New Initiatives Bring Even More Green To California

California's already green tint is spreading.

Today's release of draft regulations to protect consumers from toxic chemicals in products on store shelves is part of an overall Green Chemistry Initiative indicative of increasing environmental awareness in California.

Debbie Raphael, director of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, which issued the draft regulations, summed up the program this way: “More and more, there’s an understanding that some of the health and environmental problems we see in the world today may, in fact, stem from toxic chemicals in consumer products," she said in a press release. "A number of other countries are already taking action, but our Green Chemistry Initiative puts California at the forefront.”

California is at the forefront of the sustainability movement in other ways too. Its 33 percent renewables mandate is one of the most ambitious in the nation. The state recently resumed a green tax credit, passed a cap-and-trade program and starting next year sellers of commercial property have to benchmark energy consumption.

Benchmarking is something my employer, the nonprofit San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization in Fresno, understands. The SJVCEO, as implementing partner of the Valley Innovative Energy Watch (VIEW), is helping six cities and two counties benchmark all of their facilities into the EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager so they can better track energy usage.

(Our organization has created ‘Benchmarking Made Easy’, a ten-page training manual on how to use the online energy management system and how to create a benchmarking policy using data from benchmarking. The nonprofit also helps lead webinars and training sessions on the benchmarking.)

Critics say that going green is cost-prohibitive and unwise in this economic climate, but there is strong evidence of just the opposite. Many businesses have found that implementing sustainability programs, especially energy-efficiency measures, saves them much money with relatively minimal investment. Often, they can recoup the cost within a few years.

AT&T, for example, saved $44 million through energy conservation in 2010. Math whizzes at IBM thought their company could shave energy use 3.5 percent through efficiency, but wound up slashing 5.7 percent, or $30 million. Read more here.

The city of Fresno crunched data from PG&E and forecast a $260 million economic boost if residential and commercial property owners reduced energy consumption 30 percent. Learn more here.

Raphael expects the green chemistry program to benefit businesses as well. "Companies are finding new revenue opportunities as shoppers look for products they don't have to worry about," she said. "Early adopters, such as Apple, Green Toys, California Baby, Method and others...are proving it is a profitable business strategy."

And growing. A trip to Orchard Supply Hardware last week led me to an aisle filled with cleaning products. Nearly one half of it was products described as eco friendly. If that is a niche category, it is a much larger niche.

We are in the early stages of a transformation. Who knows if it will reach the industrial revolution status that some experts project, but clearly momentum is building. The younger generation will likely push it, as evidenced by UC Davis' recent announcement that student interest is leading to a new major in sustainable agriculture.

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