New York City, ignorance would no longer be an option. New York City schools would be able to teach environmental protection to people at an early age and their values would be geared toward sustainability from the start. Mandatory environmental education would also create jobs and generate interest in environmental studies.

In order to give New Yorkers a well-rounded and comprehensive education on sustainability, though, more than four hours of environmental lessons a year should be required. Non-compliance should also be more strictly penalized, especially for companies or schools that would rather pay the fines than implement an environmental education program.

By Jenny Cheng, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Climate and Coalition Building Intern

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