5 Ways for Cities to Implement Sustainable Waste Management |
Article by Jane Marsh |
Global and national policies for more sustainable waste management are years away, so cities must take on the responsibility of enacting change. Countless places worldwide are using advances in technology to help combat the waste crisis.
Cities are setting their own guidelines for change and focusing on working toward a zero-waste system. Managing garbage and keeping it from landfills is the primary concern. San Francisco, a zero-waste leader in the United States, has worked hard to keep 80% of its trash out of landfills.
As cities worldwide test new waste management ideas, they learn what does and does not work. Sharing these advances can help move global initiatives further forward. Here are just a handful of ways various places are answering the waste crisis.
Generate Energy From Waste
One way of diverting trash from landfills is to burn it. Power plants that would typically rely on fossil fuels can instead use garbage to generate electricity and heat. Though a seemingly simple solution, critics argue that the disposal method is not worth the cost — high quantities of greenhouse gas emissions.
A plant in Denmark may have found a solution. Copenhagen is home to a waste-to-energy power plant called Copenhill that features a large green slope used for skiing in winter and hiking in warmer months. Copenhillburns 450,000 tons of trash into energy each year, providing over 30,000 homes with electricity and 72,000 with heat.
Copenhill is different from other waste-to-energy power plants because it’s working on ways to capture carbon gas emissions and store or recycle them. Copenhill heats about 99% of the buildings in Copenhagen. It is also working to reduce its use of fossil fuels, which are scarce resources. The success in Denmark prompts other cities to consider implementing this system as well.
Enact Pay-as-You-Throw Programs
Pay-as-you-throw programs are growing in popularity. Communities without these initiatives in place fund waste removal with property tax money. There is no incentive for households to reduce the amount of garbage they produce. Pay-as-you-throw programs charge residents by the bag. People must either purchase special colored trash bags or tags to attach for $1-$2. Setting fees for waste removal is no different than charging for other utilities. It helps make consumers aware of their consumption and can make a significant impact.
New Hampshire is already seeing benefits from its pay-as-you-throw program. It compared data from 34 towns with this program in place to those that did not and found it decreased waste by 42%-54%. This simple plan makes individuals more accountable for their trash and helps reduce the burden on landfills.
Find Ways to Recycle Hazardous Waste
Hazardous waste is difficult to dispose of and adds harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. Part of the problem is that many consumers do not know what constitutes a dangerous material and can be throwing potentially harmful items into their regular trash. These products can leach toxic metals and chemicals into the atmosphere and soil, affecting air, food, and water quality. In order to protect the environment, hazardous waste must be managed sustainably.
Cities need to educate residents about the dangers of throwing these everyday items in their garbage. Common hazardous items include printer cartridges, lightbulbs, car fluids, batteries, and nail polish. The best way to recycle these products is to take them to a location designed to treat them properly. For instance, some hardware stores take batteries for recycling. Putting better and more consistent systems in place for households to recycle their hazardous items could make a huge difference.
Additionally, the same sort of care in managing waste from households applies to healthcare. Medical waste needs to be managed sustainably, including the use of color-coded bins and recyclable products, when possible. Managing waste from healthcare also can protect the environment from toxins generated by hazardous medical waste.
Install AI-Powered Dumpsters
One problem with typical waste management is that dump trucks collect dumpsters on a set schedule, often a few times a week, regardless of whether they are full and ready to be emptied or not. The different types of items thrown into these dumpsters also pose an issue. Hazardous materials, food waste, and recycling often end up in these receptacles when there are better, safer ways to dispose of them.
Miami has been testing a new system for waste management at the level of the dumpster. It has installed AI-powered dumpsters throughout the city that monitor when they are full and what types of garbage are inside. This new method means trucks only collect trash when the receptacle is full, saving carbon emissions from driving when unnecessary. Miami has also used this technology to educate residents of buildings that continually put trash in the dumpster that should be recycled, composted, or disposed of properly.
Improve Waste Sorting Systems
Finding improved methods for sorting garbage from materials that can be reused and recycled would go a long way toward reducing the burden on landfills. Removing recyclables, disposing of hazardous waste properly, and saving food for composting are all helpful. Still, cities struggle with implementing a system that covers all the different types of trash.
Songdo, South Korea, has made great strides in becoming zero waste. It accomplishes this through a system of pipes that lead from homes to the necessary trash processing areas. Different lines are for various types of garbage.
Closer to home, San Franciso has improved its trash collection system by having three garbage bins curbside instead of one. There is a container each for refuse, recyclables, and compost.
We Must Do Our Part
Cities can only do so much on their own. Many of these programs come to a standstill without public buy-in. It takes individuals who are willing to implement new systems for separating their trash to make a change. Try composting on your own or use a service provided by your city. Check to make sure you aren’t throwing out hazardous materials and do your due diligence to dispose of them properly. Small steps like this enable citywide improvements that can then expand to national and global levels. It all starts with you.
Article by Jane Marsh
Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of
As the conversation around greenhouse gas emissions and climate change intensifies, cities are implementing green initiatives to make life easier and healthier for the planet and citizens.
Innovative communications and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies have pioneered the shift towards “smart cities” and a supportive digital landscape that promotes sustainability, optimal well-being, and public safety.
Here are ten ways sustainability and new IoT technology prove invaluable for worker safety, as well as public health and safety in general>>>
Improves Indoor Air Quality
Scientific evidence has indicated that indoor air quality has been more polluted than outdoor air. Since most people spend 90% of their time inside, it’s not unlikely they’re at a greater risk for illness and respiratory issues.
Poor indoor air quality often leads to sick building syndrome (SBS)—cold symptoms, allergies, and other chronic conditions that derive from toxic building materials, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), asbestos, and other chemical and material treatments.
However, smart cities are using special IoT software to combat SBS. Currently, tech companies are developing a sensory system that can be integrated into existing buildings to monitor and improve air quality indoors in real-time.
Reduces Workplace Accidents
IoT technologies also aim to reduce workplace accidents. For example, improving air quality should eventually reduce absenteeism at work, leading to fewer injuries. Even current research shows that healthier workers are less likely to have accidents on the job.
Actual examples of IoT software that are currently improving worker safety include:
The implementation of IoT systems in plant equipment, such as forklifts that can isolate risky work areas during high traffic
Boosts Employee Retention
Since the world’s reopening from the coronavirus pandemic, companies have experienced an exodus of employees known as the Great Resignation.
In January 2022, 4.3 million employees quit their jobs while organizations scrambled to fill 11.3 million openings. Finding skilled workers is a time-consuming and expensive process, making employee retention all the more critical.
Implementation of green infrastructure in cities helps alleviate mental fatigue. Considering sustainable cities aim to improve the quality of life for their citizens, interactions with green spaces are beneficial for employees.
When workers have easy access to nature throughout the day, whether spending their breaks outdoors or having a view of a park from their office window, they can experience its many therapeutic benefits.
Lean Operations Decrease Risks
The idea behind lean operations is performing better work with fewer resources. IoT systems improve occupational safety and promote more promising manufacturing practices through automation, such as:
Sensors that automatically turn heavy machinery off when it’s not in use
Transfer of employees from high-risk labor jobs to safer higher-paying positions
Increased productivity while reducing physical harm to humans and the environment
Lean operations also encourage organizations to develop more robust long-term sustainability plans with employee safety at the forefront.
Green cities utilizing IoT systems enhance municipal workers’ safety, in particular. For example, pipe crawlers are small robots with attached cameras that crawl hard-to-reach pipes to detect sedimentation, cracks and leaks, dents, and other blockages. This prevents workers from having to climb into unsafe, germ-infested areas.
Prevents Gas Leak Exposure
Innovative city technology is a critical component for municipal occupational safety in additional ways. Green cities may employ devices that detect methane gases, pole tilt sensors, or air quality monitors to ensure public safety.
These IoT systems allow the city to predict potential hazards and respond to disasters more effectively. When it comes to gas leaks, advanced meters can detect open fuel lines or unusual flow conditions, setting off an alarm.
Considering utility workers are typically the first responders to a gas leak, IoT technology can shut off gas remotely before worker exposure at the site.
Access to Healthier Food
Green cities that implement urban agriculture enhance worker and public safety by providing access to healthy, affordable food.
