Sustainability Actions and Accomplishments
Palo Alto has long been a leader in sustainability and climate action, and has made substantial progress in meeting its climate goals and forwarding its substantial sustainability commitments.
- 2030: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) 80% below 1990 GHG baseline by 2030
- 2030: Divert 95% of waste from landfills by 2030, and ultimately achieve zero waste to landfills
In 2019, Palo Alto reduced GHG emissions an estimated 38.2 percent* from the 1990 baseline, despite a population increase of 23.6 percent during that same time period. This equates to 7 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MT CO2e) per Palo Alto resident in 2019 compared to 14 MT CO2e per Palo Alto resident in 1990. The California Air Resources Board 2017 Scoping Plan Update recommends local government goals of 6 MT C02e per capita by 2030. The full 2019 GHG Inventory can be found in Staff Report 12009(PDF, 1MB).
(*In order to comply with the latest GHG inventory methodology, additional emissions sources were added to the 2019 GHG inventory that were not included previously. For a more direct comparison to 1990 levels, if we exclude these additional emissions sources the 2019 GHG reductions would be 41.2% or 6.7 MT CO2e per Palo Alto resident.)
Significant Actions and Accomplishments
- As a result of the historic 2019 partnership agreement with Valley Water and the City of Mountain View, Palo Alto secured funding to begin design of a salt removal facility at the Regional Water Quality Control Plant. The new infrastructure will improve the quality of recycled water produced at the plant and enable its expanded use for irrigation and industrial processes in both Palo Alto and Mountain View.
- In January, the Office of Transportation took delivery of a new Yuba Spicy Curry e-bike. The long-tail cargo bike is used in lieu of a city pool car and carries supplies needed for bike rodeos, public engagement events, and site visits. In addition, it is available for all City staff to use and can serve a critical role in encouraging more City Staff to embrace getting around town by bike.
- In June, the Office of Transportation staff forwarded, and the City Council approved, new California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) thresholds that use Vehicle Miles of Travel (VMT) to determine the environmental impact of development. These thresholds will require development to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the amount of driving generated by the development.
- Also in June, in addition to approving funding for the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association (TMA), City Council expanded the scope of the TMA’s publicly-funded programs from Downtown to the California Avenue business district. TMA programs support transit subsidies for low-income essential workers and provide ridesharing discounts for those working in the two business districts. Helping essential workers reduce single occupancy driving to Palo Alto reduces local greenhouse gas emissions.
- City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) promoted its regional EV charger rebate program available to workplaces. The program, CALeVIP (California Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Project) launched in December and is expected to result in approximately 200 new workplace EV chargers and 10 publicly available direct current (DC) fast chargers over the next 2 years.
- The California Clean Fuel Rewards Program, partially funded by CPAU’s and other agencies’ Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) funds, launched November 17 and provides a $1,500 rebate for new EV purchases at participating dealerships.
- The City completed large EV charger projects at six sites: Ellen Fletcher Middle School, Gunn High School, Green Middle School, SAP, Bryant Street Garage, and Cowper / Webster Garage. The EV charger projects at the three schools utilized the City's EV charger rebate program. The city installed 186 Level 2 ports and 7 DC Fast Charger ports, for a total of 193 new ports.
- The City continues to incorporate electric vehicles whenever possible into the refuse service fleet. In 2020, three additional electric vehicles were acquired, including a wash truck used for commercial bin and cart wash services, a flatbed truck used for the newly expanded Clean Up Day program and for containers deliveries, and a rear loader truck that is used for the Clean Up Day program. Electrification of the refuse fleet reduces fuel usage, reduces greenhouse gas emission, and reduces noise during operation while supporting the S/CAP goals.
- In June, a new Compost Giveaway Station was established at the Eleanor Pardee Community Garden, where residents can pick up free compost for their gardens. The successful location provided 504 cubic yards of compost to the Palo Alto community in 2020.
- A new Deconstruction Ordinance went into effect in July requiring all building permit applications submitted to remove the entire building to carefully deconstruct by material types and salvage for reuse instead of demolishing the building with heavy machinery. In 2020, 15 residential projects and 1 commercial project applied for the deconstruction permit. Staff is working closely with the project managers, contractors, and reuse organization to monitor the implementation of this ordinance to increase reuse and recycling of the building materials.
