Green Cities California, the collaborative of 10 cities and counties acknowledged as sustainability leaders, launches a website today that's to serve as a resource for other communities striving to go green.

The website, www.GreenCitiesCalifornia.org, is designed as a repository of best practices and other tools for policymakers who are trying to improve the environmental performance of their locales.

"Certain cities have already blazed a trail (toward sustainability) and it would be so much easier if that information were available to others," said David Assmann, who is the deputy director of San Francisco's Department of Environment and a member of Green Cities California's steering committee.

"There are obstacles and issues you have to look at," he said. "In virtually every area there are stumbling blocks, and the site enables everyone to learn from each other."
 
The site addresses seven key areas identified by the United Nations Urban Environmental Accord: energy, waste reduction, urban design, urban nature, transportation, environmental health and water.

Say you're trying to develop a zero-waste policy for your town and you want to know what other local governments have done to wipe out waste, but you don't have a big budget for research or a lot of time to do it. The Green Cities California site summarizes zero-waste efforts in Oakland and San Jose -- and provides 15 documents that can be used as templates as well as links to sites that can serve as models for your efforts.

Access to the site and downloads of its material are free. And though focused on California, the site is intended to be replicable and expandable, Assmann said.

The online resource currently has 50 best practices posted. The organization is working on the next 65, which will include some from out of state, he said.

Green Cities California was established in October 2007 with eight founding members. The group has since grown to 10 cities and counties: Berkeley, Los Angeles, Marin County, Pasadena, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Barbara and Santa Monica. Each member has adopted a sustainability plan, the U.N. Urban Environmental Accord and the U.S. Conference of Mayors Protection Agreement. Representatives work with their governing bodies to adopt the organization's Sustainability Accord, and each member city or county pays membership dues that range from $3,000 to $11,000 a year.

The group's best practices website was about a year in the making and in active development for six months, Assmann said. The Full Circle Fund, 11th Hour Project and Blackstone Ranch Institute provided funding and technical help for the project.

Earlier initiatives by the group have saved their local governments more than a $1 million and have helped avoid millions of pounds of CO2 emissions.

For example, the group’s pledge in spring 2008 that only 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper would be used for their cities' and counties' operations has prevented the release of the equivalent of 8.6 million pounds of CO2 emissions and saved at least 19.6 million gallons of water, 11.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity and 67,000 trees, the organization said. The total annual paper expenses for the group typically amounts to $5 million a year.

Last fall, the group banned the use of public funds for bottled water. The move prevented 1.633,302 plastic water bottles from being sent to landfills and saved more than $1.6 million, according to the organization.

Image courtesy of Green Cities California.