Emerging agricultural technologies include vertical farming, IoT sensors in open fields, and smart greenhouses. Farmers that use IoT systems can remotely monitor moisture and temperature levels, security, and irrigation.
Through IoT tech combined with cutting-edge food technology, there is a year-round organic food source in metropolitan areas for improved public health.
Cybersecurity Enhances Workplace Security
Industries like information technology and web development can benefit from innovative office solutions the most, such as utilizing personal devices and cloud computing. However, with the rise of wireless technology comes the need for enhanced security.
Green cities employ IoT systems to protect the cybersecurity of their networks, and many municipal departments and other companies are doing the same. Without it, corporations risk distributing and losing sensitive data.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 46% of companies use a biometric authentication system to protect data collected on devices. Some forms of biometric authentication include face recognition, fingerprint recognition, iris scanning, and voice recognition.
Reduced Energy Consumption
IoT technology can reduce energy emissions throughout offices and green cities. Smart thermostats and lighting, for example, boost building sustainability.
Commercial spaces that operate smart technologies can monitor energy inputs and outputs while improving efficiency, essentially cutting costs.
Concerning improving air quality indoors, implementing IoT automation in offices helps monitor workplace air conditioning, machinery, water heating, and refrigeration—all ways green cities can further protect worker safety.
Green cities that focus on occupational safety benefit everyone, from employees to upper management. Workplace injuries and disease are costly, but the utilization of advanced technologies is improving health and safety in more ways than previously anticipated.
Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of
Cities are the heart of every global region. They house generations of families, are often headquarters for the world’s biggest companies, and provide universities that produce the most innovative minds. It’s no wonder why so many people throughout the world want to live in a city.
However, an increase in residents also creates additional air pollution that harms everyone’s health. These are some of the technologies improving air quality in cities to make them better places to live and work.
Many people sell their cars when they move to a populated downtown area, but everyone will still require some kind of vehicle for transportation.
Whether you take a conventionally-fueled (fossil fuel-based) bus or drive yourself around the city in a vehicle with an internal combustion engine (ICE), the transportation method will burn gas and create carbon dioxide (CO2) that intensifies global warming. ICE vehicles also create many forms of pollution that adversely affect public health and the environment.
The number of EV models will double in 2022 and continue rising in 2023. More people will have access to vehicles with electric motors that eliminate tailpipe emissions and therefore tailpipe pollution, and which prevent CO2 from entering the planet’s atmosphere.
2. Vehicles Designed for Hydrogen Fuel
In addition to electric cars, engineers, scientists, and vehicle manufacturers are also developing vehicle motors powered by hydrogen gas. Hydrogen doesn’t create carbon dioxide or harmful emissions when burned, so it would be a 100% clean energy alternative. The U.S. Department of Energy is leading research to make FCEVs safe, affordable, environmentally-friendly vehicle options. Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) produce no tailpipe emissions (other than water vapor), and FCEVs are more efficient than conventional ICE vehicles.
3. Rentable Electric Bikes
Bicycles are another alternative sustainable technology for transportation purposes. Many cities pave their roads with bike lanes included, and some cities even rent out e-bikes and other electric micro-mobility devices (e-scooters, e-skateboards, etc…) to increase sustainable transit options.
Publicly available or rentable bikes will get people across the few blocks they need to travel without burning fossil fuels. It’s a pollution-free form of transportation that immediately makes the surrounding air safer to breathe.
4. Personalized HVAC Systems
Urban airborne pollution also involves everyone’s homes. Every ounce of air in your home can contain up to 40,000 dust mites or more if the house isn’t clean.
It’s so important to tailor your HVAC unit to your household because some families breathe more air pollutants than others. Getting professional advice will point you toward the most suitable air filters and a cleaning schedule that will make your system last longer.
5. Construction Site Filtration Machines
Research shows that 23% of urban air pollution originates from ongoing construction projects. This is an especially pressing concern in cities because there’s always ongoing construction.
Massive filtration machines at technologically advanced sites pull air through filters during the workday and push out clean air for workers to breathe. They removes dust and other contaminants that people might breathe while working on the site or walking past.
6. Air Quality Sensors
Sometimes city air is safer to breathe than others, so people can check websites or apps to see the current pollution level where they live. Numerous cities installed air sensors to provide accurate instant readings.
Chicago installed their sensors on lampposts in 2014 to track four common pollutants like carbon dioxide and particulate matter. The chips will upgrade to add volatile organic compounds (VOCs) when the technology is available. The ability to upgrade without reinstalling new technologies is one of the many benefits of using emerging tech to improve air quality in cities.
7. Wet Deposition Sprinklers
When it rains or snows over a big city, the water particles capture air pollutants and chemicals before bringing them down to earth. Longer periods of rain in one place capture more pollution, but rain systems have varying lengths and move through regions quickly.
Wet deposition sprinklers recreate this helpful process by operating as long as people need. They’re especially helpful in areas with high amounts of airborne pollution.
8. Biomass Household Stoves
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 2.6 billion people cook with kerosene, which puts them at risk of inhaling fatal gases. It’s most common in developing countries, but biomass fuel is an easily accessible alternative. It contains naturally degradable compounds like wood, farming waste, and animal dung. People can access all three components where they live and make the fuel at home.
There is a concern for anyone using biomass stoves long-term. Although the fuel doesn’t create carbon monoxide, it can release carbon dioxide fumes that are poisonous in spaces that lack ventilation. Air cleaning technologies will continue to develop and meet people where they live in these regions.
9. Pollution-Vacuuming Pods
Cities with massive highway infrastructure put more focus on airborne pollutants created by vehicles. Many have set up pollution-vacuuming pods that sit under each road in response to that. Pipework connects the pod to the upper street and sucks in air to remove ozone, hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide.
It’s another new technology that makes city air safer to breathe, especially for pedestrians walking along high-traffic streets.
10. Self-Cleaning Structural Concrete
Concrete buildings are fire-proof and withstand extreme weather, so they’re an optimal urban construction solution. They’re an even better choice when construction teams use self-cleaning concrete to cover the outer walls and roof. It uses photocatalysis to break down pollutants with sunlight redirected off the concrete.
Because this technology can also create urban necessities like parking decks and sidewalks, it’s a widespread pollution solution.
Urban leadership and residents should adopt technologies that improve air quality in cities, such as sustainable transit alternatives and household upgrades. Sustainable technologies make a significant difference in reducing airborne pollutants that harm city residents and the planet.
Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of
Additional “technologies” that vastly improve urban air quality are the ancient “technologies” of planting trees and maintaining green spaces – as described in the Green Urban Planning article on GCT. Here’s an excerpt from the Green City Times’ Urban Planning article:
Sustainable cities, like San Diego, have eco-city designs that prioritize consideration of social, economic, and environmental impacts of climate mitigation policies and sustainability policies. Green cities also prioritize resilient, thriving urban habitats for existing residents.
San Diego bills itself as “America’s Finest City”, and a sustainability powerhouse. Factors leading to San Diego becoming a city that runs entirely on renewable energy include the higher-than-average amount of sunshine in the area, along with the consensus among city leaders to pursue sustainability as a top priority. Additionally, California’s push for 100% renewable energy (100RE) throughout the state has allowed San Diego to attempt to reach 100RE fairly quickly. To this end, San Diego has pushed ahead with its San Diego Climate Action Plan.
Sunny San Diego
San Diego is famous for its year-round mild climate, its bays and harbors, and popular beaches.
The city is also known for its US military ports and bases (especially for the Navy in downtown SD & the Marines in Camp Pendleton, North San Diego County – but also for bases of other military branches).
In recent decades,San Diego has become increasingly internationally recognized for its emergence as a global center for clean energy, healthcare, biotechnology, and technological research & development.
The San Diego Convention Center, and hotels in Coronado, host many national and international conferences including; many medical conferences, Politifest, the Global Investment Forum, and the Food Waste Solution Summit.
There are also many smart tech. and sustainability conferences put on by CleanTech San Diego. CleanTech San Diego is a non-profit trade organization and think-tank that promotes San Diego as a global leader in clean and sustainable technologies.