- The City commenced work on a Sea Level Rise (SLR) Vulnerability Assessment, which will identify hazards and risks from sea level rise and rising shallow groundwater, as well as a Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan to coordinate internal and regional SLR planning, project funding and public outreach.
- In September, the City held a public webinar with Valley Water about local and regional sea level rise adaptation and planning projects that will benefit Palo Alto.
- In partnership with the nonprofit Grassroots Ecology, the City held two public webinars about sea level rise: the first discussed the value of saltmarsh habitat and the second discussed king tides and sea level rise.
- A model project was installed on East Meadow Circle that paired tree planting with green infrastructure. The project was initiated during a minor architectural permit review because the applicant wanted to satisfy tree replacement requirements off-site. A condition was negotiated to allow the applicant to pay for tree planting in the right-of-way. Utilization of the applicant’s backflow preventer and water meter was also negotiated in conjunction with planning for implementation. Staff excavated substandard soil, installed soil cells under the sidewalk to create root corridors and water storage, cut curbs for inlets into biofiltration soil, applied biochar (stable carbon), and installed trees. This project added 35 new trees in South Palo Alto, capture and storage for storm water, trained staff, and forged a valuable partnership with a corporate landowner.
- City Council amended regulations in the Palo Alto Municipal Code for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and Junior Accessory Dwelling Units (JADUs) to promote the production of these housing unit types within the City. These unit types assist the community in meeting Housing Element goals and the City’s assigned regional target to provide more housing. (Ordinance 5507, Effective Date 11-26-2020).
- City Council amended regulations in the Palo Alto Municipal Code to support transportation modes that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The amendments facilitate electric vehicle supply equipment (ESVE) installation and allow for eight additional bicycle parking spaces to replace one required vehicle parking space. (Ordinance 5504, Effective Date 9-24-2020)
- Palo Alto reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions an estimated 38.2 percent* from 1990 levels, despite a population increase of 23.6 percent during that same time period. This equates to 7 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MT CO2e) per Palo Alto resident in 2019 compared to 14 MT CO2e per Palo Alto resident in 1990. The California Air Resources Board 2017 Scoping Plan Update recommends local government goals of 6 MT C02e per capita by 2030. (*In order to comply with the latest GHG inventory methodology, additional emissions sources were added to the 2019 GHG inventory that were not included previously. For a more direct comparison to 1990 levels, if we exclude these additional emissions sources the 2019 GHG reductions would be 41.2% or 6.7 MT CO2e per Palo Alto resident.)
- The City of Palo Alto Utilities won the Smart Energy Provider award in recognition of its energy efficiency, distributed generation, and environmental initiatives that support a goal of delivering low-cost, quality, safe, and reliable electric service. This is the first year the American Public Power Association has awarded this designation to public power utilities.
- On November 4, Palo Alto City Council adopted changes to Palo Alto’s Reach Codes, advancing an all electric requirement for new residential and commercial construction in 2020.
- For the second year in a row, the City of Palo Alto received an A score for reporting on our climate-related data to the CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project). Palo Alto joins only 43 other cities - out of over 800 cities who report to the CDP - in the Leadership Scoring band for demonstrating best practice standards across adaptation and mitigation, setting ambitious but realistic goals and making progress towards achieving those goals, and for having strategic, holistic plans in place to ensure the actions being taken will reduce climate impacts and vulnerabilities of the citizens, businesses and organizations residing in our city.
- In September, the City partnered with Hewlett Packard to complete one of the City’s largest solar array projects. Located on HP’s headquarters, the project uses 3,372 solar panels that are projected to generate 2,355 megawatt hours of energy, enough electricity to power 263 average Palo Alto homes for a year. The system is also expected to offset 1,700 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
- Palo Alto Council approved a historic Partnership Agreement with the Santa Clara Valley Water District (Valley Water) that provides Valley Water an option to acquire about half of the treated wastewater produced by the Regional Water Quality Control Plant (RWQCP). The new agreement also funds a salt removal facility in Palo Alto which will allow increased use of recycled water from the RWQCP.
- Palo Alto, in collaboration with the Santa Clara Valley Water District (Valley Water), developed a Northwest County Recycled Water Strategic Plan to identify the best potable and non-potable options for water reuse in the Regional Water Quality Control Plant (RWQCP) service area.
