No Better Way to Celebrate Earth Day Than to #shopgreen!

Did you know that we have a Shop Green app?! Make finding a certified green businesses as easy as 1-2-3! Search and support thousands of innovative businesses throughout California, from auto shops to restaurants, that work hard to ensure their business practices are more sustainable. Vote with your wallet and support businesses that care about the planet and your community! Search your app store for “California Green Business Program” and look for the logo.

Stronger Food Packaging Ordinances & Friendly Tips

Packaging contributes to the overall environmental impacts of the food and beverage industry. Many local government agencies, and nonprofit organizations began to take notice in the 1990s as more and more to-go food packaging, foam cups and straws were collected during beach clean ups.  The concern over the negative impacts of polystyrene foam and other plastic products entering waterways and the ocean motivated local governments into action with environmentally acceptable food packaging ordinances between 2007 and 2012.  This included both Monterey and Santa Cruz County and most coastal cities around the Monterey Bay.  At that time, the goal of most of the ordinances was to eliminate polystyrene food packaging.  This trend has continued with 116 packaging ordinances across California and beyond.  There are food packing ordinances in Cities on both coasts including New York, Miami, and Seattle.

The City and County of Santa Cruz are committed to protecting the environment and to preventing plastic pollution from entering the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Both the City and County of Santa Cruz strengthened their disposable food packaging requirements in 2017. All to-go food service ware provided to customers must be recyclable, compostable or certified biodegradable including beverage lids, cutlery and straws.

On the other side of the Monterey Bay, Carmel also amended their food packaging ordinance in 2017, beginning with a policy of ‘straws only given upon request’ by the customer.  On Earth Day 2018 Carmel’s ordinance added the requirement that all food service items be compostable or biodegradable.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium, is a local champion in reducing their dependence on disposable plastic, from reducing packaging in the gift store, to the use of paper straws in their food service operations. They offer bottled water, but the bottles are aluminum not plastic.  The Aquarium provides their guests with educational opportunities about the problems that plastics can pose when entering the ocean.

Green Businesses are ahead of the curve by going beyond compliance to conserve resources, protect water quality and reduce waste. All of us can be a little greener and do our part to prevent litter and keep plastic out of the ocean, with these three easy steps:

  • Choose to reuse! Bring your own reusable mug, water bottle, food containers and shopping bags;
  • Shop with recycling in mind! Avoid packaging that can’t be recycles in your area;
  • Choose biodegradable or compostable products and packaging when you can.
Try Incentive Program to Green Employee Commute

One of the hardest areas to “green” in a business can be the employee commute.   Employees may feel strongly about the convenience of driving.  They may not want to share private time outside of work with others in a carpool, or spend extra time on mass transit.  To reduce emissions produced by a company, and move it towards greener commuting, incentives are an excellent strategy.

To design an incentive program, first identify the alternative transportation options that employees prefer.  Review which options are available, and which ones employees are likely to use.  Next, promote these options, so that employees are familiar with them.  Once an employee decides to use them, they should know exactly what to do.  Let them know why it’s important too, so they know that their contributions are valuable.

Financial incentives to encourage employees to try alternative transportation might include free transit passes, gift certificates, cash bonuses, zero interest bike loans, and free emergency rides home. The environmental non-profit Ecology Action provides the Sustainable Transportation Membership Program to all Santa Cruz County businesses. For a small annual fee based on number of employees, employers can provide their staff with Zero-Interest Bike Loans and Emergency Ride Home Vouchers.

Another approach is to present the package as a game, and create fun, friendly competition for prizes among the employees.  Determine how employees will win these awards – will they be part of their employee benefits, or something they achieve, for example, by completing some number of non-single occupant vehicle commutes over a period of time?  If employees achieve the awards, the company will need to develop a system for tracking (and promoting!) the accomplishments.

How did it work?  Evaluate how many employees reduced their single vehicle commutes compared to before the program started.  How do the employees feel about it?  Do they have ideas to make it more effective or more fun?  Make improvements, and keep trying!

Written By: Sheila Peck with Environmental Consultant at Environmental Innovations

Clean Fuel Rebate for Electric Vehicles 

For all you all-star EV owners, you can receive a $500 Clean Fuel Rebate from PG&E! A rebate ‘thank you’ for contributing to a cleaner energy future by fueling your vehicle with electricity. This rebate is just one of several that provide financial incentives for owning an EV. PG&E electricity is generated by some  25% renewable energy sources making it one of the cleanest grids in the country.

Real Estate Free Renewable Energy for Business

solarchoiceWhenever we talk to businesses about return on investment, the biggest bang for the buck is always renewable energy, usually in the form of solar panels. They pay for themselves and save significant money over their lifetime. They are also an emission free way to serve your energy needs, and a huge contribution to greenhouse gas reductions to prevent climate change.

But not everyone has real estate, or a south facing roof, or a roof at all. In fact, it has been our experience that more than half of the small businesses that the Monterey Bay Area Green Business Program helps are tenants in a building and are not able to make decisions on where their energy comes from independent of their property managers. We have found success working with property managers that can take a few minutes to listen to us and realize how much money they could be saving. However, sometimes landlords verge toward the more absent side. What option do tenants have in where their energy comes from? How can they still purchase renewable energy without having the real estate to construct solar panels or wind turbines?