“Cleantech San Diego is uniquely suited to support industry by fostering collaborations across the private-public-academic landscape, leading advocacy efforts to promote cleantech priorities, and encouraging investment in the San Diego region.” – CleanTech San Diego.
San Diego’s Sustainability Initiatives
The City of San Diego is a leader of sustainability in the United States. An organization that represents the city’s substantial contribution to sustainability was launched by Cleantech San Diego in 2011 – Smart Cities San Diego. Smart Cities San Diego is a public-private organization that advances sustainable, energy efficient technological development throughout San Diego county, renewable energy technologies, and water efficiency.
Smart Cities San Diego also has initiatives to support greenhouse gas reduction and lowering the carbon footprint of San Diego.
The push for 100RE is a major part of the San Diego Climate Action Plan (CAP); adopted citywide in December 2015. San Diego’s CAP is billed as a continuing push to make San Diego, “America’s Finest City”, now also its most sustainable city. San Diego plans to eliminate half of all greenhouse gas emissions (reach 50% GHG reduction by 2035 compared to 2010 levels) from the city and run entirely on renewable energy by 2035.
In addition to San Diego’s CAP, the city has ambitious zero-waste goals:
The San Diego City Council recently adopted a zero waste plan that sets goals of 75 percent waste diversion by 2020; 90 percent by 2035, a goal consistent with the proposed Climate Action Plan; and “zero waste” by 2040. FROM – sandiegouniontribune.com/san-diego-aggressive-recycling
SDG&E and 100RE
The utility that is the lone energy provider to San Diego, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), is one of only several utilities nationwide to offer a 100RE option. San Diego’s sole utility (a de-facto monopoly), SD&E, offers an option for 50% or 100% solar energy as part of their “EcoChoice” plan. The EcoChoice plan offered straight from SDG&E, not a company providing the renewable energy service as an option for residents and businesses to the utility, an “aggregator” energy service.
Community Choice in San Diego
An alternative energy service to the utility is an aggregator energy company; for example the San Diego and statewide “Community Choice” program. Community Choice operates throughout California, including San Diego, and also offers 50% and 100% options to supply residents/ businesses with power from renewable energy, but SDG&E still provides the actual energy maintenance service.
Community Choice is similar to SDG&E’s “EcoChoice”, but the customer pays the private energy aggregator to generate renewable energy, while SDG&E still maintains the actual energy service. Under Community Choice, for example, SDG&E still maintains the grid infrastructure, but instead of paying SDG&E for solar from exclusively large utility-scale solar farms, the customers pay Community Solar and support solar from a variety of local and state-wide renewable energy projects. By paying SDG&E directly through EcoChoice, residents and businesses are paying the utility directly to generate renewable energy. Both services help support renewable energy.
Here are a couple of excerpts from the San Diego Climate Action Plan:
“The plan identifies steps the City of San Diego can take to achieve the 2035 [climate] targets. That list includes creating a renewable energy program, implementing a zero-waste plan, and changing policy to have a majority of the City’s [public transit] fleet be electric vehicles…the city has committed to slashing its greenhouse gases 15% below 2010 levels by 2020 and 50% below that benchmark by 2035. The goals are intended to mirror the state targets of reducing emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.”
“…in 2016 the city had already cut its emissions by 19%, a 2% improvement from the previous year. The report largely attributed that progress to the state’s strict vehicle-emissions standards and renewable energy requirements (for the city’s utility, SDG&E)…” – San Diego CAP 2016 PDF
Sustainability initiatives in San Diego (including a couple of potential initiatives)
Public transportation options in San Diego include the MTS bus system, commuter rail (The Coaster), and light rail (The San Diego Trolley). Public transit in San Diego accounts for only 3.5% of county residents for all transportation in, and to & from, the city, for people living within 90 minutes of the city. The majority of people drive alone to work in the city, with a modest amount (<10%) choosing to carpool. Far fewer people walk or bike to work in San Diego city, generally people that already live in the area. There is potential for further development of public mass transit and alternative transit like biking, walking, and electric micro-mobility.
By focusing on developing, and increasing the use of, public transportation and sustainable alternative transit in San Diego, the city can most effectively reduce its carbon footprint. This is especially true of light rail in the city, which runs entirely on electricity.
California mandates that every city in the state is to run on 100% clean energy by 2045. This is part of an effort by a group of bipartisan lawmakers within the state to have California make good on the state’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50% by 2045. The opposition and legal challenges to this effort are from fossil fuel companies, lawmakers who side with the fossil fuel companies, and California counties and cities that want to continue to keep natural gas in the energy mix for their municipalities beyond 2045. San Diego is already committed to 100% renewable energy, and seeks more than California’s GHG reduction goal – aiming for net zero GHGs by 2035.
San Diego County already has a few cities that have made 100RE pledges, and has the highest number of 100RE pledges for any county in the nation.
Here’s the PDF for the full 74-page San Diego Climate Action Plan that was adopted in December 2015 (the San Diego CAP has been updated since passage, and some of those updates are reflected in this article and the PDF of the plan Green City Times links to here): sandiego.gov/final_july_2016_cap.pdf
Chicago might not be widely known as a green city, however, the city has a Sustainable Action Agenda, a vast network of sustainable mass public transit options, a high share of energy efficient buildings, and is home to a host of other green city initiatives.
Public mass transit options in Chicago include a large network of CTA buses, Metra commuter rail lines, and CTA’s ‘L’ railcar lines (above-ground rapid transit railcars running on elevated subway routes, which combined make over 2,000 trips/ day). CTA has a goal to use 100% clean energy by 2040, and has been able to cut its GHGs by over 10% annually by incorporating more energy efficient transit options while expanding its city fleet.
Chicago not only features exemplary mass public transit networks but excels at maintaining green spaces in the city as well. The greater Chicago area consists of over 12,000 total acres of parkland (this includes land managed by the state and county – there are over 8,800 acres of green space owned by the Chicago Park District, including over 600 parks). ~8.5% of the land area of Chicago is green space open to the public.
One great example of a large community park in Chicago is Lincoln Park, the city’s largest park (at about 1200 acres). Lincoln Park is the (adjacent) home to a city district (home to over 68,000 people) in Chicago’s Northside, as well as the Lincoln Park Zoo.
Chicago has benefited from green urban planning. The City of Chicago has worked hard to put in motion plans to transform the city into one of the world’s brightest examples of a sustainable metropolis.
A path to this goal is found in the 7 themes of “The Sustainable Chicago Action Agenda”. These 7 main themes include – Chicago’s Climate Action Plan, Energy Efficiency & Clean Energy, Waste & Recycling, Waste & Wastewater, Transportation Options, Economic Development & Job Creation, and Parks & Open Space.
Chicago has developed a citywide Climate Action Plan that mirrors the goals of Chicago’s Sustainable Action Agenda. The ChicagoClimate Action Planincludes climate change mitigation strategies featuring energy efficient buildings, clean & renewable energy sources, improved transportation options, and reduced waste & industrial buildings.
Sustainability Action Agenda of the City of Chicago – focus on LEED buildings
One of the aspects of the Sustainability Action Agenda the City of Chicago has been most successful at implementing, and a major part of that which makes Chicago a sustainable city, from an energy use standpoint, is developing sustainable energy efficient buildings. Another is the city’s implementation of sustainable technology with regard to retrofitting buildings.
LEED certifies buildings that demonstrate excellence in the following categories: sustainable sites, location and transportation, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation in design. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
Energy Star is another high energy efficiency standard for buildings and appliances within buildings, particularly high-efficiency electric appliances (such as electric HVAC units). Chicago excels at producing highly efficient buildings, and the electrification of buildings in order to enhance energy efficiency.
With regard to LEED and Energy Star buildings, Chicago has the highest percentage (at over 65%) of LEED-certified/ Energy Star certified office buildings among the top 30 real estate markets in the United States. The Willis tower (pictured here) went from LEED Gold to Platinum certification in just one year by efficiency retrofitting. The Willis Tower, the tallest U.S. LEED Platinum building, has made significant energy, sustainability, and air quality/ healthy building environment improvements.
In order to make even more advancements in residential and business buildings’ energy and water efficiency, and reduce GHGs associated with buildings in the city, the City of Chicago has launched Retrofit Chicago.