- The City of Palo Alto’s Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Program expanded its HHW Reuse Zone to divert waste of gently used products. Last year the HHW Station was able to divert over 5,000 pounds of materials with just a small pair of storage cabinets. The expanded HHW Reuse Zone now includes a larger shed to increase storage capacity for reusable materials such as paint, motor oil, and cleaning products.
- As part of an ongoing effort to reduce waste in Palo Alto, City Council approved a Deconstruction Ordinance which will ban contractors from demolishing entire buildings by July 2020. The goal is for building materials to be reused or recycled, so workers will have to disassemble structures instead of wrecking buildings. Two of the largest components of landfill waste are food waste and construction and demolition (C&D) related materials. C&D materials represent more than 40% of Palo Alto debris that gets disposed in landfills.
- Palo Alto City Council approved one of the region's strictest restrictions on plastics by banning plastic straw banning plastic straws, produce and meat bags, utensils, and other single-use plastic foodware items that bypass the recycling sorting process. Patient rooms at hospitals and clinics are exempt from the policy.
- The City of Palo Alto’s Regional Water Quality Control Plant (RWQCP) replaced the City facility with the largest energy use - the sewage sludge incinerators - with a more environmentally-friendly Sludge Dewatering and Truck Loadout Facility. The updated treatment process will reduce climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 15,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year– this approximates the carbon dioxide emissions of 3,000 passenger cars. The replacement technologies dewater the sludge and send it to farming areas to produce agricultural soil supplements.
- Palo Alto City Council approved the Urban Forest Plan Second Edition. Record tree planting and pruning contributed to increase the value of benefits produced by 36,000 public trees to nearly $18 million annually.
- City of Palo Alto Public Works launched a new, first of its kind, Mobile Department Operations Center. The "MDOC" brings an entirely off-the-grid, solar-powered mobile office to the City's fleet to assist public safety efforts in the event of a disaster.
- City of Palo Alto Utilities received the 2019 National Energy Innovator Award for its Home Efficiency Genie program.
- Palo Alto City Council accepted the 2019-2020 Sustainability Work Plan to guide the City on sustainability initiatives through 2020.
- City of Palo Alto prepared a final Draft Green Stormwater Infrastructure Plan outlining how it will incorporate Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) features into its urban landscape over several decades.
- Palo Alto City Council Adopted a Sea Level Rise Adaptation Policy, which recognizes that the best way to avoid long-term impacts from sea level rise is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- City of Palo Alto Utilities was recognized with the Tree Line USA award by the National Arbor Day Foundation for the fifth year in a row.
- Palo Alto reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions an estimated 36 percent from 1990 levels, despite a population increase of 20.4 percent during that same time period.
- City Municipal Operations reduced GHG emissions 65.8 percent from 2005 levels.
- Preliminary numbers for FY 18 show that reported Electric Efficiency savings was 5,957 MWh, or 0.63 percent of the City’s total electric use. This is equivalent to the total power used by 946 California homes in a year. The reported FY 18 Gas Efficiency savings was 251,718 therms, or 0.97 percent of the City’s total gas use. The avoided GHG emissions from the gas efficiency savings is equivalent to taking 290 passenger vehicles off the road for a year.
- Single occupancy vehicle commute trips to downtown Palo Alto continued a downward trend, with drive alone trips reduced 8 percent, transit ridership increased 9 percent, and rideshares increased 4 percent from 2015.
- Achieved EV penetration of 6% of vehicles owned, and 29% of new vehicle purchases.
- Record tree planting and pruning contributed to increase the value of benefits produced by 36,000 public trees to nearly $18 million annually.
- Environmental improvement renovations at the new Palo Alto Baylands Golf Course reduced irrigated turf grass by 40 percent (53 acres) and most of the golf course is now watered with 100 percent recycled water.
- Palo Alto City Council accepted the 2018 Zero Waste Plan, which contains new programs and initiatives needed to meet the City’s sustainability and zero waste goals of 80% reduction of greenhouse gases by 2030 and 95% diversion of materials from landfills by the same year, as well as new California state law. Enforcement of on-site separation was established in 2018 to move to zero waste in landfills.
- City of Palo Alto announced a Microgrid Partnership with VMware. This campus-level microgrid will be a test bed for combining renewable energy with energy storage to provide power when the electric grid goes down. The project will help support the City’s emergency response efforts by providing charging for emergency vehicles and a communications hub during disaster response.