Now, it is as simple as changing a few things online with your current utility provider. Pacific Gas and Electric, our energy utility, now offers businesses an alternative option. With PG&E’s Solar Choice and Regional Renewable Choice programs, you have the option to purchase up to 100% of your electricity from solar power, without needing to install solar panels. These programs are a choice if you want to lower your environmental footprint and promote renewable power generation. You can enroll through PG&E by calling 1-877-743-8429 and can begin supporting solar energy generation in early 2016. Solar energy is purchased from a pool of solar projects in Northern and Central California. If you wanted the benefits of renewable energy to provide positive impacts more locally, PG&E will soon have options for this as well. As early as 2016, you will be able to contract directly with developers for a desired amount of solar energy, between 25% and 100% of your annual use. The Regional Renewable Choice projects are estimated to begin delivering energy in late 2017 or 2018. To learn more, click here.

In the near future, your business will have a local option with Monterey Bay Community Power. Monterey Bay Community Power is a regional project among local government agencies that aims to provide electricity to residents and businesses throughout Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz Counties through the new Community Choice Energy (CCE) model. CCE enables communities to choose clean-source power at a cost equivalent to PG&E, while retaining PG&E’s role in maintaining power lines and providing customer service. The CCE model helps ensure local economic vitality because money from rates paid by local customers stays local. Surplus revenues will stay in the community to help fund renewable energy projects, create jobs and stimulate the economy. Monterey Bay Community Power has completed a feasibility study and formed agreements with the local governments in the region. It’s anticipated that local green businesses and residential customers of PG&E will have the option of purchasing more green power by the spring of 2018.

Recycling Tips from the Material Recovery Facility

MRF2 Few things, once they are used, are actually waste material. Among such things are latex gloves, non-recyclable plastics, snack packaging and other complex materials that were not designed to be recycled. Jeremy Simmons, San Benito County’s Recycling & Resource Recovery Coordinator shares some first-hand tips for what can be recycled:

Plastic bags and film should be placed in a clear plastic bag. Loose bags can end up as contaminants in paper bales or jammed in the conveyer belt. The Material Recovery Facility has to shut down the conveyer system for a half hour twice a day just to cut out jammed bags and wire hangers.

Shredded paper is recyclable, but it must be placed in clear plastic bags to keep it from falling through the conveyor and ending up in the landfill.

Update: There is now a location to bring your clean polystyrene foam in Santa Cruz County! You can drop off at Grey Bears located at 2710 Chanticleer Ave in Santa Cruz. For more information on polystyrene foam recycling or drop off locations, please call Fatima Ochoa at 831.796.2256 .

PG&E Extends Solar to Everyone

PG&E extends solar to everyone with new Solar Choice program

solar panel on field Launched earlier this year, PG&E’s new Solar Choice program extends the option for 100 percent solar power to all residential and business customers who are not planning to install solar panels. For a modest charge, customers can purchase half or all of their electric power from solar energy locally sourced in Northern and Central California.

Approximately half of U.S. households and businesses are unable to install rooftop solar due to space, lack of sun exposure or ownership limitations.  PG&E’s Solar Choice SolarChoiceprogram extends solar access to business and residential customers regardless of their location or ability to physically install solar panels. As the program develops, the solar energy purchased by customers will be sourced from new solar projects built by developers across PG&E’s service area, bringing new green jobs to Northern and Central California.

Businesses can learn more about the program online, where they can also access an online tool to help estimate the cost associated with signing up for PG&E’s Solar Choice. Business customers can enroll by calling the dedicated customer service line at 877-743-8429.

How to Green a Coffee Shop: Top Strategies

Did you know there are over 50 green certified coffee shops in the state, and less than five in the County of Santa Cruz? As the coffee shop boom continues, let’s encourage our neighborhood coffee shops to become green certified.

Here are some quick and easy tips for coffee shops (and tea!) looking to make the switch:

  • Start with great coffee that people will feel great about drinking. Shade grown, fair trade, organic.
  • Encourage customers to bring their own mugs and offer reusable ones at every location.
  • Switch to LED lighting.

Check-out this article for more tips and in-depth examples!


Health Effects of Exposure to Indoor Radon

Did you know that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer? No? Neither did we.radonhouse

Following up November’s newsletter on indoor air quality, below is more information on how to keep your home safe from pollutants such as radon.

Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas. It comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water and gets into the air you breathe. Radon gas in the indoor air of America’s homes poses a serious health risk. More than 20,000 Americans die of radon-related lung cancer every year. Millions of homes have an elevated radon level. If you also smoke, your risk of lung cancer is much higher.

radon_checklistThe good news is, testing is inexpensive and easy and solutions are available. According to a study by the California Geologic Survey, indoor-radon testing should be encouraged in Santa Cruz County as high and moderate radon potential zones account for 52.5 percent of the county. More resources and information on where to get a radon test kit are available at the link below.

More resources and information on where to get a radon test kit. 

Try House Plants to Improve Indoor Air Quality

LeafNow that the weather is colder and we’re keeping doors and windows closed, indoor air quality can really suffer. Instead of using chemical air fresheners, try house plants to improve indoor air.

According to a two-year study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), many indoor plants absorb air pollutants through their leaves and roots and convert them into breathable air. Within 24 hours, some plants can remove up to 87 percent of toxic indoor air.

Depending on the species, one plant can provide effective cleaning for every 100 square feet of space. For example, between 15 and 20 golden pothos and spider plants can refresh the air in an average 1,800 square-foot home.

Plants work equally well in homes, offices, and factories, as long as their requirements for sunlight, water, and soil are met. Here are 15 plants that can really help improve indoor air quality.