“Energy efficiency is a priority for strengthening Chicago— helping Chicago to be at affordable, modern, competitive, attractive, livable, and sustainable city. Retrofit Chicago’s energy efficiency pursuits help:
Save Chicagoans money
Improve air quality for workers in commercial buildings
The city of Chicago has initiated a Sustainable Development Division (SDD) to address sustainability concerns in the development of buildings in Chicago.
“The Sustainability Division provides technical assistance for [developers]…required to meet the City of Chicago’s sustainability standards, specifically city-assisted projects [and] new planned developments…[Chicago’s] Sustainable Development Division promotes development practices that result in buildings that are healthier to occupy, less expensive to operate and more responsible to the environment than traditional buildings.
Sustainable requirements involve various levels of LEED [and] Energy Star standards for energy efficiency…The policies are intended to improve…public roadways and parks– [and create] a higher level of stewardship of local water, air, and land resources. The division promotes strategies that absorb stormwater on site, such as…bioswales, permeable pavement and rain gardens, as well as green roofs. Green roofs help to keep rainwater out of overburdened sewer systems, reduce urban temperatures, improve the air quality in densely developed neighborhoods, and reduce a building’s energy costs.” – Chicago SDD
Additionally, Chicago has created theSolar Express renewable energy initiative largely to advance green building in the city. The Chicago Solar Express is a public-private initiative to bring low-cost solar panels to the rooftops of Chicago- by cutting fees, streamlining permitting and zoning processes.
Since 2012, the City of Chicago and ComEd have worked with private partners and the University of Illinois, under a grant from the DOE’s Sunshot Initiative, to lower-cost barriers and reduce market prices of purchasing and installing solar PV for the city.
“By committing the energy used to power our public buildings to wind and solar energy, we are sending a clear signal that we remain committed to building a 21st-century economy here in Chicago,” [former]Mayor Emanuel said. The city of Chicago will achieve that commitment in a number of ways, including on-site generation and the acquisition of renewable energy credits (mostly wind and solar energy). Jack Darin, president of the Illinois Sierra Club supports the effort, “…by moving boldly to re-power its public buildings with renewable energy like wind and solar, Chicago is leading by example at a time when local leadership is more important than ever.” FROM: goodnewsnetwork.org/chicago-city-buildings-powered-100-renewable-energy
These efforts of Chicago in green building illustrate the success of Chicago Sustainability themes – substantially developing energy efficient buildings, and the retrofitting of buildings in Chicago to be LEED and Energy Star certified. Chicago Solar Express, as well as the widespread development of electricity & renewable energy to power buildings throughout Chicago, illustrates more Sustainability themes – clean energy & energy efficiency. Waste Management is yet another Sustainability theme in which the city of Chicago excels.
Chicago’s Waste Management
The City of Chicago has developed ambitious recycling programs throughout the city. By reducing Chicago’s waste and implementing various recycling programs, the city of Chicago is making an effort to conserve resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with waste management, lower Chicago’s carbon footprint, and reduce space in areas surrounding Chicago currently needed as landfills. These are some of the programs offered by the city of Chicago to increase conservation in the city, especially focusing on Chicago’s recycling programs:
Blue Cart Recycling – “The City’s Blue Cart program provides bi-weekly recycling services to single-family homes and multi-unit buildings. By recycling regularly, [residents of Chicago] can help reduce the need for landfills, lower disposal costs, reduce pollution and conserve natural resources, such as timber and water”. Blue Cart Recycling includes almost every type of household waste, and had diverted over a half-ton of waste from landfills in the first 10 months of 2018 alone.
construction and demolition debris recycling - an ordinance requires that contractors recycle at least 50% of the recyclable debris generated by construction/ demolition
Another key sustainability initiative that is helping Chicago save money and resources is the city’s wastewater management program. New wastewater treatments are assisting in the recovery of essential energy, solids, and water. These resources are then recycled and transformed into assets that can generate revenue for the city, and protect the environment.
Green Infrastructure in Chicago; Chicago’s Greencorp
The city has also installed 50,000 water meters through the MeterSave program, to help residents of Chicago conserve water and reduce water bills. The city has made a $50 million investment to clean and upgrade 4,400 miles of sewer lines, while also upgrading the built infrastructure, creating a cleaner, greener infrastructure. The City of Chicago is also investing in replacing and enhancing rooftops and roadways in the city to allow for stormwater to circulate back into the environment.
Chicago plans to continue to replace or build new clean green and clean infrastructure. The city is replacing sewer mains in order to control stormwater accumulation in the sewers. Sitting next to Lake Michigan and atop a swampy marshy land, water management is crucial for Chicago to become a more sustainable and resilient city.
With a history of water pollution and toxic city water, Chicago became one of the lead innovators of waste and water management by securing federal funding in 1970 to upgrade its treatment facilities as a result of the Clean Water Act. Chicago continues to lead by example while reducing its water usage and increasing its efficiency.
Chicago is also keenly focused on developing sustainability training and jobs among the inner-city population- namely through its flagship program, Greencorps Chicago. Greencorps Chicago provides training and jobs in environmental conservation, as well as nature-area management careers, to Chicago residents with barriers to employment.The Greencorps Chicago Youth Program, which launched in 2013, provides paid, sustainability-focused summer jobs.
In addition to robust citywide conservation and waste management programs, the city of Chicago also has well-developed sustainable mass transit systems. Chicago’s mass transit options include transportation offerings from the United States’ 2nd largest public mass transit system; the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), which operates bus and rail lines in the city, including 144 rail stations and over 100 bus routes.
The city of Chicago is on the way to becoming a leader in sustainable transit. Chicago Transit Authority is committed to providing integral transit options that are greener and more sustainable. CTA is a huge contributor to the city’s sustainability movement because it helps to reduce vehicle emissions by replacing automobile trips with mass transit, reduces traffic congestion, and enables compact development.
The city of Chicago has 1,500 railcars with electric high-efficiency rails, and the new “L” cars are a new family of railcars equipped with innovative braking systems that can transfer electricity back to the third rail, which supplements power to nearby CTA trains (among other advances in the design and function of the railcars). The City of Chicago has launched a significant sustainable mass transportation campaign in order to reduce GHGs, decrease transit costs for the city and its residents, and increase efficiencies associated with transit. Chicago has 1,900 energy efficient buses that were converted to ultra-low sulfur diesel engines in March 2003; since 2007 any new buses acquired have been equipped with clean diesel and hybrid-electric engines. The city of Chicago plans to purchase additional all-electric buses.
Chicago has also made an effort to promote its multimodal transportation. That includes its Bike & Ride program. This program was established to improve bicycle access to bus routes and rail stations. In order to do that, the City of Chicago helped develop 6,000 Divvy bikes (Divvy bikes are part of a bike-sharing system run by the City of Chicago Department of Transportation), available for rent at 580 stations across the city. CTA has also worked with car-sharing companies to make for easier access between public transit and car-sharing. The CTA’s multimodal integration addresses transit-friendly development by working with the City of Chicago and other municipalities to connect their services and destinations.
After the first decade of the initial policy’s implementation, California boosted its economy while diminishing carbon pollution with clean energy and new green technologies. However, more work needs to be done for California to reduce emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.
Despite a few shortcomings, California’s success in combating climate change can teach other states a critical lesson in applying similar climate action measures.
California: A Work in Progress
California is no stranger to the effects of climate change. In 2021, California Fire and the U.S. Forest Service responded to 8,786 wildfires spanning 2,568,941 acres. The consequences of these frequent fires include lower air quality, reduced soil quality, and the destruction of the state’s ecosystems, homes, and livelihoods.
In other parts of the state, like the Sierra Nevada, hotter temperatures are melting the snow and releasing about 15 million acre-feet of water all at once. With this event occurring more frequently and earlier in the year, the state’s water storage facilities face increased pressure and generate fear of worsening floods and water shortages.
California has recognized the importance of securing its precious resources, including its energy. More fires and extreme temperatures are unavoidable due to climate change in the years to come.
The energy sector has changed dramatically over the years, from depending on natural sunlight to electrical grids to investments in renewable energy technologies. Populations and heavy industry have increased worldwide, and the demand for greener initiatives has, as well.