- Passed an Anti-Idling Ordinance, which requires drivers to shut off their engines after two or three minutes if they are not in active traffic. Enforcement of the ordinance is centered on community education about the health and environmental impacts caused by vehicle idling.
- City of Palo received the Voice of the People (VOP) Award from the National Research Center and International City/County Management Association (ICMA) for Excellence in Natural Environment.
- City of Palo Utilities was recognized by the American Public Power Association (APPA) as a Reliable Public Power Provider (RP3) “Diamond” level – the highest honor - for proficiency, sound business practices, and a utility-wide commitment to safe and reliable delivery of electricity, system improvement, energy efficiency and workforce development.
- City of Palo Alto Utilities was recognized with the Tree Line USA award by the National Arbor Day Foundation for the fourth year in a row.
- City of Palo Alto submits climate data reports to the CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) annually. Following the 2018 reporting cycle, the City earned an A score, achieving the Leadership scoring band, which indicates that Palo Alto demonstrates best practice standards across adaptation and mitigation, has set ambitious but realistic goals and made progress towards achieving those goals, and has strategic, holistic plans in place to ensure actions will reduce climate impacts and vulnerabilities of the citizens, businesses and organizations residing in the city.
- Updated the Paper Reduction And Procurement of Environmentally Preferable Paper Products Policy, which seeks to reduce the amount of paper the City uses, and to then maximize the recycled-content of paper that is purchased.
- Palo Alto reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions an estimated 35.3 percent in 2017 from the 1990 baseline.
- Palo Alto City Council accepted a 2018-2020 Sustainability Implementation Plan, which outlines proposed measures in four areas that could reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions to about 54 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
- City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) is the first carbon neutral utility for both electricity and natural gas in the world, having provided 100% carbon neutral electricity since 2013 and 100% carbon neutral natural gas since July 1, 2017.
- Palo Alto was recognized as the first city in California to achieve a Platinum Level Beacon Award – the highest level possible - for its efforts and leadership in addressing climate
- Continued to reduce the amount of material going into landfills, with a waste diversion rate of 82 percent, compared to 80 percent in 2016 (and 63 percent in 2015).
- Regional Water Quality Control Plant total GHG emissions were 4% below 2016 emissions and 71% below 1990 emissions.
- Implemented two sustainability ordinances related to green building – the new Green Building Ordinance and the new Energy Reach Code.
- Began a one-year pilot of the Bay Area’s first all-electric refuse collection truck, which is also the first full-size, fully automated side loader collection truck in North America.
- Worked with the not-for-profit Empowerment Institute to engage 88 households in the CoolBlock beta program – adding 45 new households to this neighbor-to-neighbor collaborative program for GHG reduction.
- Produced 223 million gallons of recycled water at the Regional Water Quality Control Plant (RWQCP), a two percent increase from 2016.
- Achieved EV penetration of 5% of vehicles owned, and 29% of new vehicle purchases.
- Palo Alto received the Green California Summit Leadership Award for Sustainable Communities
- As part of the San Jose Metropolitan Area, received the top ranking for Mid-Sized Cities for the 2017 Energy Star Top Cities Rankings for the most Energy Star Buildings in 2016.
- Palo Alto City Council adopted a goal of 80 percent greenhouse gas reduction by 2030, calculated utilizing the 1990 baseline - 20 years ahead of the State of California’s 80 percent by 2050 target. Council also adopted the draft Sustainability/Climate Action Plan (S/CAP) Framework, including its Guiding Principles, Decision Criteria, and Design Principles as the road map for development of subsequent S/CAP Implementation Plans (SIPs).
- City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) will be one of the first carbon neutral utilities for both electricity and natural gas in the US, having added a City Council-approved Carbon Neutral Natural Gas Plan in 2016.
- City and community GHG emissions declined an estimated 37% below 1990 levels.
- Reduced Regional Water Quality Control Plant GHG emissions by more than 60% since 1990.
- Increased the City’s Renewable Portfolio Standard from 26.0% in 2015 to 40.2%.
- Won a $1 million federal “mobility sandbox” grant to work with 30 other regional agencies and employers on pilot programs using commuter trip reduction software, a multimodal trip planning app and workplace parking rebates to reduce single-occupant vehicle driving from 75 percent to 50 percent.
- Adopted aggressive green building ordinance and energy reach code ordinance (both taking effect January 1, 2017).
- Achieved waste diversion rate of 80%, up from a 63% diversion rate in 2005.
