California has a pioneering approach to eco-tourism. Thanks in part to the flamboyant Governor Schwarzenegger, as well as a recent history of power cuts and price increases, California has fully embraced sustainable politics and is even pioneering eco-tourism in America.
Strongly supported by the Governor, San Francisco’s mayor Gavin Newsom, the city’s youngest in 100 years at only 39, has introduced numerous progressive environmental policies since he was sworn in three years ago. These include the implementation of the San Francisco Climate Action Plan, which sets goals to cut emissions that exceed those set in the United Nations Kyoto Protocols; the conversion of the city’s entire public transport fleet to hybrid, alternative fuel, and green vehicles; and the conversion of the city’s council vehicles to biodiesel fuel.
A good place to try out a planet-friendly business trip then – but first, how to get there? Since flying is the only option from the UK, it’s time to carbon offset. There are a number of different options, but to name just one provider, the World Land Trust operates a number of different personal offset calculators that enable you to quickly and easily calculate the combined carbon emissions and associated offset cost of a holiday or business trip (incorporating multi-trip flights and accommodation). Using its calculator, a return flight for one passenger from London Heathrow to San Francisco emits 1.9 tonnes of CO2, requiring a contribution of £18.54. (For frequent travellers, it is worth noting that several carbon offsetting companies can evaluate your total annual carbon emissions, including everything from your daily commute to business trips abroad. You might even pay less, although that’s not the point of the exercise.)
Once you arrive in San Francisco, you can either leap into a taxi, and offset a token amount for carbon emissions, or travel on the Bay Area Rapid Transport underground system (BART). BART runs directly from the airport to Powell Street in the heart of the city in just 30 minutes, costing you US$5.15. As travellers already familiar with San Francisco will know, the city is easily navigable on foot. However, the less adventurous-minded explorer might be tempted to hitch a ride on one of the many forms of public transport available – from the iconic cable cars that grip onto the near-vertical streets to electric buses and colourful rickshaws.
Located just a few minutes’ walk from the Powell Street BART station is the boutique Orchard Garden Hotel – California’s first officially “green” hotel. It is currently the only hotel designed and built to the strict nationally accepted standards for green buildings as developed by the US Green Building Council.
The property adheres to equally strict environmental rules in its day-to-day running – it’s the first hotel in the city to use a guestroom key card energy control system; each room has its own recycling system and a selection of organic bath products; it uses exclusively natural fabrics, chemical-free cleaning products and even soy-based ink in its literature. However, its green credentials don’t mean you have to bring your hemp underwear to feel at home – each of the luxurious rooms is spacious and tastefully decorated with high-quality furnishings, wifi access, an LCD flatscreen TV with DVD and CD player, an iPod docking station and dual-line cordless phone.
Orchard Garden is an easy stroll from Union Square and the business district. Should the weather be at its Fog City worst, however, the hotel offers a complimentary car service throughout the Financial District on weekday mornings. The hotel also has a number of different venues for hosting meetings, from the large executive boardroom to the more intimate rooftop garden, all of which adhere to the same environmental rules as the rest of the hotel.
Dine at any of the restaurants participating in the Bay area’s Biogas Energy Project. This innovative scheme sees table scraps diverted away from landfills and into the energy grid by converting them into renewable energy using an “anaerobic digester”. Every ton of food converted (early estimates are for the project to generate eight tonnes each day) will produce enough energy to provide electricity to power 10 average California homes for one day.
Cuisine choices include gourmet French at Jardinière (where menus are printed on recycled money); Mediterranean cooking at the Zuni Café (the oysters served at this financial district gem are rumoured to seal any deal); American classics at Boulevard (run since 1993 by favourite local chef Nancy Oakes); modern Vietnamese cuisine at The Slanted Door; and fish so fresh it’s still alive at Scoma’s and Scott’s Seafood restaurants.
One of the most popular ways to explore San Francisco is in one of the small, brightly coloured electric rental cars that are found rolling down the streets like M&Ms spilling out of a packet. These tiny vehicles come complete with a selection of GPS guided tours, providing you with clear directions to the city’s main points of interest as well as a running historical commentary. You don’t even have to worry about parking – there are plenty of places reserved exclusively for the electric cars.
If you prefer to stretch your legs and get some exercise, hire a bike and follow the 1.7-mile Bridge Path cycle route, which takes you across the Golden Gate Bridge to the idyllic “French Riviera of California” that is Sausalito. This bustling little community is perched on the Bay and sprinkled liberally with restaurants, cafés, art galleries and boutiques. Find a waterfront table and enjoy a glass of local organic wine from neighbouring Napa Valley or Sonoma before loading your bike on to a ferry and sailing into the sunset back to the city.
San Francisco may be the exception at present, but it does tick all the boxes for eco-friendly business travel – innovative environmental policies implemented by the government and supported by the local community; accommodation and business facilities that don’t scrimp on luxury or convenience yet remain affordable; high quality eco-tourism facilities; and a reliable public transport system.