California has done the following in its effort to become more energy-efficient:
California initiated the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) that requires reduced carbon in transportation fuels, transitioning to regulated fuels like natural gas, hydrogen, electricity, propane, and biomass-based diesel.
Powerful storms, strong winds, fires, tornadoes, and other natural events can knock out electricity grids for days, weeks, and even months on end. However, it’s essential to create substantial emissions-reducing legislation that tackles the climate crisis and allows for a more resilient power source.
What else can be done to progress the decarbonization of California and other states across the nation?
The Next Step: Decarbonizing Buildings
Buildings are responsible for generating nearly 40% of the world’s global greenhouse gas emissions, a majority of which are produced by operations and materials. California recently launched the Building Decarbonization Coalition (BDC) to continue balancing energy resilience with decarbonization.
The BDC aims to cut 40% of structural emissions and adopt zero-emissions building codes by 2030. It has gathered experts in the energy sector, public interest advocates, building contractors, construction workers, local government officials, real estate agents, and investors for their input and industry knowledge.
The BDC released a guide that details set goals, philosophies, policies, and strategies that California intends to meet in its path toward building decarbonization. Highlights and recommendations from the report include:
Adopt an emissions-free building code for all new construction, removing the reliance on fossil fuels and shifting toward renewables instead.
Replace heat and hot water appliances in existing buildings with zero-emission alternatives over time.
Help increase the market share of clean, electric appliances by replacing all fossil fuel-burning appliances.
Guarantee that efforts to decarbonize buildings aid the grid by incorporating renewable energy into the state’s power supply.
Barriers to Building Decarbonization
While California’s building decarbonization pursuits could be applied to emissions-reducing objectives in other states, the BDC and stakeholders recognize that several barriers need to be addressed for the state to reach its goals by 2030:
Government officials, industry experts, and the public currently lack interest in and understanding of building decarbonization technologies.
Gas utility companies and various labor unions are likely to deliver political resistance, particularly to decarbonizing commercial buildings.
A lack of coordination exists between like-minded emissions-reducing organizations throughout the state.
Customers and contractors are faced with higher upfront costs and little financial assistance or incentives to back renewable technologies for building decarbonization.
Many building decarbonization technologies aren’t available yet, requiring more states to manufacture green technologies, as well.
Existing energy policies and building codes need to be updated to meet the newer emissions-reducing goals of decarbonization initiatives.
Updating Infrastructure for Developing Renewable Energy in Cities |
People-centered smart cities are cropping up worldwide. They only account for 2% of the world’s landmass but are home to most of its population, energy use, and economic activity.
Cities are adopting modern clean energy technologies to become smarter, and one crucial aspect is renewable energy. Renewables can empower smart cities and help them reach goals they set for themselves. Citizens and the city benefit (as well as the planet’s climate and environment) from using green energy, such as wind and solar, as well as from the multitude of recent sustainable technology innovations currently available.
Here’s how infrastructure will play a crucial role in developing renewable energy in cities, and hopefully in securing the planet’s future –
U.S. Government Aid in the Shift to Renewable Energy
As cities become larger and smarter, the amount of energy they use increases. As a result, governments are stepping in to provide incentives and funding to municipalities looking to shift to renewable energy. Cities are making a shift to all forms of clean energy technology in multiple economic sectors – energy, buildings, transportation, water, etc… – all types of infrastructure.
For example, President Biden’s sustainable infrastructure and social spending plan – the Build Back Better (BBB) plan – originally included $174 billion in spending to focus on the electric vehicle (EV) market, yet another clean energy sector experiencing rapid growth. [The bill actually passed by Congress in 2021 contained a small portion of this funding – see below].
The BBB plan also originally included tax credits to consumers for purchases of EVs, investment in electric school buses, investment in EV charging infrastructure, investment to retool factories and boost the domestic supply of EVs, and more… Additionally, the original BBB plan proposed $100 billion to modernize the country’s electric grid and modernize energy infrastructure across the country.
If the U.S. signs even a scaled-down version of the BBB into law, it would be considered one of the largest federal efforts to curb GHGs.
However, the BBB plan is ambitious and represents challenging legislation to advance. A small slice of the BBB (roughly 15-20% of the original BBB plan) passed through Congress and was signed by President Biden (in November 2021). This legislation – the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) does include funding for modern infrastructure needs. Although at a much lower funding level than the original BBB proposed, the IIJA invests $550 billion in new spending over five years to bolster the nation’s infrastructure, public mass transit, broadband, water, energy, environmental concerns, EV charging infrastructure, and electric & low-emission school buses.
The IIJA also includes investments in the modernization of U.S. energy grids, clean energy technologies, clean energy infrastructure, and hundreds of billions in additional investments in sustainability this decade. See this link for a full list of IIJA’s investment priorities in transportation infrastructure, water infrastructure, broadband, energy, and environmental concerns).
Electricity and natural gas consumption/expenditures
Residential and commercial building stock
Fuel consumption, vehicle miles traveled, and registration by fuel type
Renewable energy procurement options
The data plays a significant role in helping cities determine their energy usage and shows what areas of consumption need to be reduced. This will lead to government agencies making more strategic decisions regarding renewable implementation.
Once cities understand their energy usage and the benefits of renewables, they can then focus on planning implementation to make infrastructure more efficient, sustainable, and reliable.
Updating Crucial Infrastructure Components
What are the crucial components of infrastructure that need to be updated to achieve higher levels of sustainability? Not all of the priority investments of the IIJA are in clean energy infrastructure – for example, large investments in the IIJA are dedicated to repairing roads and bridges (conventional infrastructure). However, the IIJA also invests $7.5 billion for EV charging infrastructure, $2.5 billion for electric school buses, and $2.5 billion for low-emission school buses.
Here is a brief list of just a few vital infrastructure items (some of which are investments in the IIJA law, some of which are in the original BBB plan, as well as a couple of novel ideas for sustainable investment) –
In the next few years, cities will have to update the power grid to prepare for a net-zerofuture. Strengthening and modernizing the electric grid means cities will face fewer disruptions. Increasing resiliency has to be a top priority for cities across the country.
Water and power are intimately connected, but what role does water play in power generation? It generates energy because it’s used by thermoelectric power plants and refining and processing fossil fuels. Plants and refineries use large quantities of water to operate. For this reason, and for the benefit of public health, sustainable purification systems can help lessen these large water footprints.
Cities will have to invest in efficient water infrastructure to reach sustainability initiatives throughout all socioeconomic sectors, so that all of society benefits.
(Novel sustainable energy infrastructure ideas for -) Highways
State and local highway departments have many responsibilities, from plowing roads during snowstorms to taking on major repairs or replacement projects. A significant amount of electricity is needed to power them efficiently. Think about the roadway signs, lights, rest stops, and maintenance buildings. All these factors increase energy consumption.
Some state departments of transportation (DOTs) have implemented solar in highway rights-of-way (ROW) to offset electricity costs and consumption. Additionally, the Federal Highway Administration has supported the move for state agencies to adopt renewable energy to power highways. Improving roadways will be crucial when developing renewable energy in cities.
Moving Toward a Sustainable Future
Cities must carefully plan the implementation of renewable energy sources to be more sustainable. The most important factor to consider is updating infrastructure.
Cities, states, and federal government agencies must work together to update the various aspects of infrastructure that will make cities more sustainable. It will certainly be interesting to see how municipalities use their resources to transition to renewables to sustain current and future demands.
Article by Jane Marsh
Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of
Hydrogen is one of the most promising emerging energy technologies to fill the rising global demand for clean low carbon and emission-free energy sources. The recent global societal shift towards environmental sustainability, and the global imperative for climate action, have significantly altered energy consumption patterns.
Clean and renewable energy companies are booming. Solar companies experienced their highest production and distribution rates in 2020, enhancing the national use of renewable power. In addition to solar, other renewable energies and emerging next-generation clean energy technologies (such as hydrogen and carbon capture) are also having breakthrough years. President Biden has influenced alternative energy sourcing by establishing ambitious sustainability standards in the U.S. – such as net zero by 2050, and a carbon-neutral electricity grid by 2035. The Biden administration also seeks to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 50-52% by 2030 (from 2005 levels).
