Sustainable Silicon Valley: A Model Regional Partnership
Blas Pérez Henríquez
University of California, Berkeley
Sustainable Silicon Valley (SSV) is a collaborative partnership comprised of representatives from the public, private, and non-for-profit sectors that is designed to promote a healthy environment, a vibrant economy and a socially equitable community. SSV is based in the San Francisco Bay Area at the heart of one of the most affluent, innovative, and entrepreneurial economic regions in the world: Silicon Valley.
Constantly evolving to remain competitive, Silicon Valley is a high-tech, energy intensive economy based on a culture of discovery that is constantly searching for new ideas to enhance productivity and efficiency.
In the aftermath of the 2000-2001 California energy crisis and the bursting of the dot.com bubble, the SSV partnership emerged as an innovative approach to address the regional economic challenges and threats caused by high energy prices and an economic slowdown. From the start, the SSV collaborative brought together a very diverse group of individuals from government, industry, academia, and environmental groups. For many, this was the first opportunity to network with unlikely partners from different sectors. SSV created a unique opportunity to candidly communicate individual perspectives and experiences, and develop a mutually agreeable approach to tackle the energy and environmental challenges of Silicon Valley.
In fact, some of the participants in the initial discussions were in the midst of legal battles over environmental issues such as the disposal of electronic products; others were concerned about sharing information
about their industrial processes and energy saving strategies with competitors. Despite the tightening economic situation, regulatory demands, and pressure from the local and international community to go beyond meeting minimum environmental standards, SSV partners were able to reach a voluntary agreement to establish energy and carbon dioxide emission reduction goals for the region.
Today, SSV partners and supporters take pride in demonstrating how a collaborative partnership can support a common goal and achieve significant results. SSV success is evidence that partnerships, even between traditional “adversaries,” are not only possible, but powerful mechanisms for positive change.
Since 2001, SSV partners have been developing a structured process to confront the region’s energy and environmental challenges. An initial trust-building exercise facilitated by the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal-EPA) was critical to building the foundation of communication and cooperation. Through several informal stakeholder meetings, future SSV partners were able to candidly and openly exchange ideas and best practices. As a result, SSV partners were able to realign individual incentives and act in a cooperative manner. Energy efficiency was identified as the first goal for SSV partners.
SSV partners have applied the concept of environmental management systems (EMS), traditionally used to structure individual firm decisions, to the entire Silicon Valley region. EMS, which is a systematic approach to environmental management based on the idea of a “plan-do-check-adjust” loop, provided a road map for action to the founding group. The EMS approach calls first for the evaluation of environmental impacts, after which environmental objectives and timelines for their achievement are established and prioritized. Regular monitoring and performance reviews provide feedback to measure success and highlight future areas for improvement. For SSV industry partners, using EMS was a familiar approach to address environmental concerns.
Since 2005, SSV staff has published annual reports on partners’ progress and overall programmatic goals.
While the catalyst for SSV was the 2000-2001 California energy crisis and the dot.com bubble burst, the partners’ decision to use EMS as a strategic tool to manage collaborative efforts led them to identify a specific carbon dioxide emission reduction goal for the Silicon Valley: SSV partners pledged to reduce emissions in the region by 20 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2010. A few years later, during World Environment Day in San Francisco on June 1, 2005, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced similar greenhouse gas reductions goals for the state and publicly acknowledged the leadership of SSV business partners to address this issue “even faster than the statewide goals.”