San Jose and the Silicon Valley Take Sustainability Seriously

Laura Hill
On Thursday, April 28, 2011 - 13:55

It’s not easy being green, as Kermit the Frog once sang, but environmental sustainability is critical for a growing region and a goal Silicon Valley takes seriously.

Long at the forefront of innovative technology, the valley is home to an increasing number of businesses specializing in renewable energy technology. Companies like Westinghouse Solar, SolFocus, SunPower, SoloPower, Nanosolar, Stion, Sopogy, SVTC and Fat Spaniel are among the leaders in the field. And in 2009 San José was rated by BusinessWeek as the number one U.S. city in which to start and grow a clean-tech company.

Renewable energy generation now accounts for 7,000 jobs in the valley, and city officials hope to see more coming, with its Clean Tech Strategy in place to help make it happen.

“Silicon Valley has reinvented itself several times,” says Harry Mavrogenes, executive director of the San Jose Redevelopment Agency. “We are looking at diversifying, trying to attract solar companies, green technology and biosciences, because those are areas that have a link to the present nature of Silicon Valley, but take it in new directions.”

Sustainable Energy a Top Priority in San Jose

Making sustainable energy a part of daily life in the area is one of San Jose’s top priorities. In 2007 the city initiated its Green Vision, an ambitious plan that in 2009 was named Best Sustainable Development Program for a Big City in the U.S. by the International Economic Development Council.

The 15-year program’s goals, related to jobs, energy, water, waste, trees and transportation, will make San Jose an international leader in sustainable development. Among its 10 goals: create 25,000 clean technology jobs; recycle and reuse 100 percent of the city’s water; build or retrofit 50 million square feet of green buildings; become a zero-waste community, diverting waste from landfills and turning it into energy; install 100,000 solar roofs, cutting electricity use by half; and move to 100 percent renewable energy.

“A vital cycle of success in the public sector requires growing an economy that enables prosperity for all and helps create a vibrant, sustainable community with a high quality of life,” says Paul Krutko, the city’s chief development officer. “The Green Vision is our roadmap to do just that. It ensures that economic development and environmental efforts benefit individuals at all levels of the economic spectrum, as well as businesses at key stages in incubation, attraction and retention.”

San Jose's Energy Efficiency Revolution

Sound huge? It is – but it’s happening. Energy efficiency measures have been implemented and solar panels installed at city facilities, with estimated energy savings to date of $986,000. A street tree inventory is underway, with thousands of new trees already planted. Forty-one percent of the city’s vehicle fleet is now using alternative fuel; and 66 percent of the city’s trash is already diverted from landfills.

A 3.4-acre, roof-mounted photovoltaic (PV) solar electric system on the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport’s new 3,350-space, rental car center and public parking garage has the effect of removing 235 passenger vehicles from the road. It is the one of the largest airport solar electric installations in the United States. The city also boasts the first LEED-certified city hall in the country. 



Laura Hill is a former reporter/columnist for the Tennessean and a contributor to Journal Communications publications since 1996.