Biden generated the Build Back Better (BBB) plan, seeking to invest in American society and the American clean energy sector. The proposed program allocates trillions of funding dollars for United States’ infrastructure (as well as other programs that benefit society), including funding for the clean energy industry, promoting technological advancements and system alterations.
The Build Back Better plan includes funding for hydrogen and carbon capture technological RD&D (as well as a variety of other next-generation clean energy technologies). Various parts of the BBB climate-related plan also include funding for clean energy infrastructure, EV charging infrastructure, financial incentives such as tax credits for renewable energy, and modernizing the US electrical grid (in addition to more clean energy programs). When the US diversifies production and use of clean energy (including clean hydrogen and carbon capture), national greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are effectively reduced.
Fortunately, Congress did end up passing a part of the original BBB plan – the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The IIJA does have some investment for technological measures described in this article and was signed into law by President Biden in November 2021. Unfortunately, it does not look like the rest of the original BBB will pass Congress during Biden’s first term. Still, both the development of hydrogen technologies and carbon capture technologies, have bipartisan support. The technological developments discussed in this article are set to continue advancing this decade (a bit more slowly than if the full BBB passed.)
Domestic Energy Production Challenges
Nearly80% of America’s energy production and consumption (with the transportation sector included) is derived from fossil fuels. These finite natural resources (coal, oil, and gas) create atmospheric pollution during combustion (GHGs and other pollution). GHGs alter the planet’s natural temperature control process, degrading the global ecosystem. On the other hand, hydrogen represents clean energy; as hydrogen, itself, doesn’t release carbon or contribute to atmospheric pollution.
The Earth absorbs sunlight, generating heat and warming the surface. The planet is capable of reabsorbing a finite amount of additional solar radiation or emitting it back to space. When GHGs invade the environment from the combustion of fossil fuels, they alter the atmosphere’s natural composition and change the process. GHGs have a higher sunlight-to-heat conversion rate and trap energy rather than sending it to space.
Over time, the entrapment and overproduction of heat raise Earth’s temperature. As the planet warms, the evaporation rate rises, oceans heat up, and global weather patterns are changed; resulting in extreme flooding in some global regions (from increasingly extreme storms), and elongated drought periods (causing wildfires, damage to agriculture, etc…) in others. Global warming also degrades aquatic ecosystems, causes rising sea levels, and adversely affects biodiversity worldwide (among other global adverse effects of climate change).
Hydrogen is a clean energy solution for energy storage and transportation to replace climate-change-causing fossil fuels. Right now, hydrogen can be used as a fuel source for cars and buses – and in the future, for long-haul shipping, heavy-duty trucks, and, hopefully, long-haul aviation.
Hydrogen can be used for energy storage. Hydrogen also represents a potential zero or low carbon emissions fuel source for HVAC in buildings; a zero carbon emissions solution for building heating. Hydrogen potentially performs all of these functions without contributing to global warming, air pollution, or climate change (zero carbon in the case of green hydrogen – whereas blue hydrogen represents a low carbon solution – see below for a description of the hydrogen production color spectrum).
As the demand for zero and low carbon emissions energy sources rises, environmental engineers and scientists develop new clean production technologies. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) decreases GHGs in the process of producing hydrogen in natural gas power plants (as well as in energy generation from other fossil fuels, and other industrial processes). CCS + H2 production generates reliable low carbon power – hydrogen. After capturing the carbon emissions from methane reforming (in the blue hydrogen production process, described below), partialoxidation restructures the elements as they flow through a catalyst bed, creating clean hydrogen. The actual use of hydrogen for energy generates zero pollution and no carbon emissions.
Though carbon capture cannot directly generate hydrogen for sustainable energy uses, methane reforming in natural gas power plants can. Methane reforming in natural gas power plants combines Fahrenheit steam, combined with a catalyst. The process produces hydrogen and a relatively small amount of carbon dioxide (smaller than the natural gas energy-generating process). Carbon capture can be used to capture CO2 from the natural gas combustion, as well as the methane reforming cycle – a low carbon process to create clean hydrogen.
Environmental scientists and engineers develop carbon capture technology to reduce atmospheric pollution from manufacturing facilities and power plants. Thetechnology can absorb 90% of carbon emissions, significantly decreasing GHGs.
Pre-combustion carbon capture turns fuel sources into a gas rather than burning them. Post-combustion capturing separates carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion emissions. The collection of CO2 travels to an alternate processing facility where individuals repurpose or store it, decreasing adverse ecological effects.
Engineers have developed various methods of hydrogen production and differentiated them on a color spectrum. When companies create H2 from methane reformation without collecting carbon outputs, they generate grey hydrogen. This process releases 9.3 kilograms of GHGs for every kilogram of hydrogen. In order to create a sustainable, low carbon solution for future hydrogen production, the world must transition away from grey hydrogen to environmentally-friendly hydrogen production methods (grey hydrogen currently represents a vast majority of global hydrogen production).
Companies can capture carbon emissions in the methane reformation process, storing them to preserve the atmosphere, producing blue hydrogen. The CCS process can collect up to 90% of the CO2 emissions and place them underground for climate change prevention. The process is significantly more sustainable than greyhydrogen production.
The zero carbon emissions hydrogen production process uses renewable energy, electrolyzers, and water, generating green hydrogen. Advanced technological devices (electrolyzers) separate hydrogen (H2) from H2O using electrolysis. Solar panels and wind turbines power the systems, creating zero emissions throughout the practice.
Green hydrogen is the most sustainable version of the energy source. Industries can power their production using a 100% clean energy source (green H2), eliminating atmospheric pollution from the process.
The process of producing green H2 is much cleaner than the conventional, ecologically degrading hydrogen development practice of methane reforming. Traditionally, energy professionals generate H2 from fossil fuel sources, generating 830 million tons of GHGs annually. Producing green hydrogen from zero-emission sustainable sources can enhance its efficiency while reducing atmospheric degradation. Producing blue hydrogen still uses methane reforming, but by also using CCS technology, a cleaner method of producing hydrogen is being used.
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Energy
The process of producing hydrogen can supply fuel for hydrogen-powered fuel cells, creating an alternate clean energy source for energy storage and transportation. The cells work like batteries, running off of the hydrogen inside of them. Theycontain one positive and one negative electrode, generating the cathode and anode.
The two electrodes contain an electrolyte. Hydrogen fuels the anode, and air powers the cathode, separating molecules into protons and electrons. The free electrons travel through a designated circuit, creating electricity. Excess protons move to the cathode, combining with oxygen and generating water as the output. Pure water is a sustainable alternative to other GHGs, and water is the only emission in hydrogen power generation.
Hydrogen fuel cells are used in energy storage, and hydrogen buses, as clean energy battery solutions. Read more about Europe’s extensive effort to expand the hydrogen bus presence on the continent here. The only emissions from hydrogen buses run by fuel cells are water.
Homeowners can also potentially utilize hydrogen fuel cells, shrinking their carbon footprints. Hopefully, hydrogen will be used in large home appliances in the future, such as electric HVAC units, electric furnaces, electric boilers, and other applications. Adopting electric home appliances can aid the transition away from fossil fuel-derived power sources.
You can compare yourcarbon footprint and utility savings by first receiving an energy consultation. A professional energy consultant can unveil your property’s compatibility with hydrogen fuel cell power sources. They can also recommend energy efficiency practices, reducing your carbon footprint over time.
Benefits of CCS, Electricity, and Hydrogen Fuel Sourcing
President Biden set a national carbon-neutrality goal upon entering office. Meeting the objective requires a restructuring of the energy sector. Both hydrogen and carbon capture represent solutions to accelerate the low-carbon, clean energy transition. Biden plans on developing a carbon-neutral electric grid, sourcing 100% of U.S. electricity from clean energy sources.
Although still fairly expensive, clean hydrogen represents a highly efficient low-carbon power alternative. “Hydrogen can be re-electrified in fuel cells with efficienciesup to 50%, or alternatively burned in combined cycle gas power plants (efficiencies as high as 60%).” [Quote from – energystorage.org/technologies/hydrogen-energy-storage]. We can effectively develop a carbon-neutral nation by diversifying our electricity sources.