- Met Bay Area Municipal Regional Permit 60% trash reduction guideline, but also met the 70% trash reduction requirement one year ahead of schedule by reducing trash 84% by July 2016.
- Palo Alto’s Cool Block program – a pilot program of the Cool City Challenge –brought together 43 households within 12 neighborhood blocks who worked together on 1208 actions that eliminated 611,066 pounds of CO2 emissions-- an average 7.1 tons of CO2 per household
- Achieved EV penetration for 4.5% of vehicles owned, and 15% of new vehicle purchases.
- Award-winning green purchasing program has “greened” several performance criteria for structural and landscaping pest control, custodial and office supplies, and computers. The City has reduced the use of single-use plastics (bottled water, plastic bags, plastic packaging), reduced the toxicity and amount of pesticides used, and virtually eliminated products that contain mercury and dioxins.
- Reduced potable water use by approximately 25% from 2015 to 2016.
- Achieved 44% bicycle mode share for Palo Alto high schools
- Developed a Municipal Sustainability Finance Toolkit with USDN.
- As part of the San Jose Metropolitan Area, received the top ranking for Mid-Sized Cities for the 2016 Energy Star Top Cities Rankings for the most Energy Star Buildings in 2015.
- In January, the City held a community summit that brought together more than 500 residents who worked on the challenges of water, energy, and transportation. Their ideas fed into the draft Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (S/CAP).
- City of Palo Alto Utilities launched PaloAltoGreen Gas, a gas offset program that pairs Green-e® Climate certified carbon offsets with customers’ natural gas use. PaloAltoGreen Gas is the first Green-e Climate certified gas offset program offered by a municipal-level utility, and the first-ever Green-e Climate certified gas offset program offered to residential customers by a municipal utility.
- City and community GHG emissions declined an estimated 36% below 1990 levels.
- City natural gas emissions dropped 37% since 2014.
- Per capita water consumption dropped nearly 33% since 2005.
- Achieved a Renewable Portfolio Standard of 26%.
- Reduced the potable water use in parks and open space areas by 35% (based on 2013 base year).
- Established a “default to green” policy for City procurement.
- Established an “EV first” policy for City fleet.
- Palo Alto became the first city in America to have a 100 percent carbon-neutral electricity supply with the adoption of the Carbon Neutral Electricity Plan.
- City and Community combined GHG emissions declined an estimated 29% below 2005 levels.
- Community GHG emissions declined an estimated 41% below 1990 levels.
- Total water consumption declined 9% from 2007 to 2013.
- The City reduced municipal GHG emissions an estimated 53% below 2005 levels, far exceeding City Council’s goal to reduce these emissions by 20% by 2012.
- City and Community combined GHG emissions declined an estimated 22% below 2005 levels, exceeding the Council goal of 15% reduction below 2005 levels by 2020.
- Community GHG emissions declined an estimated 28% below 1990 levels.
- The Department of Energy and EPA awarded the City of Palo Alto the Green Power Leadership Club for demonstrating exemplary environmental stewardship.
- The City reduced municipal emissions 12% below the 2005 baseline.
- City Council set a target of reducing municipal emissions by 20% below the 2005 baseline by 2012.
- City Council approved an updated Ten-Year Electric Energy Efficiency Plan for 2011-2020, with new annual energy efficiency goals that were more than double those approved in the 2007 plan.
- Palo Alto’s Green Purchasing Program received the Green California Summit and Exposition Award for Leadership in Green Purchasing.
- Electric supply from renewable resources reached 19%, up from 17% in 2008.
- City Council approved an electric efficiency financing program for small businesses.
- The City started a commercial compostable collection program.
- The City launched an employee bike share program.
- City Council approved an Environmentally Preferred Purchasing Policy (Adopted as part of the 2007 Climate Action Plan)
- Palo Alto adopted the Climate Protection Plan - one of the first municipal climate action plans in the U.S. – which set a short-term goal of reducing municipal GHGs 5% from 2005 levels by 2009 and a long-term goal of reducing City and Community GHGs 15% from 2005 levels by 2020.
- City Council approved a Ten-Year Energy Efficiency (EE) Plan in April 2007
- City Council approved a Zero Waste Policy.
- The City launched the PaloAltoGreen program, which became the nation's top-ranked voluntary renewable energy program until it was suspended in 2013.