Green and blue hydrogen development can provide sustainable support for the electric grid, be used in the transportation sector or energy storage (in hydrogen fuel cells), and even as a low carbon solution for HVAC units and other major appliances in buildings. CCS with hydrogen development (producing blue hydrogen) represents a low carbon source of clean hydrogen, while green hydrogen production represents a zero carbon source.
We can generate clean energy while eliminating further atmospheric degradation when we target significant pollution producers and replace dirty energy with clean energy sources like electricity and hydrogen. Both electric and hydrogen buses represent clean energy solutions. Utilizing electric vehicles (EVs) can increase society’s access to emission-less power. If you want to drive with zero emissions, you also have the option of choosing a hydrogen fuel cell car (although, currently, an EV represents the less expensive zero emissions option). With both electricity and hydrogen, ultimately the process of generating the energy must come from a low carbon or zero-emissions source in order to truly be a clean energy solution.
The process of using electricity and/ or hydrogen in buildings and transportation also reduces the enhanced greenhouse effect by decreasing atmospheric emissions. When we capture the elements before they reach the environment, we prevent the overproduction and entrapment of heat (as in blue hydrogen). Green hydrogen, or electricity powered by renewables, shrinks the carbon footprint of energy production closer to zero.
Enhancing Urban Sustainability
Many cities have recently increased their sustainability standards, regulating carbon emissions and pollution production processes. They are electrifying transportation, and buildings, requiring cleaner energy (as in renewable portfolio standards and clean energy standards). CCS used in combination with hydrogen power (blue hydrogen) production can support urban transformations towards clean, low-carbon energy. Green hydrogen power production can support the urban energy transition completely away from fossil fuel reliance towards zero-emission energy.
Article by Jane Marsh
Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of
Employment in the clean energy sector features, first and foremost, jobs in energy efficiency (of the over 3 million U.S. clean energy jobs total). These include jobs in companies that feature EnergyStar products, as well as jobs in producing energy efficient technologies such as LED and CFL lighting and manufacturing electric vehicles (EVs). Jobs insmart grid, maintaining smart meters, clean energy storage, renewable energy, and in sustainable mass transit, are also included in the over 3 million clean energy jobs in the United States figure (cited below).
With regard to sustainable transportation, jobs in EV, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid vehicle production, in addition to jobs in sustainable mass transit, and in biofuel production, are also included in the U.S. clean energy jobs figures below. Clean energy jobs are also jobs in solar, wind, and other jobs in renewable energy (RE) production, managing RE, and distribution of RE.
For example, coal provides Americans with less than 80,000 jobs; but only about half that number of jobs in the United States are in actual coal mining, the rest of the jobs in U.S. coal are in associated jobs. Jobs in transporting the coal and maintaining the coal mines, or in maintaining coal-fired power plants, could be transitioned to clean energy jobs.
The following is a snippet from E2.org on the clean energy job market in the U.S.-
“At the start of 2020, clean energy employment increased for the fifth straight year since this annual report was first released—growing beyond 3.3 million workers nationwide.
While California remained the nation’s undisputed leader in clean energy jobs, states as diverse in size and structure as Texas and Massachusetts also are in the top ten for clean energy jobs. Florida, North Carolina and Georgia continued to lead the South, while Michigan, Illinois and Ohio led the Midwest. On a per capita basis of statewide total employment, the Northeast claimed the top five spots with Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Delaware employing the largest share of clean energy jobs per capita in the country.” FROM – e2.org/reports/clean-jobs-america
Quote on how clean energy jobs pay more on average than the median wage for other job sectors in the U.S.-
Clean energy jobs continue to provide the most job opportunity; even in the middle of the country; the Plains states, the Midwest, and the Southern states.
Overall, when you add the rest of the clean energy jobs to jobs directly in renewable energy, there are over 3 million jobs in clean energy in the United States. This figure includes energy efficiency-related jobs, clean energy storage jobs, and clean transportation jobs. Employment that is directly in renewable energy in the U.S. features jobs in solar and wind; although jobs in hydroelectricity, biomass, and geothermal energy are also included.
Wind [and solar] farms—and the new jobs that come with them—have swept across the Midwest [and Southwest U.S.], where coal and traditional manufacturing gigs have vanished.
In the “wind belt” between Texas and North Dakota, the price of wind energy is finally equal to and in some cases cheaper than that of fossil fuels. Thanks to investments in transmission lines, better computer controls, and more efficient turbines, the cost to US consumers fell two-thirds in just six years, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
Still, not all windy states have a turbine-friendly climate. In Wyoming, for example, coal-loving legislators passed a tax on wind energy in 2010 and are also considering penalizing utilities for including renewables in their portfolios.
The next few years will see a showdown between “rural Republicans who really want to get the economic boost [wind & solar, other renewables] offers to their district, versus Republican ideologues who don’t like renewables because they like fossil fuels”—and whose campaign contributions depend on protecting them.
So farmers—and voters —will have to fight for wind [and other renewables] which, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, offer the greatest potential for growth in US renewable power generation.
(Article by Maddie Oatman – Maddie Oatman is a story editor at Mother Jones. Read more of her stories here.)
The cost savings to the United States economy by transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy include, most significantly, reducing the cost of mitigation and adaptation to anthropogenic climate change by investing in sustainable technologies such as renewable energy and energy efficiency vs. fossil fuels.
[Please note that states like California create a lot of solar energy, but even more hydroelectricity. Hydroelectricity is produced in higher quantities as far as overall energy production in California (over 20% of the state’s energy is from hydroelectric sources), and that makes hydroelectricity the dominant form of renewable energy in the state. However, California produces a substantial amount of solar energy (over 11% statewide). California, Washington, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Washington DC have all committed to the goal of 100% renewable energy. A few other states plan to follow suit.]
For your reference, here is Lazard‘s 2020 levelized cost of energy (LCOE) chart>> On the 2020 LCOE chart, it’s renewable energy sources (especially onshore wind farms and utility-scale solar) with the best overall price of all energy sources; and wind energy and utility-scale PV are now priced lower than coal; onshore wind and utility-scale PV are now even cheaper than gas combined cycle (when the full LCOE is taken into account)>>>
The negative externalities associated with coal are particularly dire; not only black lung in coal miners, also a general public health hazard in fine particulates, and other toxins, emitted into the air during the energy production process with coal. Those public health issues are in addition to coal’s significant contribution to anthropogenic climate change, and other forms of air, land, and water pollution associated with coal.
Overall, the lowest cost of energy production is onshore wind (which also has minimal negative externalities), followed by utility-scale solar, and natural gas (which carries the cost of negative externalities). Producing energy from coal is no longer cheaper than renewables or gas, and is damaging to public health and the environment.
[*Examples of levelized costs of energy include: up-front capital costs/ costs of initial investment (which are much higher for renewable energy than fossil fuel energy), the marginal cost of the fuel source (which is much higher for fossil fuels, and almost nothing for free, abundant sources of renewable energy like solar and wind energy, and very low cost for hydro, geothermal, and biomass), cost of maintenance for the power plant/ energy farm/ dam, etc…, cost of transporting the fuel (again, zero for most renewable energy), costs associated with transmitting/ distributing the energy, insurance costs for the energy-producing facility, etc…]
“Levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) is often cited as a convenient summary measure of the overall competitiveness of different generating technologies. It represents the per-MWh cost (in discounted real dollars) of building and operating a generating plant over an assumed financial life and duty cycle. 4 Key inputs to calculating LCOE include capital costs, fuel costs, fixed and variable operations and maintenance (O&M) costs, financing costs, and an assumed utilization rate for each plant.” – quote from the EIA.
In this chart, you can clearly see how much more expensive nuclear and coal are projected to remain in comparison to renewables-
With nuclear, it’s necessary to find secure locations to safely store the radioactive waste. Nuclear power plants must evolve to the point where there’s no chance for another Fukushima-type catastrophe. However, future planned 4th generation nuclear power plants will be safe, autonomous, more sustainable than current nuclear plants, and more cost-efficient.
For the future the first half of this century, nuclear energy is going to remain an unlikely ally to clean energy in the fight against anthropogenic climate change. Coal is out for the reasons stated above; coal is no longer a viable, cost-efficient energy fuel source. Petroleum is mostly used to fuel vehicles around the world (although hopefully, the world population will continue to move toward electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and hybrid cars). It’s safe to assume diesel generators will still be used to produce energy, largely for third world countries, island nations, remote locations, and energy backup.
Renewable energy and natural gas are the future of energy production, as seen in this recent study by the University of Texas at Austin Energy Institute. Overall, renewable energy (and natural gas) are both cheaper sources of fuel for energy production AND better, larger sources of employment; thus, renewable energy is better for the environment AND the economy.
For more information on these, and similar topics, please see:
Deforestation and solutions; including reforestation
Deforestation of our planet, for centuries, has led to issues such as – loss of wildlife habitat; as well as land, water, and air pollution. Clearing forests results in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from the practice of deforestation itself (leading to an unmitigated increase in global warming). Deforestation is also responsible for the loss of trees to help absorb GHGs and create a healthy planet; and degradation of land quality.
Project Drawdown recognizes reforestation as a top climate solution. This is due to the biodiversity and thriving ecosystems forests provide; and because forests provide needed carbon sequestration from the atmosphere in order to create Earth’s healthy biome.
Where Does Most Deforestation Happen?
The top 10 countries that hold the majority of the forest coverage of the earth; and also have among the highest global shares of deforestation, include large nations like – China, Russia, Canada, and the United States.
The greatest percentage levels of national deforestation are in countries that contain portions of the Amazon Rainforest, most notably – Brazil. The Amazon has the greatest deforestation rate of any large forest in the world. Some highly forested countries, like the Philippines and Indonesia, used to be almost completely forested; and as of today, have had over half of their forests removed; yet still – the Amazon represents the most egregious rate of deforestation.
Reforestation represents a holistic, practical climate solution to help create a healthy biome on the planet. Reforestation has been seriously engaged in by concerned private philanthropic organizations, as well as governments, throughout the world; from individual donors to non-profit organizations, to NGOs, to sustainable corporations. One example of successful reforestation efforts is a forest started in Ontario; supported by the Canadian government, as well as private donors, called the 50 Million Tree program.
Countries, states, and provinces, around the world, should make a concerted effort to invest more in planting forests, planting trees in planned urban green spaces, and setting aside land for nature reserves. “Under the Paris Climate Agreement, India has pledged to increase its forests by a massive 95 million hectares by 2030. In 2017 around 1.5 million volunteers planted more than 66 million trees in a record-breaking 12 hours in the state of Madhya Pradesh.” FROM – bbc.com/news
Another successful reforestation effort is forest being planted for ecological, social, and economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa, just at the southern border of the Sahara, organized by Greenpop.; and supported mostly by private donors and philanthropic non-profit organizations. Greenpop’s mission is to plant trees, restore degraded forest areas, increase biodiversity, help communities across Africa meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and expand ecosystem services across Africa.
An example of an organization dedicated to reforestation, supported by philanthropic non-profits run by some of the world’s best-known corporations; including Google and Amazon – is Trees for the Future. Trees for the Future is an agroforestry organization working with local populations to improve livelihoods and restore degraded lands to sustainable productivity through tree planting; in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Trees for the Future’s efforts are aimed at stopping deforestation, engaging local communities in reforestation and sustainable agriculture; and aiding the mitigation of climate change through investments to help restore, maintain, and protect ecosystems.
“Project Drawdown defines forest protection as: the legal protection of forest lands, leading to reduced deforestation rates and the safeguarding of carbon sinks. This solution replaces non-protected forest land. It is assumed that forest protection primarily happens at the government and non-governmental organization (NGO) level.
Mature, healthy forests have spent decades or centuries accumulating carbon through photosynthesis. They represent massive storehouses of carbon in soils and biomass. Yet, forests are being cleared and degraded at a rapid rate, causing carbon loss as well as negative impacts on ecosystem services like habitat, erosion control, soil-building, water regulation, water supply, and air pollution removal.
Forest protection reduces these emissions from deforestation. Emissions from tropical deforestation and forest degradation alone are estimated at 5.1-8.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent per year. This accounts for 14-21 percent of anthropogenic emissions…” FROM – drawdown.org/solutions/forest-protection
♥♥For great ideas on environmental sustainability♥♥, conservation of wildlife & their habitats, as well as global ecological conservation solutions, please see>> MONGABAY.COM. Mongabay.com also has current, worldwide examples of innovative measures implemented by non-profit organizations, NGOs, and governments. These innovative sustainability measures are put in place to protect, restore, and maintain ecosystems, global wildlife, and natural biodiversity.
The Global importance of protecting, maintaining, and restoring Ecosystems; Sustainable Ag. Techniques including Agroforestry
Forests are natural carbon sinks, sequestering carbon from Earth’s atmosphere, and providing oxygen to create healthy ecosystems on the planet; as well as creating sustainable habitats for plants, wildlife, and the biodiversity of the forest itself. Sustainable agriculture also creates carbon sinks, in the form of farmland with vibrant ecosystems and biodiversity.
In addition to reforestation, Project Drawdown also recognizes these sustainable practices, as top climate solutions:
Land is a critical component of the climate system, actively engaged in the flows of carbon, nitrogen, water, and oxygen—essential building blocks for life. Carbon is the core of trees and grasses, mammals and birds, lichens and microbes. Linking one atom to the next, and to other elements, it’s the fundamental material of all living organisms. FROM – drawdown.org/sectors/land-sinks
Plants and healthy ecosystems have an unparalleled capacity to absorb carbon through photosynthesis and store it in living biomass. In addition, soils are, in large part, organic matter—once-living organisms, now decomposing—making them an enormous storehouse of carbon. Land can therefore be a powerful carbon sink, returning atmospheric carbon to living vegetation and soils. While the majority of heat-trapping emissions remain in the atmosphere, land sinks currently return a quarter of human-caused emissions to Earth—literally. FROM – drawdown.org/sectors/land-sinks
In their biomass and soil, forests are powerful carbon storehouses. [Forest] protection prevents emissions from deforestation, shields that carbon, and enables ongoing carbon sequestration. FROM – drawdown.org/solutions/forest-protection
An agroforestry practice, silvopasture integrates trees, pasture, and forage, into a single system. Incorporating trees improves land health and significantly increases carbon sequestration. FROM – drawdown.org/solutions/silvopasture
Building on conservation agriculture with additional practices, regenerative annual cropping can include compost application, green manure, and organic production. It reduces emissions, increases soil organic matter, and sequesters carbon. FROM – drawdown.org/solutions/regenerative-annual-cropping
Red Meat and Carbon Offsets
Red meat from cows makes its way to fast food restaurants (but not before millions of acres of once-pristine forest are degraded or destroyed); in addition to the waste streams of paper products fast food restaurants create (also major contributors to forest degradation).
Fast food restaurants, globally, can help stop deforestation; as numerous corporations in different segments of the manufacturing industry have started joining global conservation efforts recently. Fast food companies, as with other companies concerned about lowering their carbon footprint, can purchase carbon offsets.
Carbon offsets help balance out global GHGs and other environmental degradation; for instance, damage to the environment wrought by companies that commit deforestation, and companies that are reliant on fossil fuels, are a partial solution to the deforestation problem.
Some offsets often formally offered in emission trading schemes (ETS) globally include: forestry projects (like planting and caring for trees; restoring, maintaining, and protecting forests and their ecosystems), as well as renewable energy and energy efficiency projects worldwide. These types of carbon offsets are also available for purchase by companies and individuals.
The amount of carbon offsets required for a company to purchase in an emission trading system (ETS) is proportional to the amount of pollution, GHGs, released by the company involved in the ETS. These offsets should also be measured by the deforestation that a company commits, and the subsequent effect of that behavior by the company on the environment. However, individuals and companies can purchase offsets to lower their carbon footprint – the more carbon offsets purchased, the greater the good.
In addition to reforestation measures taken by private companies, and concerned individuals, and lifestyle changes by individuals taken to help address the problem, governments can help.
However, as of now, most ETS around the world only use the amount GHGs released by companies, not deforestation, as a metric to assess a companies’ responsibility for purchasing carbon offets. ETS, and other carbon pricing mechanisms (such as a carbon tax), can be mandated by states, provinces, and entire countries.
For more on this topic, please see Green City Times article on: